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Final Cut Pro vs Avid Xpress

Here is an unbiased comparison of Final Cut Pro HD versus Avid Xpress Pro HD. If any part of this comparison is inaccurate, please email us with suggested corrections. As you know, these software products are becoming increasingly complex and no one can claim to know everything about the software.


Please keep in mind, that Final Cut Pro no longer ships as a single product. You must purchase the entire Final Cut Studio bundle. Avid Technology has something similar called Avid Xpress Studio. To be fair, I will only be comparing Final Cut Pro vs. Avid Xpress Pro, without mentioning the features of any of the asscociated studio programs. With plugins, and other associated software, just about anything is possible and it would make this comparison a moot point.

Also keep in mind, that I learned Avid first, so there is always a tendency to adopt the software you are most familiar with. I obviously haven't listed every single feature in the chart. I have concentrated on items that are relatively unique when Avid Xpress Pro and Final Cut Pro are compared against each other.

Feature List Final Cut Pro HD Avid Xpress Pro HD
Shipping Version 5.1.2 5.6.2
Real Time Open GL 3D DVE (with full z axis controls) no yes
Native HDV Support Via Firewire yes yes
24P Support yes (advanced pull down + normal pulldown) Advanced Pull Down only
optional 3rd party video capture cards yes no
# video and audio layers 99 24
supports video nesting yes yes
resolution independent yes (max 4000 x 3000) no
Title Tool options Built In Titler, Boris Callgraphy, LiveType Built In Open GL Titler, Marquee
Default Video Codec DVCPro NTSC Avid DV
Support for Third Party Effects yes yes
Media Management File Types Quicktime Media MXF, OMFI MediaFiles
Image Sequence import no yes
MPG2 Export yes no
Video import Alpha Channel Support yes, Animation Codec Only yes, Avid-DV or Animation Codec
16 x 9 support yes yes
maximum levels of undo 99 32
autosave yes yes
Supported Computer Platforms Mac OS X only Mac OS X, and Windows XP Pro
Requires Hardware Dongle to launch software no yes
Photoshop Composite Modes in Timeline Clips yes no
DV scene (start - stop detection) yes yes
multi-camera support yes yes
full real-time 3D-DVE no, only basic 3D perpsective available via effect filter. yes *(with supported open gl graphics card)
Video Overlay Field Dominance Even Field First Odd Field First
Support for PSD Photoshop layers yes yes
Open external Application Support yes no, limited to Avid Studio Applications.
Sub frame audio editing yes no
third party audio plug-in support yes yes

Shipping Versions:
To be fair, this chart is based on the current shipping versions. Both Avid and Apple have made announcements regarding future upgrades. There are also rumors floating around on what new features to expect at the upcoming NAB tradeshow in Las Vegas.

HDV Support:
Both Final Cut Pro and Avid Xpress support the HDV format via transfer through a firewire port. It is important to note, that neither system allows for real-time NTSC video monitoring when working in HDV.

Real-Time DVE
Final Cut Pro provides limited DVE control, via a basic 3D filter. Avid Xpress Pro provides for real-time 3D DVE via an Open GL graphics card. Even without a supported Open GL graphics card, you can still manipulate any video clip within full 3D space.

External Capture Card Support
Final Cut Pro has the advantage in terms of support for external hardwire. A variety of manufacturers provide capture cards that are supported with Final Cut Pro.

Be aware, that this can cause some complications in terms of what version of Mac OS X is supported. Also, when Apple upgrades the Final Cut Pro software, you may have to wait until your third party hardware provider updates the firmware to their capture card.

For Avid Xpress Pro, your only external option for bringing in non-dv material is to purchase the Avid - Mojo box. Mojo does much more than conversion. It can capture and output full spec 601 component uncompressed video. In addition, it has a hardware DV codec onboard that can convert these uncompressed signals back to DV25 if desired. This also benefits the user as it frees up the host CPU to process an amazing amount of real-time effects.

*Obviously, since both Avid and Final Cut Pro support DV input, you can use a convertor box. An excellent analog to dv convertor is made by Canopus. I have used the ADVC 100 with great sucess in the past.

# of Video Layers
Although Final Cut Pro supports more video layers, I have never found this to be a stumbling block.

Video Nesting
Both products support video nesting.

