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Video Editing Software

The possibility of digital video editing on personal computers has opened a floodgate of incredibly powerful software applications that make movie creation easy, fun, and addictive.

Digital video editing applications are referred to as NLE (Non-Linear Editing) systems. Non-linear editing allows you to work with clips and sequences of video in a non-sequential order. If your background doesn't include traditional editing of film or video tape, you probably won't ever fully appreciate the advantages and convenience of non-linear editing.

Digital video editing also offers an advantage even the most inexperienced editor can appreciate: it's non-destructive. You can do anything to your video (shorten it, speed it up, slow it down, apply a special effect, or distort it) and the original clip is always there, untouched and ready to use. This non-destructive feature opens the door to creativity and experimentation and virtually eliminates the intimidation and fear of working with video, knowing that you can't really harm any of that irreplaceable footage.

There are an amazing number of video editing products available. Shop around to find the one that suits you best. The ones we've chosen for this chapter are mainstream, -popular options whose price tags range from free to moderately expensive. We've organized the applications into two categories: entry-level and mid-range.

There are also professional, high-end NLE -systems (such as Scenarist and some Avid products) that are technically inaccessible or too expensive for most users, such as freelancers, consumers, small businesses, and us. While this may cause us to experience just a little technology-envy, the software we can afford is capable of doing everything we need—and more.

Entry-level video editing applications

This category of software is defined by affordable prices and some limitation of professional video editing features. Although the term entry-level implies the software is best suited for small, personal projects rather than professional ones, many entry-level applications offer professional-level quality and features. The limitations include things such as a small number of audio and video tracks available for editing, exclusion of some -special edit tools (ripple, roll, slip, and slide), and the absence of certain professional project--management features.

When applying effects and filters or when editing audio, entry-level applications do not provide the high degree of control over the effects that mid-range and high-end -applications offer.

The following pages show popular entry-level applications that combine short learning curves with professional-looking results.

If you upgrade from an entry-level application to a mid-range one or if you switch to a competitive editing product, you'll notice many similarities in the way various applications work—the transition will be fairly easy.

Roxio VideoWave (Windows)

Roxio VideoWave (about $100) is an entry-level video editing application that captures video from a digital video camera to a PC in the AVI file format. AVI (Audio Video Interleaved) is a Microsoft file format for sound and motion pictures. Movies can be exported to a DVD format (MPEG-2).

iMovie (Macintosh)

iMovie is FREE and comes bundled with newer Macs. You can also download it from Apple's web site at www.Apple.com/software. Current versions of iMovie require Mac OS X. The iMovie interface is shown below.

When a digital video camera is connected to your computer, iMovie detects it and puts itself in “Camera mode” (as opposed to “Edit mode”). Use the controller buttons located below the Monitor window (shown below) to scroll to a point in the video you want to capture, then click the “Import” button to start and stop the import when you choose. The captured clips appear in the Clips pane. Or click the “Import” button and capture all the video on your tape.

iMovie detects scene breaks and creates new clips each time the video camera was turned on and recording (in iMovie Preferences, you can turn off this option and capture multiple scenes as a large, single clip).

iMovie cannot log video clips (create a list) with exact timecode information from the video tape as you capture them, which makes large-project management and long-term storage more difficult (this may not be a big concern for smaller projects). One of the advantages of a log-and-capture feature is that, when you finish a project, you can throw away the huge digital video clips that use so much storage space on your hard drive. If you ever need to work on the project again, software with a log-and-capture feature can recapture the same video clips from the original tape and rebuild the entire project for you.

ArcSoft ShowBiz (Windows)

ShowBiz (about $80; also comes bundled with MyDVD software by Sonic) provides one video track and two audio tracks, a large collection of animated intros, transitions, sound effects, and some nice video effects. You can view the Timeline in “Storyboard mode,” which shows only large graphics and transitions (shown below), or in a traditional “Timeline mode” (as shown on the next page).

When you export in DVD format, ShowBiz looks for MyDVD to create a DVD project.

To place a video clip in the Timeline: drag a clip from the Media palette (shown above) into one of the media placeholder boxes in the Timeline.

