Confused by the profusion of nonlinear editing software available on the market today? This overview feature and accompanying buyers guide will help you find the product that fits your budget and needs.
So you're thinking you want to make the bold step to a nonlinear editing system. You've heard about the hundreds of transitions, effects and filters you can achieve with a mere click of a mouse. You've seen demos or heard stories about how easy it is to download your VHS or 8mm footage to a hard drive, put your clips in order and--presto!--make your video. Maybe you've been coveting a new digital camcorder or a powerful computer, and you know nonlinear is the natural choice for that combination. If you've been looking around, then you know there is a wide variety of nonlinear editing software out there for all skill levels of video editors, from novice to hobbyist to professional.
Because of this range in price and performance, it's important for anyone using or considering using nonlinear editing equipment to understand the differences between the various categories of software and what's available within each. For our purposes in this overview, we divided the software products into three categories based on the price range they fall in. Be sure to look at the accompanying nonlinear editing software grid to compare features and prices at a glance.
It's also important to note that while all the nonlinear editing software products we list can be purchased separately from video capture hardware, video capture products typically come bundled with an editing application. This is usually a cheaper way to get nonlinear editing software because a video capture board and software package will often cost less than the software alone. This also tends to reduce incompatibility issues between the hardware and software. Make sure to consider acquiring hardware and software together when making a nonlinear editing purchasing decision.
It Starts Here; Software Less than $200
Most low-cost programs were designed with the beginner or the hobbyist in mind and feature a GUI (graphic user interface) with a softer and less industrial look than the more expensive programs. These products are perfect for someone who's just learning how to edit or who wants to cut the chaff from his vacation videos. The less expensive packages run with a variety of hardware. If there's an exception to the rule that you should buy your software with your hardware, this category is it. These programs are so inexpensive, they often don't come bundled. You may even want to try a couple before you find the one you like best. As you get more serious and need more editing horsepower, you would move from this category into a more full-featured product.
MGI VideoWave II ($100) is a popular low-priced product from a well-known and reputable software manufacturer. VideoWave II uses a storyboard editing interface. When you drag a clip icon to the work area, it displays a picture icon there that represents a frame of the clip. Editing is performed by arranging the order of these picture icons. VideoWave II includes more than 50 transition effects and allows you to add animated titles to your home video.
Ulead Systems VideoStudio 3.0 ($130) has options for either a timeline or storyboard interface. Ulead is well known in the video-editing realm and this is Ulead's entry-level video editing product. Drag a clip to the timeline or storyboard and then add any of the 100 plus transitions. VideoStudio 3.0 helps speed the editing process with special SmartRender technology. This does not require that you render the entire project every time you make a change.
In nonlinear editing terms, "rendering" is the term used to describe the process nonlinear systems use to create the individual frames of the new, edited clip. Depending on how involved and elaborate your production is, rendering can be quick or incredibly time-consuming.
Avid Cinema ($139), available for both PC and Mac at the same price, also fits the low-cost category. Avid is known for its professional editing systems. This is Avid's first entry into the novice nonlinear editing software market.
Digital Origin, formerly Radius Inc., is best known for its popular proprietary Macintosh editing product, EditDV. A newer version will work with the built-in FireWire port of Macintosh G3s. EditDV Unplugged is a $99 editing software product that runs on either the Mac or PC platform.
Another nonlinear editing software product is Video 1,2,3 by WebKapture ($80). Designed primarily to create streaming video for the Internet, Video 1,2,3 offers nonlinear editing capabilities at an affordable price.
For the More Serious Producer; $200 - $1000
This price range caters to someone who's looking to spend a little more money for a tool that will allow the creation of a very high-quality production with lots of slick effects and other bells and whistles. Each of these products is a powerful tool that requires a fairly powerful computer to run. Configuration can be tricky. Remember, too, that lots of neat features can mean lots of headaches. Extreme patience should be listed as part of the minimum operator requirements.
That's the disclaimer. Once you've climbed the learning curve and learned to use one of these software products, you are likely to find that its power and versatility can grow with you and suit you well for years to come. Upgrades are part of the software game, of course, but they are often made available at no cost through manufacturer websites. With this category of video editing product, you will be amazed at just how much is possible on today's desktop computer.
