Comparing seven current video editing programs

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©Joanna Croft,

©Joanna Croft,

Fresh Cuts

A correct choice in an editing program can save you a lot of headaches when working with video clips. We compare several applications to help you choose the tool that's right for you.

Editing vacation videos in Linux was still somewhat of a nightmare just a few years ago. Existing programs could be counted on one hand and most of them were difficult to operate. Things have changed, at least as far as quantity, and many open source tools are now vying for attention.

But what about quality? To find out, we tested seven popular editing programs: Auteur, Flowblade, Kino, LiVES, OpenShot, PiTiVi, and Cinelerra. The makers of the popular Kdenlive and the professional Lightworks were working on new versions as this issue went to press, so they will be evaluated in a later issue (see the "Stragglers" box).


Lightworks has played a role in such movies as Notting Hill , The King's Speech , and Pulp Fiction . In 2009, the EditShare company swallowed up Lightworks and announced that it would produce a free, open source version of the editing program. A Windows version is already available on their homepage [12]. The Linux version is getting delayed, unfortunately. At press time, its test phase was still going on behind closed doors.

The free Linux version isn't allowed to process MPEG videos for licensing reasons; unfortunately, the current HD cameras fall into that category. The Windows version, therefore, is available in a Pro version that not only handles MPEGs but also provides additional functions, such as creating 3D videos. When a Pro version would be available for Linux had not been determined at press time. In any case, Lightworks targets professional users, which is reflected in the functionality as well as operation geared toward advanced editors.

Another popular editing programs for Linux is Kdenlive [13]. Through the years, more and more advanced functions have been added. So, now you get analysis functions, such as RGB Parade or histograms, and Kdenlive can also apply audio material to multiple scene captures.

With Kdenlive, you control effects on demand via keyframes. You also get a powerful title generator, a tool for creating stop-motion animation, and a wizard for creating DVDs. The user interface's rich functionality can be overwhelming for video editing amateurs, however.

Anyone searching the depths of the Internet will likely find additional video editing programs, but they might be temporarily on hold or even officially scrapped.


Except for Kino, all the tested programs have the same operational concept: They arrange clips on a timeline and apply effects from there. Existing video material is initially imported and ends up in a small video repository consisting of a list in the simplest case.

A preview function helps in selecting the correct clip and monitoring the final result. A vertical line in the timeline marks the exact position of the clip. Most programs also provide a trimming function for transitions between clips. In some cases, a function for controlling effects through so-called keyframes is included. These useful helpers mark each point in the video where changes in effects occur. The software handles the transitions between the keyframes automatically, enabling smooth blends.

The finished product ends up as a single video file that you pass on or burn to DVD. The tools call this exporting function "rendering."


On January 31, 2011, Neil Wallace published the first version of his editing program Auteur [1], and the next version appeared only a week later. Since then, the project has been on ice. Nevertheless, Auteur still runs on current distributions. It helps that the software is written entirely in Python.

The user interface is clear and tidy. In the upper left corner, the Sources window collects all the clips. The middle pane is the preview window, and the timeline hums along at the bottom (Figure 1). A wizard takes up the right-hand pane to help you get started. Once you've imported a clip, unfortunately, you cannot remove it again; this correction was destined for a follow-up version that never appeared. Auteur is principally intended for high-resolution material. During testing, it couldn't handle videos from an AVCHD camera.

Figure 1: Auteur provides a tidy user interface but minimal functionality.

If you want to use only part of a clip, you need to open it in the preview pane, find the place to cut, then use the pencil tool as precisely as you can. Because Auteur lacks a single frame preview, finding the exact cutting point can take some patience. Just the same, the program allows for speeding up or slowing down the preview and using a controller to find the approximate position.

Although the clip is in the timeline, processing there can be Sisyphean. To cut a video in the timeline, you left-click it. Then, while it's playing, you can stop it at the desired location and use the appropriate button to make the cut. Removing a clip from the timeline automatically moves the adjacent clips so that no gap exists.

The timeline has several controls providing different views of the assembled video. Whereas Timeline helps to estimate the length of each clip, the Clips control simply views them as a row of thumbnails. Effects and transitions are missing completely, which is why Auteur is used mainly only for arranging and cutting clips.

The editing program also doesn't care about resolution. The preview simply moves the video into the pane, so that the clip often appears compressed or squeezed. In rendering videos, Auteur simply uses the dimensions of the largest clip, with the actual work done in the background by the Mencoder tool derived from the MPlayer media player. You can still make corresponding setting adjustments as desired before rendering.

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