Pinnacle Studio (Windows)

Pinnacle Studio (from Pinnacle Systems, about $130) is a versatile entry-level editing application that includes a surprising number of features. Studio has a variety of advanced timeline editing techniques such as split edits, J-cuts, and L-cuts, a SmartSound music generator, and some Hollywood FX transitions and effects. Studio can output your movie as an AVI or MPEG file.

Windows Movie Maker (Windows)

Windows Movie Maker is a FREE video editor from Microsoft and is compatible with Windows Me and Windows XP operating systems. You can download it from the Microsoft web site.

Windows Movie Maker has many features: a wizard to guide you step-by-step through capturing and editing your movie, 30 video effects, 60 video transitions, dozens of title styles, fast rendering, one video and two audio tracks, an AutoMovie feature, ability to capture and output wide-screen format (16:9), and more.

Movie Maker's default file capture format is Windows Media Video Series 9, but you can choose to capture using other formats, including the more useful DV-AVI format.

From the Transitions palette, shown above, drag a transition icon to the Timeline and drop it between two video clips.

Mid-range video editing applications

Striping Tip

When you shoot video, your camcorder puts a timecode on the tape. If you stop and restart the camera or if you rewind the tape to preview footage, it's easy to accidentally create a break in the timecode when you advance the tape to start recording again. Whenever a timecode break occurs on the tape, the timecode starts at zero again, which makes the “logging” feature of editing software useless.

To avoid this problem, stripe your tapes: put a blank tape in your camcorder, put the lens cap on, then press the record button and record over the entire tape. This puts an unbroken timecode on the tape. Rewind the tape and you're ready to shoot without the possibility of any timecode breaks.

If you don't have time to stripe your tape, make sure to do this: before you start taping your next scene, rewind the tape to a point where the new recording will overwrite the last several seconds of the previous scene.

The mid-range category includes very powerful, professional applications that can be used for commercial or personal projects. These software programs could easily fall into the high-end category except that they're affordable and easy to use.

The difference between mid-range and entry-level editing programs is dramatic. In addition to the convenience of non-linear and non-destructive editing, mid-range programs provide an impressive array of features meant to attract the attention of professionals. Some of the feature highlights include:

  • Log and capture: You can create a list of exact timecodes for the clips you want to capture, then automatically batch-capture all the designated clips from the camcorder. The log enables the software to easily reconstruct projects and recapture the same video clips from the original tape if you've deleted the previously captured clips from your hard drive. In professional environments this feature saves many gigabytes of storage space.

  • Offline editing: You can capture low--resolution video files for quick work on rough cuts or for working on a computer with limited storage space, then recapture the video clips at a high resolution.

  • Customizable work spaces: Choose from preset window configurations or create a custom window and palette layout that you save as a preset.

  • Up to 99 audio tracks and 99 video tracks for editing: Apply a variety of compositing modes to different video tracks.

  • Timeline keyframing for effects and -animation.

  • Advanced audio editing and mixing -features.

  • Customizable organization of project assets: Create bins (folders) in which to keep your project files.

  • Project-management features: Find and delete unneccesary files or reconstruct projects from original tapes.

  • Easy access to professional-level edits: Ripple, roll, slip, and slide edits.

  • Automation of moving clips to the -Timeline with transitions included.

  • Timeline markers to help position -elements precisely in the Timeline.

  • A storyboard feature for rough visualization of a project.

  • Batch-processing features: Export multiple files in -various -formats, plus adjust the settings for testing or -preparing for -different types of media.

The applications shown on the following pages represent just a few of the choices available for digital video editing, but they're among the most popular.

Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Express (Macintosh)

Final Cut Pro (from Apple, $999) is a popular professional application on the Mac platform. It is compatible with other indispensible industry-standard programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe After Effects.

Beyond editing capabilities, Final Cut Pro 4 includes LiveFonts, which are customizable animated fonts for titles; Soundtrack, an intuitive tool for creating original musical scores; a MultiTrack Audio Mixer; Compressor, state-of-the-art MPEG-2 encoding (the format required for DVD) with split-screen preview of source and output; and more.

