It used to be beginner editors only used entry-level editing software and pro users only used advanced editing programs. That's all changed. Today, there are many different choices for video editing applications. Whether you are a PC or Mac user, there's a software program that's right for you. Although there are many to choose from, this buyer’s guide features 11 programs broken down into four groups for beginner, intermediate, advanced, and professional users. We will highlight these video editing applications by group, and give you an overview of what they are like, and which software OS and hardware they require.
- Apple iMovie ‘11 is pre-installed with every new Apple computer. It’s also bundled as part of iLife ‘11 which can be purchased from the Mac App Store, for older Mac computers, OS X v10.6.8 is required. Most beginning video editors prefer going without a significant learning curve, and iMovie ‘11 has a large selection of editing templates to make the job easy.
- Microsoft Windows Movie Maker is a free download from Microsoft and works with PCs running Windows 7 or later. Movie Maker has simple easy-to-follow procedures to edit videos that should please every beginner.
- Adobe Premiere Elements 11 ($100)
Premiere Elements is the “light” version of the full-featured Adobe Premiere Pro. To edit HD video, Windows users will need a dual-core 2 GHz CPU or faster, with 2GB RAM. Mac users will need OS X v10.6, or newer.
Adobe Premiere Elements has an easy to use graphical user interface (GUI) with a timeline where you drag and drop video clips, along with robust editing and trimming controls. The Quick editing mode’s InstantMovie setting offers beginners an easy way to edit videos with a variety of themes (birthday, wedding, holiday, etc.), while the Expert mode offers more controls such as transitions, effects, and more on the video and audio timeline – up to 99 tracks. The Organizer helps manage video clips with people, places, and events groupings. New features include slow and fast-motion speed effects, color adjustment for correcting bad color balance, and sharing edited videos on social video websites such as Vimeo.
- MAGIX Movie Edit Pro 2013 for Windows PC.
MAGIX offers Movie Edit Pro 2013 editing software in three flavors – the basic Movie Edit Pro 2013 ($130), Movie Edit Pro 2013 Plus ($160), and Move Edit Pro 2013 Premium ($490).The basic package has a beginner’s mode with automatic video editing and automatic wizards for easy video editing. The detail mode has 32-track editing, menu templates, and output support for DVD, Blu-ray, Facebook, and YouTube. The Plus package offers 99-track editing, full HD support (HDV/AVCHD), stereo 3D, two camera multi-cam source editing, color correction, Dolby Digital 5.1, and professional menu templates for discs. The Premium version reprises the same Plus features, but also includes add-ons from known plug-in producers: proDAD and NewBlueFX.
- CyberLink PowerDirector 11 Ultimate for Windows PC ($130).
PowerDirector 11 Ultimate is CyberLink's flagship video editing application. It’s a complete video capture, editing, and publishing package that is remarkably affordable, yet full-featured, when compared to more expensive applications to follow.
PowerDirector 11 Ultimate's unique features include Content-Aware Editing for automatic identification of important scenes and correction of bad footage, a 64-bit TrueVelocity engine – allowing greater rendering speed. The Design Studio tools (Title Designer, PiP Designer, Particle Designer and Menu Designer), 4k/2k video resolution support, NewBlueFX professional video effects, and complete 3D editing support will have you thinking like a pro. PowerDirector 11 is compatible with both Windows 64-bit and 32-bit OS.
- Pinnacle Studio 16 Ultimate ($130).
Pinnacle Studio 16 is from Pinnacle Systems, an added division of the fast-growing Corel Inc. Pinnacle Studio 16 Ultimate is a top-of-the-line flagship prosumer editing application. Key features include unlimited video/audio tracks, Red Giant’s filmmaker's and motion graphics toolkits for more than 2,000 2D and 3D effects, an actual green screen background for chromakey effects, video sharing with Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo, professional quality frame-accurate editing, media enhancement tools for video and audio, custom audio soundtracks using Scorefitter, and 50GB of project storage in the cloud, just to name a few.
