Not so long ago, video editors for us mere mortals weren’t much further advanced than the scissor-and-paste style of the old-school cutting room. No longer. The power and flexibility of ‘non-linear editing’ has been bought out from the professional video-editing suite, and plunked onto your desktop – thanks to vast improvements in the spec of the average computer. But the tooling-up of desktop video-editing packages hasn’t halted at the gates of the commercial products. Nowadays, plenty of freeware packages can boast some advanced and sophisticated video-editing techniques. We’ve cast our eyes over what’s out there, and below you’ll find five of the best, free video editors – for which the loosening of purse-strings is not required..
If you’ve had encounters with previous versions of Windows Live Video Maker, you may wonder how it made it anywhere near a top-five list of even free video editors. Older versions, particularly those that shipped with XP and Vista, were distinctly unimpressive, offering up the most meager of functionality. That’s no longer the case. With the release of Movie Maker 2011, Microsoft have leaped ahead, into the top ranks of video apps.
With the latest Movie Maker you can trim and split, copy and rotate, and the editing functions really do work a treat. You can also throw in photos, titles and credits, balance new sounds into the audio mix, and choose from a palette of 77 transitions – including dissolves, shatters, sweeps and (my favorite) slide downs. Microsoft have added full support for a range of video formats, including 3GP, MT2 and AVCHD (as well as the more typical MP4, MOV and MPEG-4). You can save your videos in high def, and there’s good integration into social networks, like YouTube and Facebook.
But what really sets Movie Maker apart is the elegant way these features are packaged together. It is a real breeze to fashion a professional-looking video, making use of the pre-installed themes, and the useful AutoMovie feature. Although Movie Maker does lack some of the higher end features, overall, this is a great start-out package for Windows users.
While Pinnacle do offer a complete commercial video package, their free entry-level Windows tool, Video Spin, is not to be sniffed at. It comes with the basic editing functions you’d expect from video tools these days, including transitions and the ability to mix-and-match clips, photos and music files. There is also a flexible title editor, which allows you to add a little more sizzle to the start and end of your video ‘production’. VideoSpin has good integration with most current camcorders or camera drives, and supports direct uploads to YouTube or Yahoo! Videos.
It is true, however, that Pinnacle’s free video tool has lost a little ground to the revamped Movie Maker. It has a much more limited range of import formats – being restricted to AVI, WMV, FLV, MP4. And if you want to output MPEG-4, you’ll have to pay extra to download those codecs. Having said that, VideoSpin does what most of what the average user expects from a video-editing package – and does it well. The tool is at least easy-to-use and stable – not something that can be said of all free packages.
Hopping over to the Mac, which has long been the natural home for creative computer-types, it’s no surprise that Apple’s iMovie ’11 blows most of the competition out of the water. This is, in fact, version 9 of this venerable software, bundled as part of Apple’s iLife package for 2011. Previous versions already had an impressive feature-set– and iMovie ’11 adds to that heavy-weight list. As well as all the bread-and-butter editing moves, iMovie adds such refinements as image stabilization, picture-in-picture overlays and the recording voice-overs. There are also snazzy utilities for creating trailers for your movies – Hollywood-style – and sophisticated audio-editing. That allows you to balance sounds out within your mix, at the track level; so you decide who gets to shout loudest at that party shoot.
There are rough edges. Although the overall performance is good during editing, some formats of input videos – especially those that have already been worked over a little – need big chunks of time to ‘optimize’. And surprisingly, iMovie doesn’t have out-of-the-box support for some of the less common digital camcorders. But the combination of an polished user interface, married to a set of powerful features, make this app a no-brainer for Apple users. The one fly in the ointment – unless you are getting iLife’11 as part of a new machine, you will have to pay to upgrade to this very latest iMovie. But the previous, also-free, versions of iMovie will stand Apple users in good stead.
Having covered the best free video-editors on Windows and the Mac, it would be rude not to make mention of one of the better offerings on the Linux platform – Kden Live, an open software package. Although nearly 10 years-old, this package has recently undergone a complete rewrite, and now has a great reputation for its sophistication – if not for its stability. It supports the full range of Ffmpeg formats, including AVI, WMV, MPEG, Flash and QuickTime, and also allows the creation of the new HD formats, such as HDV and AVCHD.
As a fully multi-tracked video editing suite, it allows users to do just about anything they’d like with their video clips. That includes some clever audio-editing features. But the interface is a little tricky to get the hang of – and it does suffer from occasional glitches, and even crashes. Kden Live is definitely one to check out for Linux-fans out there, though.
Avidemux is another open-source software tool – but this one that is available for Windows users, across most platforms. The focus of Avidemux appears to be on getting the most commonly-used features to work nut just well, but like a dream. The effort has paid off, as this ranks as one of the simplest, but most effective, video-editing suites of those looked at. The video navigational tools are flexible and precise, letting you quickly zip around your video clips.
While the bag-of-tricks is a little less full than for some other video-editing packages, Avidemux does boast a good set of video filters. These can be overlaid, to create some interesting effects. The basic input and output formats are supported, and more codecs, for other formats, can be added as needed. And in tests, the stability and performance of Avidemux were good too. So if your looking for a free video editor, that isn’t Microsoft – and your video projects aren’t too demanding – then Avidemux could be the tool for you.