Video editing software can really challenge a home computer. A typical home computer a few years back might have done some word processing, e-mail and play a game or two. Video editing software was for dedicated hobbyists and was too expensive, difficult and too demanding for the average computer (and user, for that matter).
Today, all that has changed. Most computers come with some sort of video editing application already installed (Apple iMovie or Microsoft MovieMaker) and the power of the typical home computer is more than sufficient to handle the rigorous demands of video editing. All you really need, hardware-wise, is a FireWire port or some sort of analog capture device.
Eventually, most home video editors will find that the video editing application that came installed with their operating system can’t provide all the features they need to fulfill their video aspirations. Luckily, the market has responded with a variety of video editing software packages at many different levels of price, performance and features.
But which one is right for you? In this article, we’ll survey the current market in video editing applications in order to help you find a product that matches your current needs and budget.
Under $200: The Bargain Bin
The low end of the price scale in video editing has seen some very impressive developments in recent years. What once was the domain of cranky, kludgy, crashy video editing software titles has become a field populated with serious applications capable of producing spectacular results. Here are some highlights.
Roxio’s VideoWave 7 ($80) offers three different modes for editing video: timeline, storyboard and the fully-automated CineMagic wizard. The wizard is a module that quickly creates a video of your favorite shots, complete with transitions, titles and background music. Timeline editing with VideoWave supports up to 14 tracks of video, and output in MPEG, DiVX or DVD (complete with basic authoring tools). That app is a magnitude better than version 5 and is worth a look.
Pinnacle Studio 9 ($100) is the latest in a popular series from a company that’s long been a contender in both professional and hobbyist video circles. Studio 9 incorporates automatic color correction, a surround-sound mixer (but no surround encoding) and DVD authoring with a choice between storyboard and timeline editing interfaces.
The venerable technology lead Ulead VideoStudio 8 ($100) incorporates over 700 effects and transitions, as well as an auto music maker to help you compose your own original soundtracks for your productions. DVD authoring is included, as is a choice between timeline and storyboard style editing and a simple movie wizard for quick edits.
Magix Movie Edit Pro 2004 ($100) offers up to 16 tracks and a number of overlay effects, such as picture-in-picture and still image compositing. An eight-track real-time audio mixer is also included, as well as a large number of video and audio effects and DVD authoring.
$200-$1000: Industry Workhorses
In this category, you’ll find the majority of the serious video editing software titles that have come to dominate the field in professional desktop video editing over the past decade. The names in this category will be familiar to many readers and the competition for this segment of the marketplace has become fierce, resulting in more and more power in each successive version of the software. Look for film and HD capabilities to dominate the discussion of this year’s crop of professional-level video applications in this price range.
Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 ($699) is the latest in the company’s long line of successful video editing software. One of the pioneers in the field of timeline-based video editing, Premiere set the bar for what a video editing application should be able to achieve. Like previous versions, Premiere 1.5 offers unlimited tracks of audio and video, all manner of video output formats, batch capture, and hundreds of effects and transitions with user-definable parameters. The latest version adds a Project Manager that helps production houses share or move projects between computers or over a LAN. New tools include Bezier-curve keyframe tools, support for 24p projects (for video-to-film producers), improved 3D effects, auto color correction and improved integration with other Adobe applications.
Apple’s Final Cut Pro ($999) has made waves in the desktop video editing community in the past few years, being among the first to offer serious color correction and project management options. The latest version’s name, Final Cut Pro HD (really version 4 + HD), hints at the chief upgrades in the capabilities of the software: support for high-definition television and film resolutions. The many features of the latest upgrade of Final Cut Pro include more support for real-time effects, an improved customizable user interface and support for Apple’s up-and-coming Xsan architecture for RAIDs over a LAN.
Sony’s Vegas 5 ($560) has become a popular option for professional video editors in recent years. Offering unlimited audio and video tracks, real-time previews, a customizable interface and powerful effect customization, Vegas 5 has taken direct aim at the professional-level video editing marketplace. Keyframable Bezier masks, true 3D-space manipulation of video tracks, Flash .swf format import, 24p DV support and color correction and matching tools are included.
Liquid Edition ($550) weighs in as Pinnacle’s professional-level video editing software, offering hundreds of real-time transitions, timeline-based direct-to-DVD authoring, Liquid CX color correction, dynamic slow-motion and other sub-pixel effects. One cool feature we really like is the ability to continue working as your effects render in the background. InstantSave automatically saves every step of your work (with undo capability) so you never ever have to save your project or worry about losing work. Imagine what never having to save or render would mean to your workflow.
Over $1000: The Cream of the Crop?
In the over-$1000 category, we find applications for the high-end video producer in mind. Though Hollywood video editing houses usually purchase complete systems that include hardware as well as software in an integrated package (albeit a package that starts at $20K), some companies opt to sell just the editing software as well.
Such is the case with Avid’s Xpress Pro ($1,695). Avid has made a name for itself as the creator of the Avid Media Composer, an integrated hardware/software system that has become the standard in Hollywood television and film creation circles. In Avid Xpress Pro, the company offers much of the functionality of the media composer in a software-only package. The list of professional-level features that Xpress Pro offers reads like a litany of high-end video and film jargon. Features include support for professional video formats, 2D and 3D OpenGL-based effects and the new 15:1 offline resolution (which is great when you are trying to edit uncompressed HD frames). Incorporating video, audio, film, DVD and effects software in one package, Avid Xpress Pro does it all. If you dream of going to Hollywood and editing for one of the big studios, this package may be your first step in that direction.
Which is Right for You?
It can be difficult for an aspiring video editor, or even an experienced video editor, to make a choice in such a rapidly expanding and ever changing environment. The good news, however, is that it’s common to find features and capabilities in the under-$200 category that weren’t even dreamed of on $100K edit bays a few years ago. Even if you’re independently wealthy and have a huge budget to work with, you may want to consider one of the simpler video editing packages if all you want to do is create your own home DVDs of family vacations. If you plan to go professional, however, you may find that you need one of the industry workhorses to achieve the kind of quality you desire in a finished product. And if you plan to move to Hollywood to hang around with the big boys and girls of the film and video editing world, god help you, for you may need more than just a top-notch video editing software package to get you through that experience.
Joe McCleskey is an instructional media specialist and plays a mean guitar.