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Inside Avid Xpress Studio HD
Posted Aug 8, 2005 - Chrystal Corporate Profile [January 1999] Issue Print Version     Page 1of 3 next »

Avid Xpress Studio HD is far more expensive than the competition. That will and should dissuade some potential users, as will the somewhat steeper learning curve for most of the tools compared to Apple, Adobe, or Ulead. But consider what you're getting: three industry-standard, time-proven editing interfaces in Xpress Pro, Pro Tools LE, and Avid 3D, and solid DVD authoring technology from Sonic in Avid DVD, that are continuing to evolve and grab features from their high-end siblings.

When Avid introduced the Avid Xpress Studio a little more than a year ago, it solidified a commitment to Xpress and, by extension, the event videographer market. It's an audience with whom Avid has had, over the past decade anyway, something of a lukewarm relationship. After all, Avid is the clear market leader in premium editing systems for major motion pictures and television studios, and endowing affordable editing software with additional features is a potential risk to that higher-end business.

Yet Avid increasingly has struck a clever balance with Xpress, both as an adjutant editing station—off-lining, off-loading, or in-the-field laptop editing—for higher-end systems and as a very capable standalone editor for smaller studios. Although event videographers aren't likely often to "finish" on a Media Composer or Symphony, Xpress' innate tie to those higher-end products essentially guarantees professional performance and future advancement in a very affordable software editing application.

The just-released Avid Xpress Studio HD brings HD support to a bundle of five compelling tools that specifically target the smaller, single-station studio and event videographer. Make no mistake: Avid is still a premium brand and Xpress Studio HD carries a price more than twice that of competing bundles. For some, the tools here will be overkill for the work they do. Still, the Xpress Studio HD Complete bundle is a best-in-class solution that demands a closer look.

Avid Xpress Studio HD comes in two flavors, Avid Xpress Studio HD Essentials ($3,495) and Avid Xpress Studio HD Complete, ($5,995). Both include the same five software applications. The difference is that the Complete version adds two important pieces of hardware, the Mojo video I/O box and the Digi 002 digital audio mixer, that make it a very complete (appropriately enough) and portable personal editing system. Essentials augments the software suite with the far more modest, two-channel, balanced audio I/O Mbox.

The five Xpress Studio HD applications are as follows:
• Avid Xpress Pro HD, the new HD-capable version of the Xpress editing software
• Avid Pro Tools LE, a limited version of Avid's industry-standard Pro Tools audio production and post software
• Avid 3D, a limited version of Avid's Softimage 3D titling and animation solution
• Avid FX, an effects editing tool based on the popular Boris Red effects plug-in from Boris FX
• Avid DVD by Sonic, a DVD authoring application based on Sonic's Producer and DVDit!

Finally, it's worth noting that there are really six applications in Xpress Studio: although it's not well publicized, Avid also includes Sorenson's Squeeze 4 Compression Suite as the compression engine, which is used, for example, to encode to MPEG-2 for DVD or compress movies for Web distribution.

Hardware Components
Mojo is the modest-appearing hardware analog-to-digital converter that connects to your desktop (or laptop) by a single FireWire cable, offering real-time analog I/O via S-Video and RCA composite, as well as unbalanced audio I/O. Component video is possible, too, but you'll need an optional breakout splinter cable ($75), and that's not ideal because color accuracy suffers and it's just awkward. What gives Mojo its, well, mojo is that unlike similar devices, Avid's Field Programmable Gate Array and hardware DV Codec are simultaneously bi-directional, allowing Xpress Pro to off-load any DV compression work from the system CPU. Thus, the CPU can avoid, for example, decompressing multiple DV streams in the case of transitions and effects, leaving more CPU cycles available for effects processing.

The Digi 002 digital audio mixer (what a weak name for such a wonderful device!) is an 8x4x2 mixer panel that also connects to your computer by a single FireWire cable. Awkwardly, it cannot be daisychained with Mojo and actually needs a complete separate FireWire controller. It's physically larger than any modern laptop computer, but the combination of an Xpress-installed laptop, Mojo, and Digi 002 is the most professional, portable editing station available anywhere, hands-down. If you do a lot of same-day, on-location event edits, Complete is a bundle that's very tough to beat.

Digi 002 is actually a fine standalone audio mixer. However, when it's attached to Xpress it offers balanced audio in and out via the eight 1/4" input ports (four of which can be switched to the XLR ports, and one channel that can use an RCA unbalanced pair) and eight 1/4" output. There's also an obligatory unbalanced RCA stereo pair for speakers and a 1/4" headphone jack, as well as MIDI support and S/PDIF. Naturally, it has faders, EQ meters, Solo and Mute buttons, and effects controls for each channel, as well as Master controls, grouping, panning, and almost unlimited options. That's because the Digi 002 controls can be re-assigned to any audio editing function in Pro Tools or even any video editing function in Xpress.

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