Get Started with Video Editing Software

When someone asks the question “Where should I start?” you might expect the answer to be something as simple as “Start at the beginning.” Sounds reasonable. However, when it comes to picking out editing software, it’s best to probably start at the end. What does that mean? Read on. It will all become clear in a moment.

When you have your sights set on purchasing the latest video editing software, before your take the plunge, think about the results you want to accomplish. What kind of projects are you editing? For whom are they intended? Are you a beginner wanting to edit your child’s end-of-year sports team video for family and friends? Maybe you want to launch a wedding video business or you are looking to cut commercials for local advertisers. The point is, what you want to get out of your system should ultimately guide your purchasing decision.

Your System

Digital video editing has opened the door to a vast array of creativity for everyone from the beginner to the most advanced feature film editor. However, if you are just getting started with video editing, it’s best to start with a system comprised of the basics.

First, there are some key factors to consider. For instance, can your home PC handle large video files? While most computers come standard with some sort of video editing capabilities, they often don’t have the RAM capability to handle the video files themselves. While many software providers stipulate a minimum requirement of 256MB of RAM, in reality, anything less than 384MB of RAM and you’re inviting a crash (even more so with high-definition video). For intermediate and advanced editors, computer systems that are solely dedicated to the purpose of editing are common, with any sort of word processing or other business being performed from a separate system entirely. Therefore, any sort of higher-end software video software packages will insist on RAM requirements of at least 1GB or more. This larger amount of RAM also enables faster rendering of effects and proper support of third-party effects applications.


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Now that RAM is covered, what about your hard drive space? The video (and audio) have to be stored somewhere. Unless you have a separate drive dedicated to media storage (which is highly recommended), you will have to ensure that your system’s hard drive is large enough to handle the media – 10 or 20GB just won’t do it. Luckily, most PCs today come with media-ready hard drives containing 60GB or more of space. Still, media files absolutely eat megabytes for lunch; therefore, it is best to invest in a high-capacity hard drive with a fast throughput for your media. This also limits the possibility of mixing your media with your applications and other critical information and programs stored on your hard drive.

There is one more thing to consider about your system and how it relates to your editing software. If you’re a novice just starting out, make sure you have a clear picture of your software requirements. Some software suppliers require that you purchase their hardware to operate their editing software. While many of these systems are editing workhorses and highly recommended, they may be more than you’re willing to get into as a beginner. Take some time to learn your craft, and then look at purchasing a higher-priced upgrade with external hardware requirements.

Your Software

From free system software to the highest of high end, every editing software package operates using the same basic standards. Variables make the difference. For instance, almost every system accepts a mixed number of video formats. Most low-end systems can’t accept professional video formats such as uncompressed HD or DV50, but formats such as DV25 and many MPEG formats are supported. Professional video formats become more accessible at intermediate and advanced levels.You can often log the media itself into your system using a Firewire device like your camera as an external deck.

Software workflow is also an important variable. If you plan on anything more than simply taking video from your tape, putting it on a timeline and then spitting it back out again, you will want multiple audio and video tracks to work with. Low-end software (the kind that typically comes with your computer purchase) or some of the more economically-priced software often limit the number of video and audio tracks to just a few, which ultimately limits your ability to mix great sound or create anything more than a video dissolve. Many of the mid-level software packages offer up to 99 tracks of audio and video, including some real-time effect previews working with multiple video layers. Many of the higher-end packages offer unlimited audio and video tracks with additional real-time preview support. They also offer a variety of other workflow options, including audio scrubbing (the ability to scan through an audio track to a particular point), batch capture and keyframe animation abilities. As time continues on and the marketplace becomes more competitive, mid-level software applications are getting more sophisticated, competing with the high-end functionality.

Your Package Price

Keyframe animation abilities, uncompressed HD, real-time previews… they’re all great features, but if you’re like most editors out there, price is still one of the biggest deciding factors. While technology has broken new boundaries with non-linear editing software capability, thus making software easier to use and ultimately driving the price down, don’t be fooled by an offer that seems too good to be true. Free, while not bad, is still free. Low-priced options can be frustrating if you’re looking to create a masterpiece, while blowing wads of cash on a top brand can end up bogging you down in features you don’t really need or understand.

When you are considering your options, see if the software you are interested in has an online trial version or a tutorial DVD that the manufacturer will send you. Doing a bit of “hands-on” research can really help you with your overall decision and might even push you in a direction you had never considered before.

As was stated at the beginning of this article, when you’re considering purchasing video editing software, start at the end. Think about what projects you want to create and the results you want to accomplish, and then find the best tool to help you create them.

Michael Fitzer is an Emmy award-winning commercial and documentary writer/ producer.

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