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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent Pick of the Week
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[Score: 9 out of 10]
I just finished another video project for Macworld (an overview of Sun's VirtualBox virtualization app for Macs), and as I finished the project, I realized just how pleasant it is to work with Final Cut Express -- and that I'd never given it the Pick of the Week nod here on Yes, it's relatively expensive, but if you have more than a passing interest in video editing on the Mac, it's well worth the cost of admission.

I'll be the first to admit that I've got no aspirations (nor skills to succeed) as a pro video editor. For my needs, iMovie HD was always more than sufficient -- I even used it for a near-hour-long project for a company party. Overall, I was happy with iMovie HD, other than the occasional crash, and the slow interface speed as project size increased. Still, I wasn't looking for another solution...until iMovie '08 was released.

Despite the raving by Jobs about iMovie '08, I couldn't ever adjust to its completely bizarre approach to editing video -- no true timeline, an odd visual bin that becomes unwieldy with more than a few clips in it, minimal support for multiple tracks, etc. I spent many hours with the program, trying to adjust to its way of editing video -- I even created a couple of my Macworld videos using it. But I literally hated every second I spent in the program, and my videos seemed to take forever to complete. So I set out to replace iMovie '08 ... and yes, I know I can still use iMovie HD, but it's clear that the program has no future, and I'd rather not use unsupported tools.

As I searched for a replacement for iMovie '08, I realized I owned (but had rarely used, thanks to iMovie HD) an older copy of Final Cut Express. So when Final Cut Express 4 came out, I figured $99 was a minimal cost to see if it could replace the despised iMovie '08. My first project with FCE4 took a while to complete, as there's definitely a learning curve to get through -- but coming from iMovie HD, the interface was instantly familiar, although more complex. Still, at the end of the first project, I found that I was much happier than I was when I had worked with iMovie '08 -- FCE4 never crashed, I never felt like I was fighting the interface, and I was very comfortable with the timeline interface for video editing.

To help ease the learning curve, I picked up Diana Weynand's Final Cut Express 4 book (part of the Apple Pro Training Series) to help me through the rough spots in the transition. With the book and some help from friends with lots of editing experience, I'm now very comfortable editing video in Final Cut Express, though I doubt I'm yet using even 10% of the program's capabilities. The built-in effects and transitions allow for lots of creativity, and there's so much room to grow here I can't see myself ever needing (or wanting!) to spend the money on the full version of Final Cut.

If you work with Advanced Video Codec High Definition (AVCHD) format video (and have an Intel-powered Mac), FCE4 can import that footage at its native resolution. iMovie '08 will import it, but the maximum resolution is limited to 960x540. As we plan on purchasing such a camcorder at some point in the future, this support will be important for us. (Read Macworld's Final Cut Express 4 review for more information about the program's capabilities.)

So if you're unhappy with iMovie '08, and especially if you've got experience with iMovie HD, you really should check out Final Cut Express. It's more than powerful enough for anyone short of a professional video editor, its interface is relatively intuitive, it's rock solid (I have yet to experience a single crash), and the program doesn't seem to slow down, even when working with larger projects. True, it's not as easy to use as is iMovie HD, but it's infinitely more powerful, and doesn't even cause a blip on my "annoying to use" scale -- a scale that iMovie '08 currently tops. FCE4 has put the fun back in video editing for me, and for that, it's this week's Pick of the Week.
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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: spotkat on Jul 21, '08 07:21:46AM

I too was rather frustrated when iMovie 08 came out until I really got the idea behind it. With all previous versions of iMovie, the intent was to make a video editor and that's all, but that strategy didn't go along with the rest of (what became) the iLife suite. The new version of iMovie is not longer an editor, but a video "digital shoebox", similar to iPhoto. It's not for editing, it's for storing, but it happens to have editing features.

