It used to be a simple matter of checking with a few companies, breaking down the editing world into linear and nonlinear, and choosing an expensive, yet basic editing system. Now an overwhelming variety of editing software exists. To help you work your way through the myriad of choices, we have put together this editing software buyer’s guide. In this article, we will break down your choices into three cost levels: $200 or less, $200 to $1,000 and over $1,000.
Edit Decision List
Before deciding what editing software you should buy, there are a number of issues you need to resolve. Most important, perhaps, is your budget. Editors range in price from the Macintosh iMovie2, which is free with a new Mac, to many thousands of dollars.
Once you have established how much you are willing to spend on software, you need to carefully consider a few other matters. First, decide what platform are you going to use, Macintosh or Windows? If you plan to install your new software on a computer you already own this may be a simple decision. If not, you’ll need to give it some thought. With the advent of DV and FireWire (IEEE 1394), Windows-based editing has come a long way and now features a wide variety of editing options. Macintosh, always a strong presence in the video and graphics arena, also offers some powerful options for video editors. These two platforms have reached the point that both will provide a solid foundation for you to build the editing system of your choice.
Now that you have your computer (or at least the picture from the catalog) sitting in front of you, you must choose the software. Start by asking yourself a few questions.
There are also specific editing questions you need to ask.
There are so many questions and so many answers!
Editing for Under $200
If you are interested in editing software that will enable you do simple edits, add titles, music and simple effects, you can do all of this for under $200. One fine example from this group is iMovie2. It is very easy to use and includes simple transitions and effects, basic titling, audio control and features both a storyboard and timeline interface. If you have an older Macintosh G3 equipped with FireWire or you need to upgrade from the first iMovie version, you can buy iMovie2 for $49.
If you work in the Windows realm, try downloading AIST’s MovieXone from www.aist.com. This free software features a simple storyboard interface that lets you add titles and edit audio. For a little more power, you might want to move up to the company’s Windows-based MovieDV ($50). This product features a timeline interface, 16 video and four audio effects and four video and two audio tracks. AIST also offers a variety of plug-ins that range in price from free to $90.
Another interesting product is Interactive Solutions MovieWorks Deluxe 5.2 ($119). This software, which includes both a Mac and Windows version, has received high praise for its ease of use and also for its ability to create multimedia presentations. The software gives you a choice of storyboard or timeline interface and features video, audio, paint and animation.
Roxio (formerly MGI) offers VideoWave 5 ($130), which includes DVD authoring, video mixing, time effects such as slow and fast motion and a variety of mastering formats. You can download this Windows-based system, as you can with several of the other systems that are mentioned here, for a short trial period.
Ulead Systems offers its basic editor, VideoStudio 6 ($99). This simple, yet effective program allows the editor to create movies with titles, soundtracks and some video filter effects. It enables the user to master to CD, DVD, tape or the Web.
Finally, in this category, is Pinnacle System’s Studio DV Version 7 ($99). This Windows-based system offers 3D transitions, fast/slow motion, split audio and video tracks and roll and crawl titling.
Editing Software – $200 to $1,000
There are a number of options at this price range and more seem to pop up every year. Adobe Premiere ($549) has been the dominant player in consumer editing for years. The 6.0 version (released well over a year ago) has taken full advantage of FireWire technology and DV. The program now provides the user the ability to create programs for use on video, the Internet and DVD. Premiere 6.0 features a choice between a two-tier A/B style timeline and an Avid-style single-line interface. There are also toggle switches for various functions. The features keep expanding, although Premiere lacks scene detection and real-time previewing that are now common in other applications in this category.
Apple’s Final Cut Pro 3 ($999) offers a great-looking and easy-to-navigate interface with a large number of features. The newest version includes real-time previewing, new media management tools and enhanced audio and titling functions. FCP3 offers single-solution editing and compositing capabilities and can be further enhanced with a growing number of plug-ins.
Another contender in this price range is Sonic Foundry’s Vegas Video 3.0 ($500). This company, better known for it’s audio products, has created a straightforward but comprehensive Windows-based editor that features real-time previews of the edit process. This capability allows you to see the video as you tweak it instead of waiting for it to render. This software is RAM-based for quick access and depends on processor speed, not hardware for its functions.
Ulead weighs into this price range as well with the much-praised and venerable MediaStudio Pro 6.5 ($495). This software package offers a complete video editing solution with DV and MPEG-2 editing support. The new 6.5 edition lets you create DVDs and VCDs within the application. The easy-to-use interface is unique in that it is divided into six distinct modules: video capture, video editing, audio editing, vector graphics creation, video painting and built-in DVD/VCD authoring. This software also comes with text and rotoscoping functions.
Editing Solutions – $1,000 and Up
The sky is the limit once you rise above the $1,000 mark. Very few of us can afford to even look at a SGI Octane2 (if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it). However, there are a number of software options that don’t have five or six digits in their prices. These systems are all capable of providing broadcast-quality images with a vast array of features. The key to deciding what product best fits your needs from this arena is test-driving the product. Consult your local sales representative and try the product out. Test the interface for ease of use, do a number of edits that match what your typical production needs. Look until you are sure you’ve found the system for you.
In this range, hardware/software combination systems are most prevalent. Depending on the type of hardware you have in your computer, you may opt for a software package best matched with Matrox DigiSuite or RT2500 capture cards or perhaps Pinnacle’s new Pro-ONE card.
Incite Editor 2.8 ($2,495 with real-time 3D) works with the Matrox hardware. This software features multiple editing modes and a variety of real-time effects. This software also enables you to pull material from analog tape machines as well as disk-based clips. Another software package that takes advantage of Matrox’s hardware capabilities is United Media’s On-line Express ($1,995). This software package features digital accuracy with an old analog feel.
Avid has been the industry standard digital editor for a very long time and has been tied to hardware in the past. An extremely exciting recent development is the $1,699 software-only version of their editing suite, making professional Avid editing tools affordable for the first time.
The Final Cut
When choosing editing software, don’t forget to look into the future. What will your needs be two years down the road? Will your software allow you to grow and maintain the level of professionalism you prefer? Does the software give you the ability to expand in new directions and take advantage of new technologies as you can afford them? This is an important decision, spend some time, go on some test drives and enjoy the editing process.