Adobe Systems' Premiere software is probably the most popular and well-known nonlinear video-editing package on the market. It runs on either the Macintosh or PC platform. Version 5.1 ($895) uses a new Timeline window that replaces the Construction window of previous versions. There is also a new Monitor window that serves for Preview and Trimming functions. Toolbars are easy to customize and "Tab"; and Adobe has made it easy to transfer "Layers" created from its After Effects and PhotoShop products into tracks of Premiere. Adobe Premiere 5.1 often ships with any of a number of other programs, including a copy of PhotoShop LE, QuickTime 3.0 and Imagine Products' Executive Producer Lite logging software.
If you own version 4.2 of Premiere, you can upgrade to 5.1 for only $199. If you own 5.0, the 5.1 upgrade is free. With its new audio controls, three-point editing and easy marker placement, many would argue that Adobe Premiere 5.1 is the leading video editing product in the consumer and semi-professional realms.
Ulead would take issue with that assertion, and would back it up with the power and performance of its MediaStudio Pro 5.2 nonlinear editing software. Version 5.2 is an upgrade to version 5.0, which, when it was released in 1997, in many ways set the performance benchmark for the latest crop of video editing software.
MediaStudio Pro consists of several separate programs combined into one system: Video Capture, Video Editing, Audio Editing, Video Paint, a Character Generator and an MPEG encoder. Each handles a different part of the nonlinear editing process. Ulead has received very positive reviews for its intuitive interface and product reliability.
MediaStudio Pro also includes a built-in waveform monitor and vectorscope to allow color calibration of digitized video. Built-in support for compatible devices lets you control hardware devices from within the video capture menu, allowing either manual or batch capture options. The open plug-in architecture of the MediaStudio Pro allows the use of third party software. Also included is the Ulead SmartRender feature, which finds and renders only those things that have changed since the last rendering.
MediaStudio Pro 5.2 costs $595 for the full version, and $149 for the upgrade from version 5.0.
A recent player in the consumer-level video editing field is in:sync with its product, Speed Razor 4.5 SE ($895). A nonlinear editing application for Windows 98, Speed Razor 4.5 SE is a powerful editing package that offers users real-time video effects and still image sequence playback (for playback of 3D animation and titles created in other software). For advanced productions, Speed Razor 4.5 SE users can create composites using broadcast style 3D digital video effects, and mix up to 20 audio tracks. Although not a true proprietary system, Speed Razor 4.5 SE supports only two video capture cards, and both are from Pinnacle Systems, the miroVIDEO DC30 and the DV300.
On the Professional Level; Over $1000
In this category most of the systems are of broadcast quality, with features to match. in:sync's entry into the over $1000 category is the Speed Razor 4.5 RT ($5000). Operating under Windows NT, Speed Razor 4.5 RT offers real-time playback of multi-layered video effects and still image sequences for greater flexibility in producing the audio portions of videos. It also provides real time audio mixing of up to 99 audio tracks and video layers for composites, more than 60 adjustable transitions and effects, including 3D digital video effects, and multi-point tracking and motion tracking effects.
On the higher end of the editing software scale is Avid's MCXpress for Windows NT ($2495). Modeled after Avid's popular Macintosh based Media Composer, MCXpress uses timeline editing and offers frame-accurate trimming. MCXpress can capture images at up to 300KB per frame. MCXpress includes a real time effects option, unlimited compositing layers, and more than 100 transition effects. MCXpress gives users 32 levels of undo/redo. With its ability to import and export over 20 standard Windows file formats, MCXpress can integrate 3D animations, 2D graphics and audio files from other Windows applications.
What's It All Mean?
When comparing nonlinear editing software products, let your budget, expectations and comfort with the editing process be your guide. Ask yourself some fundamental questions. What type of video are you intending to make? What type of computer do you have, or what type are you willing to buy? Will you need many effects and transitions? What kind of titles do you need? What about rendering? Are you willing to wait, or are you willing to spend the money required to get a system that performs in real time? Once you have the answers, you'll be ready to take the plunge to find a system that best suits your needs.