I feel privileged to live in an age in which individuals are willing to spend countless hours writing software, only to give it away for free.
On the surface, it seems like a perfect world. Why pay for software when you can get it for free, right? But life isn’t that simple.
The easy way is almost always the hardest way in the long run. Instead of thinking of it in terms of ‘easier’ or ‘harder’, ask yourself:
- Which is the right way to do it?
- Which is the most efficient way to do it?
- Which software offers the greatest return on my investment in time, effort and money?
This article introduces the concept of open-source video editing, gives you a head’s up on what to expect down that road, and lists 5 open source video editing software that can be used for professional applications.
What is Open-Source Video Editing?
The definition of open-source software from Wikipedia is as follows:
Open-source software (OSS) is computer software with its source code made available and licensed with an open-source license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change and distribute the software for free to anyone and for any purpose.
Most video editors who want to try open-source video editing software don’t want to spend their time programming or fixing bugs. The goal is video editing. So, in the context of our industry, I use the term open-source to include (in addition to the above definition) the concept of ‘free’ software.
For the purposes of this article, an open-source video editing software is one that is free, ready to download and use, without the need to learn programming.
But there’s bad news.
Why open-source video editing can never be free
Video codecs come from various sources. Some of these sources have a vested interest in their development and distribution.
Most codecs aren’t license-free, and if you want to use them you have to pay a fee. Just because there is a free software doesn’t mean you can use your favorite codecs for free. As far as I know, the only ‘free’ codecs in widespread use are:
- x264 – only an implementation of H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, it is not a codec per se
- TIFF – not officially free, it is owned by Adobe
- JPEG – not officially free either, but free enough
- DNG – like TIFF, it is owned by Adobe, but is still considered ‘free’
Just so you understand, ‘free’ isn’t a strictly defined word. There is a difference between legally free and free-to-use-under-certain-conditions. Don’t take my word on what’s free or not. Do your own research, find out what your scale of work is going to be like, and take proper legal advice before committing to any codec or software.
Criteria for good video editing software
Knowing what is free and what isn’t, is just the first battle. You also need to know if your software will meet your stringent requirements. A good video editing software must
- Be professional
- Be able to accept new codecs
- Support your favorite platform/operating system
- Be stable
- Provide a reliable, guaranteed experience
- Have an active community for help and support
Imagine if none of these things were guaranteed. How much time would you waste trying to
- Install the software
- Install necessary patches for the codecs of your choice
- Asking forums for help and learning (hardly any courses for open source)
Why would anyone need an open-source editing software?
Once you’ve laid out your own criteria for a good video editing software, you can compare it to your needs. Here are some reasons why anyone might need an open-source editing software:
- To save money
- To get features not available anywhere else
As far as money is concerned, you’d have to ask yourself – isn’t it just easier and cheaper to buy software? Editing software is relatively cheap, you quickly get your money’s worth in only a few days of work.
However, if you’re running a post facility, and need five or more editing stations, then the cost per seat increases substantially. This is where free software can save you big money. The ability to customize open-source software is also a big deal for small post houses.
Large VFX studios spend good money hiring programmers to write customized code, but good programmers don’t come cheap either.
My simple advice: If money isn’t a big deal, then don’t go open-source. If it is, your problems are greater than your choices of video editing software.
The 5 most professional open-source video editing software available today
Here’s a quick list:
Lightworks is an industry standard, and is going to be released on all platforms. The free version is seriously limited on codec options, but not on features. The Pro version is unbelievably cheap, at only $60 for a whole year. That’s less than the price per hour of a good video editor. As far as I’m concerned, $60 a year is free.
Without reservation, if you want to get into professional editing, and seriously lack money, buy Lightworks Pro.
Blender is a power-house, and many of its features aren’t important to a video editor. But there are two things that gives it supreme importance – it is extremely stable, and it has an active community that’ll help you get the job done. Even if other stand-alone video editing software exists, it is hard to recommend them over something as reliable and dependable as Blender.
What sets Kdenlive apart is the support for a wide variety of codecs via FFmpeg (most free software use FFmpeg as the base), its professional-looking GUI and layout, and sufficiently rich set of features.
Avidemux is a free and simple NLE, available for the big three operating systems. It’s big advantage is its GUI, which is not as good as it can be. I think if one is using Avidemux, one can also look to support it with Virtualdub and AviSynth.
LiVES has just released version 2.0.4, so the programmers are still active. It only runs on Linux (among the big three, that is), which might or might not be a bad thing, depending on whom you ask. It has solid features, and supports open-source codecs well, including Dirac.
For your general reference, here’s a list of open-source video editing software (Source: Wikipedia), organized according to the operating system or platform:
|Windows||Avidemux, AviSynth, Blender, Jahshaka, VLMC, VirtualDubMod, VirtualDub, Lightworks, FFmpeg|
|OS X||Avidemux, Blender, Jahshaka, Kdenlive, VLMC, Lightworks, Ffmpeg|
|Linux||Avidemux, Blender, Cinelerra, Jahshaka, Kdenlive, Kino, LiVES, Lumiera, OpenShot, PiTiVi, VLMC, Lightworks, Ffmpeg|
Before going down the route of open-source video editing, give it a good hard think.
My business cannot afford the luxury of open source video editing software. I remember how I wrote an image processing application as my final thesis when I was in college. I wish these things had been around then. If you’re young, have a go at it!
Have you used an open source video editing software that worked as well as paid software? Please share your experiences in the comments section below. If you feel I’ve missed out on any particular software that needs mention, please let me know.