Editing HD video is quite computer processor and memory intensive, so Windows 64-bit OS is recommended, Windows 32-bit OS will still work, though, it's just slower. A dual core processor with 4GB RAM minimum is also recommended.
- Apple Final Cut Pro X ($300).
Apple created a big revision for Final Cut Pro users in 2011 with the release of Final Cut Pro X. Final Cut Pro is a 64-bit application that supports all video formats, tape or file-based, and up to the very latest 4k resolution. Motion 5 is the additional application that creates motion graphics, similar to Adobe After Effects, while the optional Compressor 4 application performs needed video compression and conversions. Both function closely with Final Cut Pro X and are available as separate add-ons ($50 each).
Some of the new features in Final Cut Pro X are the Magnetic Timeline, as many as 64 cameras auto-synced, automatic fixing of camera shake, and color balance. Final Cut Pro X also includes automatic fixing of typical audio issues. Final Cut Pro X works with 64-bit architecture best, and can use third-party Thunderbolt devices.
Advanced ($500 and greater)
- Sony Creative Software Vegas Pro 12 for Windows is $600 for the download version and $680 to get the physical package.
Vegas Pro 12 offers a wide variety of features for advanced users as well as professionals. Advanced users will benefit from expanded edit mode and improvements to the GUI, trimming and timeline enhancements, 64-bit audio plug-ins, and new 2D/3D titling effects from NewBlueFX's Titler Pro 1.0.
Pro editors will like the new Project interchange feature that allows importing editing projects from other editing software programs and graphical applications, as well as exporting Vegas Pro 12 projects to them. Other professional video formats including Panasonic P2 and DVCPRO/AVC-Intra are supported natively. Vegas Pro 12 is a Windows Vista (or greater) 64-bit application.
- Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 ($800).
Adobe's Premiere Pro Creative Suite 6 requires Windows 64-bit OS (either Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 or Windows 8). A new GUI workspace, redesigned from CS5, offers larger source and program monitors, as well as great new tools such as Rolling Shutter Repair, which corrects for the rolling shutter issue common in DSLR videos, and Warp Stabilizer which fixes shaky footage. Edit points can also be trimmed with a new option panel, entering a specific number of frames, or dynamically trimmed by using roll edit.
Finally, at the professional end we are featuring two products:
one for Windows or Mac, and the other exclusively for Mac. Avid's Media Composer 6.5 is ready for Windows or Mac ($2,500) and Autodesk's Smoke 2013 ($3,495) is for Mac.
- Avid Media Composer 6.5 is a demanding professional application that uses a 64-bit Windows PC, Core 2 Duo CPU 2.33GHz (or faster), 4GB RAM (or more), and an NVIDIA Quadro FX family graphics card. Mac users will need to run Lion/Mountain Lion OS with similar hardware requirements. There are just way too many features to cover them here, but suffice it to say that Media Composer 6.5 is a standard for professional video editing, whether for broadcast TV, commercials, motion pictures, or other high-end needs such as stereoscopic 3D production.
- Autodesk Smoke 2013 is a high-end editing and finishing application. “Finishing” in professional video, means that even if a video project was edited on one editing system, there might be some unfinished aspect of the edited video that should be completed on a “finishing” system, such as color correction.
Smoke 2013 hardware requirements are a 64-bit Mac with OS X (Lion/SnowLeopard/MountainLion), and 4GB RAM. Ambitious editors with those means, should download the trial to give Smoke a try. The price is steep, but the capabilities are still valued at greater than $3,500.
So there you have it – eleven varied programs that should suit any video editor, from an absolute beginner to a seasoned professional, and everywhere in between, priced to fit your budget. We can expect more updates through 2013. Stay alert for the programs you use. For more details, consult the associated grid of products and features.
Tony Gomez is a veteran producer, editor, videographer, digital photographer, and reviewer of consumer and professional digital imaging and video products, with more than 30 years experience.