In Part One we opened the Pandora’s box. Let’s not stop.

A side note: The article is getting too long, and sometimes you’ll find conclusions without explanations. If that’s the case, please read the links I’ve given in Part One for detailed explanations.

Availability

If you wanted to buy your favorite video editing software right now, can you do it, no matter where you are in the world? Let’s see:

Disc Download Purchase Trial
Editshare Lightworks Pro No Yes Official website Yes
Apple Final Cut Pro X No Yes iTunes App Store Yes
Adobe Premiere Pro No Yes Reseller and/or Adobe’s official website Yes
Sony Vegas Pro Yes Yes Reseller and/or Sony’s official website Yes
Grass Valley Edius Pro No Yes Reseller Yes
Avid Media Composer No Yes Reseller and/or Avid’s official website Yes
Autodesk Smoke Yes Yes Reseller and/or Autodesk’s official website Yes

If you’re in the US, you can buy every one of the NLEs (except Edius Pro) from the official website or store. If you’re in another country, there are restrictions and you’ll have to go through a reseller. E.g., you can buy from the Autodesk Smoke site, but if your country isn’t listed, you are forbidden to use it. I had to purchase the Creative Cloud for teams from a reseller.

If I had to pick one NLE for the easiest and smoothest download-to-purchase-to-edit experience, I’ll say it’s a tie between:

  • FCP-X, and
  • Lightworks Pro

 
To all the rest, shame on you. Each and every developer on this list gives you quick access to download a fully functional trial version, no matter where you are. All they want in return is your email address.

Let’s say you download the trial version and at the end of your 30 day period you want to purchase the software. If you’re not on the developer’s ‘preferred country’ list, you can’t purchase your software as easily as you downloaded it. You’re forced to find a vendor, and deal with them instead. I can collaborate with anyone in the world on Creative Cloud, but it took me a week to purchase it. I wonder how much time it’ll take me to end it.

What’s wrong with you people?

Size of download and installation

Each and every single installation went perfectly, and I can’t fault a single application for taking too long or crashing.

Here’s the size of each download, and the operating systems these softwares work on:

  Download size Installed size Supported OS
Editshare Lightworks Pro 80 MB 200 MB Windows, Linux and OS X*
Apple Final Cut Pro X 1.64 GB 2.4 GB OS X
Adobe Premiere Pro 1.34 GB 4 GB Windows and OS X
Sony Vegas Pro 231.6 MB 500 MB Windows
Grass Valley Edius Pro 429 MB 6 GB Windows
Avid Media Composer 3.07 GB 5 GB Windows and OS X
Autodesk Smoke 1.83 GB 3 GB OS X

*The Mac version will be out soon.

It is amazing how Vegas Pro and Lightworks can occupy so less space, and everyone else needs gigabytes of space. Of course, a lot of plug-ins, back-end processes, applications, etc., get downloaded with the package.

As a side note, can anyone explain how Edius Pro is only 429 MB to download but asks for 6 GB of installed space?

Going by just the above data, it would seem Lightworks is not only small and fast, it is also the only professional NLE in our list that works on Linux. In any case, I’d say the developers who have restricted their applications to just one operating system are at a serious disadvantage. I can understand Apple wanting to restrict FCP-X to Macs, but I cannot fathom why Smoke runs only on a Mac, while most of the major applications in the Autodesk arsenal run on Windows and even Linux.

Actually, the choice of operating system speaks volumes about each developer’s strategy, short-sightedness or limitations. It cannot be that an operating system is stopping development, and I’m pretty certain every developer on this list is smart. The only thing that’s left is that they don’t have the money to develop for different operating systems. You can hear them say: “You know what? Most of our user base is on XYZ operating system, so let’s just stick to that and keep this operation going.”

Here’s a tip: This website caters to folk serious about video, and the OS split is 50:50 between OS X and Windows. At least give us both Windows and OS X at least, if nothing else.

Uninstallation

If you’re happy with a product, why would you uninstall it? Well, I had to, because except for Premiere Pro the rest were all demo versions. This part would have been a mere footnote if not for one unacceptable experience.

Each and every application on the list was easy to uninstall. But after uninstalling one particular application on our list, a resident program remained, uploading Gigabytes of data (yes, gigabytes) per day to someplace. It was a strange experience, because, while this application was installed, there was no such activity. It was only after uninstalling it that the uploads began.

Unluckily for me, I only found out after 20 days or so! Luckily, I had saved the date on which I had uninstalled this application, and I could pin point the culprit – Autodesk Smoke. It seems the uninstaller does not completely remove the program, as mentioned in their official Knowledge Base. Of course, I should have read the ‘fine print’. But you have been warned.