Resolution Independent
Final Cut Pro will maintain the resolution of any video or image type that is imported into the software. This provides a unique ability to pan and scan through files that are larger than 720 x 480. However, I have noticed problems in scaling down files that are of high resolution. However, viewing the files at 100% gives an immaculate view of the original media without distortion.

The Avid Xpress software is going to automatically resize the video or image to 720 x 480. Avid Xpress Pro does provide a plug-in that allows a user to point to a high resolution image file. This plug-in is called Avid Pan and Zoom.

Title Tool Options
The built-in title tools provided by Final Cut Pro and Avid have limitations. Final Cut Pro users will use either (Title 3D) or (LiveType). Avid users will use the built-in title tool, or Avid Marquee,

Final Cut Pro provides Boris Calligraphy as a plug-in which provides some nice capabilities for text generation. Final Cut Pro also ships with a separate software application called LiveType. To be fair, this is really a separate software product which can be used with Avid Xpress Pro as well.

LiveType is a killer application for animated backgrounds and text generation. There is some basic integration in terms of how LiveType and Final Cut Pro talk to each other. A LiveType title can be dragged directly from the LiveType application directly into Final Cut Pro without leaving either application. Changes within LiveType will automatically update a title on the Final Cut Pro timeline.

*What is somewhat strange, is you can also drag a LiveType project icon directly into an Avid bin. Avid Xpress Pro will import the LiveType composite with a real-time moving matte. This composite can also be promoted to the 3D DVE interface, and further manipulated in real-time. In some ways, LiveType actually performs better with Avid Xpress Pro than Final Cut Pro, because of the amount of real-time playback flexibility.

Avid Xpress Pro 5.0 HD also ships with Marquee. Marquee is an amazing full 3D open GL title tool. Few people know how to use the marquee title tool plug-in, so expect a learning curve if you plan on using it.

Default Video Codec
By Default, Final Cut Pro uses the DVCPro Codec. It is important to note that Final Cut Pro supports a variety of different codecs, depending on whether you are recording HD material. Many third party capture cards include their own proprietary codec to work with their hardware.

Avid Xpress Pro HD uses its own codec called Avid-DV. The Avid DV codec is odd-field dominent. It supports real-time alpha channels.

Support for Third Party Effects
Both products support a variety of third party effects. Some popular effects for Final Cut Pro include CGM's third party filters and transitions. For Avid, Boris Continuum is a good starting point.

Media Management
Final Cut Pro uses a basic scratch-disk file structure for managing media. The raw mediafiles are standard QuickTime files. The one big disadvantage is that you need to be careful where media is stored. Also, no two files can have the same name within the same location. This leads to re-linking problems if you are not very careful in naming your original QuickTime mediafiles. You also need to pay careful attention to where individual files are stored. Bottom line, be extremely careful when working in Final Cut Pro when you have a program that deals with a lot of media. Excellent media management skills are a requirement.

Avid Xpress Pro uses a proprietary media database management system that uses an OMFI Mediafiles structure. Files are coded with their own unique hexadecimal name, which means the end-user does not need to worry about how clips are named while capturing. You do not have a choice for the scratch-disk location, the Avid will automatically place the files onto the emptiest drive. Bottom line, The Avid software is more forgiving in terms of managing your media for large projects.

*It should also be noted that Avid Xpress Pro HD is compatible with projects and media across most of Avid Technology's product line. Higher End systems such as Avid Adrenaline and Avid Newscutter can read Avid Xpress Pro HD projects and media, and vice versa.

Importing Image Sequences
One thing missing from Final Cut Pro is the ability to import image sequences. This is an important feature if you are an animator or if you have many images that are numbered. Avid Xpress Pro will automatically compile all the single frame images into a playable movie for you.

MPG2 Export
If you have Final Cut Pro, you will have the ability to export a mpg2 file using Apple Compressor.

With Avid Xpress Pro you will have to export a QuickTime movie and then import that movie into Sorenson Squeeze or Media Cleaner Pro in order to export an MPG2 file. When you export a quicktime reference into Sorenson Squeeze application, the process is instantaneous. You can then encode to MPEG2 using the Main Concept encoder which is very fast and high quality. Sorenson allows you to crop or "clean" the image if necessary as well as encode to numerous other formats including Windows, Real, Mpeg4, etc. Avid users have let us know that they find this application quite powerful and flexible.

