Apple has released Final Cut Express 4, the latest version of its intermediate video editing software. Taking its cues (and code) from Final Cut Pro 6, the new Final Cut Express features an open format Timeline that lets you mix DV and HD formats in the same project and adds the capability to import AVCHD formatted footage (which is transcoded to Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC), the same way Final Cut Pro and iMovie handle the format.) Also like Final Cut Pro, simply adding the first clip to the Timeline dictates a project's format. More than 50 new FxPlug plug-ins are also included.
Apple is also touting the capability to import iMovie '08 projects, which Final Cut Express accomplishes by being able to read Apple's Final Cut XML format. (In iMovie, choose Share > Final Cut XML. When you import the text file that's generated, Final Cut Express accesses the footage from the iMovie Events folder on disk.) However, importing is limited to edit points and transitions, and doesn't include titles or video adjustments; Final Cut Express substitutes cross dissolve transitions for the ones used in the iMovie project. Audio levels are retained, however. In projects where DV and HD footage is combined, Final Cut Express crops (or doesn't) according to the iMovie project's aspect ratio setting.
Tying Final Cut Express and iMovie '08 is a sensible move. iMovie lacks several fine editing operations, such as precise control over audio levels within a clip, an area in which Final Cut Express excels. Now, iMovie can be seen as a place to store and manage video - and quickly assemble a rough cut of a movie - before handing it off to Final Cut Express for fine tuning.
The Final Cut Express package also includes LiveType 2.1 for creating animated titles. Soundtrack, the separate audio editor that shipped with Final Cut Express HD 3.5, is no longer part of the package; in a briefing, Apple said that more people were using GarageBand instead for the same features.
Final Cut Express 4 is available now for $199 (a $100 price drop from version 3.5); owners of any previous version of Final Cut Express can upgrade for $99. It's a universal application that requires a Mac with a 1.25 GHz or faster PowerPC G4 processor, a PowerPC G5, or an Intel processor; AVCHD support is available only on Intel-based Macs. Mac OS X 10.4.10 or later is also required.