The Log and Capture procedure in Final Cut Pro

Logging Tip

Always label your cassette tapes with unique names so later you can easily recover clips that may no longer exist on your hard drive.

When you log your clips in the video editing software, you can enter a name for the video source that matches the unique name on the cassette. This way you can easily find the correct tape when the software later instructs you to insert that tape in the camcorder so it can recapture the logged video clips.

In Final Cut Pro (shown to the right) type the cassette tape name in the text field labeled “Reel.”

Final Cut Pro's “Log and Capture” window, shown below, will log (make a list of) clips of video that you need to capture and store on your hard drive while working on a project. From the “File” menu choose “Log and Capture….” The “Log and Capture” window displays a preview of the video tape in your camera. Navigate forward or back through the video tape using the controller buttons below the preview. You can set In and Out markers that determine exactly what points in the timecode will be used to define the start and finish of a segment of video.

To log a clip using In and Out markers:

Pause the video at the point where you want the captured clip to start, then click the “Mark In” button in the lower-left corner of the Preview pane.

Advance the tape to the point where you want to end the clip, then click the “Mark Out” button in the lower-right corner of the Preview pane.

In the Logging pane (below, right), type a name for the “Reel” (the same name you used to label the current video cassette tape).

Click the “Log Clip” button to open the “Log Clip” window (shown on the next page).

Type a name for the clip (and a descriptive log note if you want), then click OK.

The “Log Clip” window opens when you click the “Log Clip” button., shown on the previous page.The “Mark Good” checkmark lets you mark the best clips in case you want to capture just those, leaving the other clips to be captured later, if you decide you need them.

Final Cut Express is similar to Final Cut Pro, but lacks many of the professional and project-management features found in Final Cut Pro. It does not include LiveType, Soundtrack, or some of Final Cut Pro's other advanced features. However, the price tag of $299 makes it an excellent choice to start video editing, then upgrade to the power of Final Cut Pro when you feel the need.

As you log clips that are to be captured, they appear in the Browser window. The red line indicates that the clips are “offline” and have not yet been captured to your hard drive.

The clip that you just named appears in the Browser window, above, with other project assets. After logging all the clips you want from the tape in your camera, you can capture them all to your hard drive using “Batch” capture: click the “Batch” capture button in the lower-right corner of the “Logging” pane (shown on the previous page).

Logging all your clips creates a list of the exact timecode location of all your source video files. Instead of using expensive hard drive space for permanent storage, you can delete digital video files when you've finished a project and automatically recover them from the original tapes when necessary.

If you need to give an unfinished large project to another editor, it can be very difficult finding a way to deliver 30 or 40 gigabytes (or more) of digital video files. If you used log-and-capture for your project, you can email the tiny project files and have a courier deliver the source video tape. When the editor on the other end opens the project, the editing software will ask for the tape and recapture the exact clips that you originally logged.

Adobe Premiere (Macintosh and Windows)

Adobe Premiere (about $550) is one of the most popular non-linear editing systems, especially on the PC platform. Its integration with other Adobe products such as Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, LiveMotion, and GoLive make it an easy choice for many editors. Premiere also includes a History palette so you can return to any point in your editing session, collapsible Timeline elements to show or hide editing details, and many options for viewing video clips and the appearance of palettes and windows. In the Windows version of Premiere you can export directly to MPEG-2 format.

To add a clip to the Timeline, as shown above, drag the clip from the Project window to any position in the Timeline. Or drag the clip to the Monitor window to place it in the Timeline at the current position of the Playhead.

The log-and-capture procedure in Premiere

Premiere's log-and-capture window is called Movie Capture, shown below. When your camera is attached, the Movie Capture window previews the video that's in the camera.

To log and capture video clips in Premiere:

From the “File” menu choose “Capture,” then from the submenu choose “Movie Capture.”

Click the “Logging” tab in the Movie Capture window to show the Logging pane.

Use the player controls located beneath the preview pane to pause the tape at the point you want a clip to start (the “In” point), then click the “Set In” button (shown at right).

Use the player controls to advance the tape to a point where you want the clip to end (the “Out” point, then click the “Set Out” button (shown at right).