Video Import - Alpha Channel Support
Final Cut Pro only supports a video alpha channel through QuickTime using the Animation Codec. Although this is an uncompressed codec, it presents a problem in terms of the amount of real-time capability you will receive. Avid Xpress Pro supports a real-time Alpha channel via Quicktime with an embedded alpha channels, which gives real-time alpha channel capability when dealing with moving images such as those created in After Effects, LiveType or some other compositing program.

16 x 9 Support
Both Products support 16 x 9 media. Final Cut Pro will automatically recognize 16:9 media and use the embedded metadata within the dv-stream and will automatically resize the image to fit the aspect ratio of your sequence.

Although the Avid Xpress Pro supports 16:9 widscreen clips, you must manually resize clips in order to fit a 4:3 aspect ratio if you plan on using widescreen media for a standard 4:3 viewing area.

It should also be noted that Avid Xpress Pro title tool will automatically generate titles that are compatible with a 16:9 aspect ratio if you are editing in 16:9 mode. Otherwise your titles would appear to be stretched if it did not compensate for 16:9.

Maximum Levels of Undo
What can I say? The more the better. Final Cut Pro supports 99 consecutive undo's, Avid supports 32.

Both systems auto-save. Final Cut Pro defaults to auto-save at 30 minute intervals, and Avid Xpress Pro defaults to 15 minutes. You can change how often each system auto-saves.

Supported Computer Platforms
The current version of Final Cut Pro runs on Max OS 10.4.X. Currently, there is no PC version for Final Cut Pro. Avid Xpress Pro can be installed on either Mac OS X (Tiger) or Windows XP Professional. Although not supported with Windows XP Home, many users have chosen to install it with few problems. Avid provides installation disks for both PC and MAC in the same box.

*Currently Avid does not support running the software on any intel based MAC. An announcement has been made for a future upgrade.

Copy Protection (Dongle)
Final Cut Pro requires a license key. Multiple copies can be installed, but not networked together. Avid Xpress requires a hardware dongle. The dongle can be moved from one machine to another, MAC or PC.

Composite Modes
Final Cut Pro supports basic Photoshop composite modes within the timeline, such as lighten, dark, multiple, etc. This leads to some decent compositing techniques that are absent in the Avid Xpress Pro software.

DV Scene Start - Stop Detection
Both software products support DV Scene Start Stop detection, which allows the software to detect time-of-day breaks within a DV-stream. This provides a quick way of breaking apart longs clips of video without having to create individual sub-clips.

Multi-Camera Support
Final Cut Pro now supports real-time multicam playback in version 5.0. Avid Xpress Pro only supports 4 real-time streams. Final Cut Pro supports 16 real-time streams.

Video Overlay (field dominance)
Final Cut Pro uses even field dominance. Avid uses odd-field dominance. If I had my choice, I prefer even field dominance, which matches the DV specification.

Support for Photoshop Layers
Both software products support native psd files. However, neither software product properly recognizes the specialized Photoshop effect layers. Final Cut Pro flat out ignores them, and Avid Xpress Pro has issues with effect layers that contain transparent areas such as glows, and soft drop shadows.

Open External Application Support
Final Cut Pro provides links to any external application. You can link clips within the timeline to open up within a third party application such as Photoshop, Peak DV, etc. The external program will automatically link back to the clip within the timeline. Avid Xpress Pro does not support 'open external application support'.

It should be noted that the Avid Xpress Studio Bundle does provide external links between its bundled programs that include (Avid 3D, Pro-Tools, Sonic DVD, and Boris FX). However, this is a special build of Avid software that provides functionality between these software products with specialized links.)

Sub Frame Audio Level Adjustments
Final Cut Pro uses will enjoy the ability to rubberband up to 1/100 of a frame when dealing with audio. This is important when dealing with audio hits or pops that exist only within a portion of a frame. Avid Xpress Pro only supports single frame level adjustments when it comes to dealing with audio.

Third Party Audio Plug-in Support
Final Cut Pro supports a large number of Apple audio plug-ins and EMagic Plug-ins. The amount of real-time audio filter play-back is quite amazing, and these plug-ins can be adjusted dynamically in real-time. Avid Xpress Pro supports hundreds of digi-design audiosuite plug-ins but real-time functionality is extremely limited.

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Disk Limit Alert In Soundtrack Pro was the previous entry in this blog.

Using Avid Media Tool is the next entry in this blog.

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