The video editing software market has been remarkably stable over the past decade, with a clear divide between "consumer" in the $50 to $150 range, and "professional" from the likes of Adobe, Apple, Avid and Sony, starting at around $700 to $800.
If we were talking about jeans or jewelry, some entrepreneur would have filled that price gap with an in-between product, or competition would have driven down the price on the high end. Instead, the spread has remained in editing tools, as new technology has poured into the pro products, including higher quality from HD video, surround sound, deep color and 24p film editing; broader sharing via syncing to portable devices, uploading online, and burning to DVD and Blu-ray; expanding format support from DV to MPEG-2 to HDV, to tapeless AVCHD, to video DSLR and pro cameras; and faster workflow from real-time preview to graphics acceleration and 64-bit editing. It never ends!
Even better, all that technology is not just for the high end - "Consumer" no longer means "beginner" for video editing. Consumers no longer want to be limited to an easy step-by-step tool. Instead they want access to the kinds of effects they see on television, with multi-track editing and lots of effects.
Consumer video editing has definitely gone upscale in recent years, focused on the more "advanced hobbyist" or "enthusiast" user who wants to do interesting things with a collection of clips.
As a result, many of today's consumer tools have moved from simply arranging clips in a storyboard to full timeline editing, with overlaid video (overlays and picture-in-picture) and audio (music and sound effects), plus transitions and effects, titles and animation, even with keyframe controls.
Yet all those options can be confusing and even overwhelming, so consumer tools also tend to have simpler, friendlier interfaces, and provide a task-oriented approach to editing actions, as with the step-by-step Show Me How tutorials in Sony Vegas Movie Studio which provide interactive guidance through tasks.
The result in these tools is a combination of simple drag and drop with surprising power. For example, in Apple iMovie 09, you can drag and drop edit using a storyboard view of your clips, or add details with the Precision Editor with a track view. Plus you can remove shaky footage with video stabilization, or add animation with dynamic themes, transitions, and titles - and even animated travel maps.
This is great for more advanced users who are willing to invest the time to really learn a tool, but can be off-putting for beginners and non-technical users who just want to share a clip or make a quick production. One response has been to provide pre-designed themes and templates to provide better-looking results, along with automated assists to simplify the creation process.
Another answer for easier editing has been to re-think simpler consumer tools, focusing on quick clean up of individual clips and then sharing them online.
You can see this trend, for example, in the Nero 10 and Roxio Creator 2010 digital media suites, which include video editing tools (Nero Vision and Roxio VideoWave, respectively), as well as media organizer / manager tools to not only browse clips, but also to share them directly, on disc or online.
Similarly, in Corel VideoStudio Pro X3, the venerable VideoStudio Pro tool has expanded over the years to provide advanced multi-track timeline-based editing with accelerated HD processing. But the product now also includes a separate VideoStudio Express tool for easier editing, with a Media Organizer hub to browse clips, an Express Edit mode for simple trimming, enhancing, and sharing individual clips, plus storyboard-based editing for a group of clips.
But as more video is being shot on smartphones, why even require that a computer get involved at all? The new Apple iPhone 4 offers an iMovie app that can enhance your video with themes, titles and transitions, photos and soundtracks, and then share directly online.
Then for more complex productions, consumer video tools provide automated assists to help with your editing. As in muvee Reveal 8, these analyze your footage and can even create a full production from photos and videos, complete with trims, effects, titles, and synced to your music style.
And the Auto-Analyzer in Adobe Premiere Elements 8 performs an analysis of your clips, tagging footage based on characteristics including brightness and contrast, motion, shake, blur, faces and audio. You then can use this information to automatically apply trims to remove less interesting footage, fix shaky and badly lit footage, balance audio elements, or even create an entire pre-edited movie.
Advanced Consumer Options
There seems to be no end to the technology flowing down into consumer editing tools. For example, Pinnacle Studio 14 includes image stabilization from the Avid professional movie tools, along with features like stop-motion capture, motion titles, keyframing, and chroma-keying (with a green screen backdrop included in the Ultimate Collection product).
For enthusiast consumers interested in a growth path to more professional tools, Adobe Premiere Elements echoes the general design of full Adobe Premiere Pro. Similarly, the new Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 10 echoes the full Sony Vegas Pro, now supporting more complex projects with up to ten video and ten audio tracks on the timeline, and providing professional style color correction to help better match the look across a group of clips.
Professional Video Editing
So what's left for the professional tools? A lot, actually, including more creative freedom from more precise controls, deeper integration with pro cameras and capture equipment, optimized performance for heavy-duty editing, and a focus on the entire end-to-end workflow, including integration with a larger suite of tools.
Professional video editing tools are equipped to handle big projects, in terms of size (length, 4K+ frames, deeper precision color and audio), complexity (many tracks with many effects), and performance (GPU acceleration and 64-bit).
Professional tools also directly support a broad range of equipment, including professional cameras from broadcast to film, plus third-party interfaces for high-def and high-quality capture. They then support efficient editing of these different formats, through native editing directly in the format, or through conversion to intermediate formats for proxy or uncompressed editing.
These products also are often part of a larger integrated suite of tools to address the entire production workflow. For example, Sony Software offers video and audio / music editing with Vegas, Sound Forge, and ACID Pro; Apple Final Cut Studio adds motion effects, color finishing, and compression; and Adobe Creative Suite also includes Web (Flash, Dreamweaver) and Design (Photoshop, Illustrator) components.
The result with professional video editing tools is not only the ability to handle larger, more complex projects, but much more flexibility in your creative decisions - layering elements and controlling them with extensive options, from keyframed effects to the subtleties of a chroma-keyed green screen background or motion-tracked objects. And you can expand them further with extensive libraries of third-party plug-ins.
Consumer and Pro
The video editing software market continues to see dramatic changes, continually integrating new formats, technologies, and performance improvements. New capabilities are flowing down even more quickly from the professional tools into the consumer tools, and at the same time some of the interface improvements are propagating up from the entry-level tools.
So it's never been easier to edit and share your videos, and with such fun results. The consumer tools provide impressive capabilities and value for the around $100 price tag. You can access clips directly on memory-based camcorders, quickly trim and enhance, and then upload directly to share online. Or you can use automated assists to assemble and enhance a rather professional-looking production.
And the professional tools continue to serve as workhorses for more serious productions, taking full advantage of today's accelerated platforms, and already looking forward to new capabilities including editing next-generation 3-D video.
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Editing Software Buyer's Guide
Doug Dixon covers digital media at Manifest-Tech.com.