Minimum and recommended system requirements

Here are the minimum specifications required:

CPU RAM 32/64-bit GPU Display Resolution
Editshare Lightworks Pro Intel Core Duo, Intel Xeon or AMD 2 GB 32/64 256 MB 1024 x 768
Apple Final Cut Pro X Intel Core 2 Duo 2 GB 32/64 OpenCL capable, 256 MB 1280 x 768
Adobe Premiere Pro Intel Core2 Duo or AMD Phenom II 4 GB 64 No 1280×800
Sony Vegas Pro 2 GHz processor 4 GB 64 512 MB ?
Grass Valley Edius Pro Intel Core 2 or Core iX, or AMD single core CPU with a 3 GHz speed or faster 1 GB 32/64 512 MB 1024 X 768
Avid Media Composer Intel Quad Core i7 or Quad Core Xeon 4 GB 64 No ?
Autodesk Smoke Multi core 4 GB 64 No 1,440 x 900

Here are the recommended specifications:

CPU RAM 32/64-bit GPU Display Resolution
Editshare Lightworks Pro Intel i7 chipset or faster, fast AMD chipset 3 GB 32/64 1 GB and higher 1920 x 1080
Apple Final Cut Pro X ? 4 GB 32/64 OpenCL capable, 512 MB ?
Adobe Premiere Pro Multiple CPUs or multi-core CPUs 8 GB 64 Nvidia certified** 1920 x 1080
Sony Vegas Pro Multiple CPUs or multi-core CPUs 8 GB 64 OpenCL capable, 512 MB ?
Grass Valley Edius Pro Multiple CPUs or multi-core CPUs 4 GB 64 2 GB ?
Avid Media Composer Intel Quad Core i7 or Quad Core Xeon 6 GB 64 NVIDIA Quadro 1920 x 1080
Autodesk Smoke Multi core 8 GB 64 NVIDIA Quadro 1920 x 1080

You could say it’s a given that all NLEs utilize multi-core and multiple CPUs. They prefer a 64-bit architecture and could use a GPU if given one.

Much has been said about Nvidia GPUs and CUDA. If you look closely, there is equal support for OpenCL technology which brings AMD GPUs into the game. I suspect one major reason for this is Apple’s decision to stick with AMD/ATI GPUs in their new Mac Pros.

All said and done, though, you can’t beat the Mercury Playback Engine (MPE) in Premiere Pro which supports both playback and rendering – now possible with both Nvidia and ATI GPUs. Leaving aside GPUs, I’d say Sony Vegas, Edius and Lightworks deserves praise for still being able to run on old computers. Who knows, they might be able to run on smartphones by next year.

Load time average

Every NLE except one loads fast (enough).

The slow coach is Avid Media Composer, which took minutes just to start up! No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it to load faster, and this wasn’t with any large projects or whatever. Even on a blank slate the load time was into the several minutes range. Once it loaded though, it performed as fast as everyone else on the list.

Closing the application had the same problem – more than a minute to close!

In general, I’d say having an SSD for your OS+Applications is worth it. If you have a robust workstation, it is unlikely to let you down. What will let you down is frequent software updates from developers. When this happens, there will always be something they missed, which might lead to surprising crashes. It’s your call on how or whether this affects you.

Collaboration

Collaboration could mean different things to different people. For some it is just two people working on the same project off one shared storage drive (like a SAN). For others it might be editing on the cloud. And for yet others it could mean editing one after the other, but not at the same time. Either way, having a centralized storage is one of the key features.

For editing at the same time on one project, you must give credit to Avid, Lightworks Pro and Edius. They not only have the software ready to go the whole distance, they also supply hardware that works seamlessly with everything.

On the other hand, Adobe has cloud editing with Adobe Anywhere, though it is in its nascent stages.

Curiously FCP-X doesn’t have robust collaboration features built in, though there are workarounds. I guess Apple is still in ‘Personal’ computer mode.

Quality of information and support

First you download and run an application; and the next thing you’ll need is quality support. It comes in the form of:

  • The manual
  • Wiki or knowledge base and videos
  • Forum
  • Customer support

 
Customer support varies wildly depending on several factors. Even in the best support team, there are bad eggs, and it might just be your unlucky day to get one of those to help you out.

I’ve read all the manuals, from cover to cover. You know what? Most issues are already covered in manuals, it’s just that lazy editors never bother to read them. But you can’t blame all the editors. Most manuals are in English, while a lot of the world isn’t.

The manual

I rate the manuals in this way (best first):

Grass Valley Edius Pro**
Apple Final Cut Pro X
Autodesk Smoke
Editshare Lightworks Pro
Sony Vegas Pro
Avid Media Composer
Adobe Premiere Pro

Why is Premiere Pro last? Not only does the manual seem hastily written, it misses covering important concepts that a newcomer will need to know, to understand the manual! Secondly, it is littered with external links to tutorials (some of which are samples that lead to sales pages) and videos. I simply cannot forgive a company proud to sell a million subscriptions but can’t get a decent manual written.

