Automatic for the Rookies
Automatic for the Rookies
Video producers seem to come in three flavors. There are those who somehow, through osmosis perhaps, know everything. They're intimately familiar with all of the hidden tricks in Adobe After Effects. They know the ins and outs of alpha tracks and motion stabilization, and they get a killer invisible chromakey every time. Then there's the rest of us, who maybe aren't the second coming of Stanley Kubrick, but pretty much know what we're doing in terms of shooting, editing and rendering. But there's also a third group: those who have poked through YouTube, bought a copy or two of Videomaker, know they wanted to get started somehow, but truly feel intimated by how much technical know-how is required to produce a decent video.
One Stop Shop
That's where's Pinnacle's VideoSpin comes into play. It's a free program, a 148-megabyte download from, logically enough, www.videospin.com. It's essentially a stripped-down version of Pinnacle's popular Studio 11 program. Given the program's file size, it may take a few minutes to download, depending on your internet connection, but, if you've become captivated by YouTube and other video aggregation sites, it's a safe bet you already have a download connection.
For a program that prides itself on simplicity, it provides a moment of cognitive dissonance early on in the installation process. Immediately after installing the program, you see a prompt: "VideoSpin includes a 15-day trial of advanced video codecs (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DiVX). If you wish to use these codecs after the 15-day trial, you will need to purchase the Advanced Codecs Pack. (Note: If you have separately purchased Pinnacle codecs, either individually or as part of a product, those codecs will still be usable.)" Below the prompt are the buttons to Purchase Now or Purchase Later those said video codecs for $14.99.
Maybe the lawyers insisted on displaying this message right at the start of program use, but this message must seem hugely off-putting to the average beginner. "Codecs? MPEG-2? MPEG-4? DiVX? Your strange and heretofore-unknown terminology frightens and confuses me!" It's not exactly the warmest introduction to the world of video. (But I guess we can give Pinnacle bonus points for chutzpah: welcome to the harsh reality of video producing - you'll be learning all sorts of new jargon if you stick with it for any length of time!)
GUI as User-Friendly as It Gets
Once installation is complete, the confusing buzzwords go away and you see a graphical user interface (GUI) that's effortless in its simplicity. As Pinnacle notes on its site, "VideoSpin does not have the ability to capture video from tape-based video cameras." So the video will have to already be imported onto your hard drive (possibly via the software that came with the camera) before you can insert it into VideoSpin's timeline. The lower half of the GUI has a simplified version of the familiar video-editing timeline, with tracks for video, the audio from the camera, titles, sound effects and music.
Above the timeline is a sort of tripartite arrangement. The left hand side holds video, audio and still picture files for future use. On the right is the output screen, so you can see your work. The middle section alternately displays help files and an ongoing series of rotating ads from Pinnacle. It's a logical theory that, if you like the free VideoSpin program, hopefully you'll soon outgrow it and want to pay for a more full-featured version. With built-in codecs!
For editing, you use the ubiquitous razor-blade icon, and the program has a surprisingly large number of transitions. These range from simple fades and dissolves to checkerboards and a variety of shapes, such as stars and hearts. Not surprisingly, unlike with more advanced programs such as Adobe Premiere, you can't numerically adjust the number of frames you want a transition to run. But it's possible to increase or decrease their speed by sliding them with a mouse.
Titles have their own track on the timeline, and the title generator includes a respectable 18 templates, ranging from uber-cheesy to surprisingly slick, and customizing the titles is very easy. The program allows you to insert the same transitions used on the video track above the titles, permitting titles to dissolve and otherwise transition into each other.
Below the video on the timeline are tracks for audio, including the audio from the camera footage, sound effects and a music track.
During all phases of editing, the interface for VideoSpin is deliberately limited, of course. The program doesn't support any sort of time adjustment features, such as slow, fast or reverse motion. And it doesn't allow for creation of additional tracks. Also, it allows for only a single video track, so any sort of image compositing or picture-in-picture is beyond the scope of the program.
Hey Kids, Let's Make a Movie!
At the top of the GUI are two tabs labeled 1-Edit and 2-Make Movie. Once your movie has been assembled, and you're ready to share it with the world, switching over to the Make Movie tab replaces the editing GUI with rendering tools. These will render the movie in a variety of formats, as well as automatically upload an Adobe Flash version of your movie directly to YouTube. To create an eight-minute 99.3-megabyte Windows Media file on my dual-core 3.40GHz PC, the render time was about 30 minutes, which seems comparable to most video-editing programs. One nice touch: the timeline scrolls from beginning to end, making it easy to see how far the program has gone in the rendering process.
VideoSpin is about as simple as an editing program can get. For the person who simply wants to upload family videos to the web or for the garage band that wants to create its first music video, it should be a painless way to dip your toes into the world of video. Anyone beyond that will want to eschew VideoSpin for much more full-featured programs. In fact, just about the time you learn what a codec is, you'll probably want to upgrade programs. But until then, give VideoSpin a spin.
Platform: Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and Vista
Processor: Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon 1.4GHz minimum, 2.4GHZ or higher recommended
Memory: 512MB RAM, 1GB recommended; 1GB required for Vista (2GB recommended)
Hard Drive: 150MB of disk space to install software
Other: DirectX 9 or higher-compatible graphics card with 64MB (128MB recommended)
- Easy for beginners to get started.
- Extremely intuitive GUI.
- Direct YouTube upload capability.
- Highly limited in its features.
- Likely to be outgrown quickly
Fairly painless way for absolute beginners to get started editing and uploading video. May be too simplistic for those with even a modicum of video editing experience.
Ed Driscoll is a freelance journalist covering home theater and the media.
Pinnacle Systems, Inc.
280 North Bernardo Avenue
Mountain View, CA 94043
Free download; Codecs for MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DiVX: $15