Type a name for the source tape in the “Reel Name” text box, a name for the clip you're about to log in the “File Name” box, and any descriptive text you want in the “Comment” box.

Click the “Log In/Out” button to open the “File Name” window (shown at right, middle), which contains the File Name and Log Comment you just entered. Click OK.

Video Tip

When taping with your video camera, don't record anything important on the first thirty seconds or the last thirty seconds of the tape. The batch capture process sometimes has problems with the timecode of clips that are too close to the beginning or end of a tape.

As you log clips, they're added to a list in the “Batch Capture” window, shown at the bottom of the page. The diamond shape next to each log entry indicates that the clip will be captured when you click the “Capture” button (the red circle shown below in the Movie Capture window). If you decide you don't want to capture a particular clip, click the diamond next to the clip to turn it off. When a clip has been captured, the diamond changes to a checkmark.

The “File Name” window opens when you click the Log In/Out button in the Logging pane of the “Movie Capture” window (left).

The Batch Capture window shows clips that have been logged or captured.

Vegas (Windows)

Sonic Foundry's Vegas (about $500) offers a lot of features, including high-level color correction; professional media-management tools with search and sort features; software tools for professional editors such as a waveform monitor, histogram, and vector-scope; sophisticated audio tools; unlimited audio and video tracks; and more. A “split screen bypass” feature lets you see what a clip looks like with or without an effect or color-correction applied. You can also use the split screen to compare a video clip with a Photoshop graphic. If you have a scrollwheel on your mouse, you can use it to zoom in or out of the Timeline. “Scripts” enable you to complete repetitive tasks automatically. Vegas is also available as Vegas+DVD and includes DVD Architect, Sonic Foundry's DVD authoring application (about $700).

The Video Capture window.

The Vegas interface and tools differ dramatically from most of the other popular nonlinear editors, but the differences, once you get used to them, are powerful and efficient. Sonic Foundry's reputation for excellent audio technology shows in Vegas' audio-editing capabilities. Innovative tools (such as “track envelopes” that use “rubber bands” for controlling all sorts of clip attributes) make this relative newcomer a serious contender. Vegas LE (Light Edition) is also available; it provides two video and four audio tracks.

Avid Xpress dv (Macintosh and Windows)

Avid develops hardware and software solutions for professional editors, broadcasters, and production studios; their products are designed to work with many different formats, from film to DV. Avid Express DV is an affordable (close to $1,000) DV-only version of their industry-standard software, and it includes the DVD authoring program, DVDit.


Avid Xpress DV has a limit of eight video and eight audio tracks, but the ability to “nest” multiple effect layers within a single video layer actually translates to unlimited layers for effects.

Among its many features are more than 100 realtime effects, great titling effects, and unparalleled color-correction tools. Other features include a three-window view (next page) that shows previous, current, and next scenes, a split-screen monitor to show clips with or without an effect applied, sophisticated audio tools, and more.

Avid Xpress DV's video log and capture procedure is very easy: The “Record” Tool (circled below) also serves as a “Mark In,” “Mark Out,” and “Log” button. Click once to mark the begining of a capture (Mark In) and click again when you want to mark the end of a clip (Mark Out). The tape pauses and the button changes to a “Log” button. Enter a name for the clip in the “Name” field, then click the “Log” button to add the logged clip to the list in the Log window (top-left corner). After you've logged all the clips you want from the source tape, you can batch-capture them using the “Batch Record” command in the “Bin” menu.

The “Color Correction” Toolset features powerful color-correction tools and a three-window setup to compare color balance between scenes. In the example below, the “Next” monitor (far right) shows a split screen to compare the clip with and without a correction applied.

The Avid Xpress DV PowerPack version (just under $1,300) adds even more functionality, with extras such as the Avid DV FilmMaker's Toolkit (advanced tools for editing and managing projects), the Avid Illusion FX Pack (plug-in effects such as Lightning, Melt, and Kaleidoscope), an Image Stabilization AVX Plug-in (to eliminate camera movement from video clips), and Boris title animation software (Boris FX and Boris GRAFFITI).

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