Although at first I was pissed off, now that I have a new family and a young daughter, I'm actually happy Apple did this. It's nice to share little clips and montages of movies to post on the web for family and friends, but I also want a place to go to see ALL of my clips without having to fish through a bunch of tapes or DVDs. Once iMovie 08 came around, there wasn't any other solution.

And yes, Apple did it to boost FC Express sales too!

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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: JimMueller on Jul 21, '08 01:54:58PM

I would not have been so ticked if the name had been significantly changed, so that I would know that I was getting a ViewMaster instead of Photoshop. An obvious disclaimer that "this is no longer the application you expect it to be - it has been refocused and simplified so users have minimal editing capability other than putting existing clips together in different ways."

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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: Zaphod42 on Jul 21, '08 08:00:30PM

I like iMovie '08. It works as it is supposed to. It makes it really simple to store video, and makes really nice looking clips that are easy to post to the internet. It is perfect for family movies, and quick clip posts to youtube. Now that i've said that, I think I'll go get a copy of final cut express :)

thanks for posting this as a pick of the week, I had forgotten about it's existence...

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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: stukdog on Jul 21, '08 07:31:44AM

I like both FCE and iMovie. However, I find myself rarely using either because I so much dread the import of AVCHD to AIC. It takes just as long as the video is long. And it is 10x bigger of a file size.

Hopefully they'll support AVCHD soon in it's original format.

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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: gandalf44 on Jul 21, '08 08:30:03AM

iMovie '08 imports at native AVCHD resolution. I have a Canon HF10 AVCHD camcorder that records 1920x1080, and I import at full resolution.

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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: appleman_design on Jul 21, '08 12:22:19PM

But can you export to the 1080 format, isnt it set to a 900*?? format??

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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: robg on Jul 21, '08 07:25:43PM

Interesting -- it was my understanding that iMovie's import resolution was limited, but perhaps it's the output resolution instead. I'll ask our reviewer, as he's the person I first heard this from.


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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: asmeurer on Jul 21, '08 08:52:38PM
When I first installed iMovie 08, the installer didn't remove iMovie HD (this may have been because the "installer" was Pacifist). I almost deleted it (I think I might have even had it in the trash), until I tried using iMovie 08. It's great if you want to cut together some clips and make a movie like the Apple sample movies, but anything beyond that…
I couldn't believe that Apple would actually remove functionality from their program. I would think that they would at least hide some of the more advanced features in an advanced menu, but no, gone. How do you seperate audio from a clip? Is there a menu item for it? Does right-clicking let you do it? No, you have to know the secret command-shift-drag option. Want to delete the video so you can just export the audio? Well, no, you actually didn't need to separate the audio, you just have to know to choose the right options from the export option. And what about all the cool moving titles. There are 12 titles, but 10 of them are more or less identical clones of the music video title from iMovie HD, and only one of them moves (scrolling credits). What happened to Core Video and Core Animation, not to mention Core Image? Why aren't these technologies in the programs Apple charges people for?
Apple was right to make a lossless media library, and the scrubbing is great (this is straight out of Final Cut, if I'm not mistaken), but Apple of all developers should know that making something simple and making something powerful are not mutually exclusive--case in point, Mac OS X. They used to advertise this.

Sorry. I needed to get some of that out of my system.

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Final Cut Express 4 - iMovie HD's heir apparent
Authored by: lsequeir on Jul 22, '08 06:48:26AM
What happened to Core Video and Core Animation, not to mention Core Image? Why aren't these technologies in the programs Apple charges people for?

There are people outside Apple that are putting Apple's technology to good use. In the video editing realm, I think a great example is Norrkross Movie. It does on its own what took several extra plug-ins to do in iMovie HD (and is impossible to do do in iMovie '08).

With multiple video tracks, core image support, non-destructive editing with lots of available filters, a great media browser, it is a great piece of software. All for a lot less money than FCE; in fact, for less than iLife (although, of course, iLife is not just iMovie).

If the complexity and/or the price of FCE is too much, take a look at Norrkross.


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