**There is one curious problem with the Edius manual, though – it isn’t downloaded along with the application. You have to download it separately.

Wiki, knowledge base and videos

In this respect, the lack of marketing resources clearly shine through. Autodesk, Adobe and Sony lead with the most number of videos. Adobe easily wins this category with Adobe TV. Apple links to third-party videos while Avid, Lightworks and Edius Pro hardly have any. Funny to see the ‘broadcasters’ here at the bottom. For years they nurtured an air of exclusivity. The next step might be oblivion.

Forums

You’re not going to believe this, but I actually went to each and every forum and studied the number of questions and replies to gauge the activity level over the last two weeks (Please don’t ask me for the numbers or my methodology). Here’s the list, from best to worst (I’m linking to the forums so you can check it out yourself):

Adobe Premiere Pro
Apple Final Cut Pro X
Avid Media Composer
Grass Valley Edius Pro
Sony Vegas Pro
Autodesk Smoke
Editshare Lightworks Pro

So we know who’s the most popular, don’t we?

The Adobe, Apple and Avid forums are the best, while the Edius Pro, Smoke and Vegas Pro forums are average. Lightworks has the lowest posts and replies. Mind you, these numbers don’t reflect the quality of the support, only the frequency. If you’re in a part of the world where support is hard to come by, your only hope might be forums.

GUI

Right, you fire up the application and what hits you first is the layout, the Graphical User Interface (GUI). The aesthetics and usability of a layout of any software is subjective at best. Here are my thoughts:

Editshare Lightworks Pro Simple and Elegant
Apple Final Cut Pro X Good
Adobe Premiere Pro Average
Avid Media Composer Average
Grass Valley Edius Pro Average
Sony Vegas Pro Average
Autodesk Smoke Complicated

Both Lightworks and FCP-X are applications that have been redesigned from scratch, and their interfaces show modern design features. Smoke is complicated because it has to be, though to a newcomer it does look intimidating. As far as the others are concerned, the best I can say is ‘meh’.

Import Workflow

The import workflow is where the tire meets the road. We are going to break it up into:

  • Support for codecs
  • Metadata support
  • Maximum resolution
  • Maximum frame rate
  • Best color information

 
Support for codecs

Which NLEs support which codecs? Here’s the list (click to enlarge):

Comparison of NLEs

O – support is either restricted, transcoded, rewrapped or via a paid or third-party plug-in.
X – Supported natively.
Blank – Not supported.

Important: Some codecs were missed in the above chart. E.g., Avid Media Composer can read Sony RAW, F65 RAW and XAVC (Thank you Luis Ochoa!) via AMA. I will track any more changes until December and add them in together.If you feel I’ve missed something, please bring them to my attention.

There are only four codecs that are supported by every one of the seven editing applications on our list:

  • H.264
  • MPEG-4
  • AVCHD
  • Prores

 
The first three are in essence the same thing!

If it were up to me, I’d say every camera manufacturer should embrace Prores as an acquisition medium, second to RAW. Who supports the most codecs? Here’s the list:

Total Native
Adobe Premiere Pro 15 13
Sony Vegas Pro 13 13
Autodesk Smoke 12 12
Grass Valley Edius Pro 11 10
Avid Media Composer 12 9
Editshare Lightworks Pro 11 9
Apple Final Cut Pro X 15 6

Adobe Premiere Pro wins clearly in numbers, though that doesn’t tell the whole story. Strangely, FCP-X supports as many codecs as Premiere Pro, only not natively or without transcoding or rewrapping or without the help of a third-party plug-in.

Metadata support

All NLEs support metadata generally. As far as editing is concerned, this level of support is more than sufficient. Things go haywire when:

  • You are importing RAW files with camera metadata.
  • You are porting the project over to VFX facilities that need camera metadata.
  • You are importing from Ingest and Logging tools like Prelude, Bulletproof, etc., which might create its own metadata.

 
Though all these workflows are important, they are the exception rather than the norm. On the average project, the import begins with the NLE, and camera metadata is usually covered by the NLE’s support for RAW codecs.

Having said that, two applications that have future-looking support for metadata are:

  • Premiere Pro – not directly, but with XMP.
  • FCP-X – directly, but with a ‘proprietary’ version of FCPXML.

 
It’s too early to tell whether these systems will survive or evolve or stay put. For the majority of editors, all seven NLEs are good enough.

Maximum project specifications

Some NLEs claim they can work with 6K Dragon footage, or with 120 fps, or with 16-bit RAW files. All this means squat if the project settings restrict you to 1080p or 30p or 10-bit color. Sure, you could use your NLE as a proxy (offline) editor, but that sort of defeats the marketing purpose when the suckers who bought into your pseudo-truth spreads the word.

There was a time when every NLE was restricted to 1080p30 and 10-bit color. Is that the case today? Let’s see:

Resolution Frame rate at this resolution*** Color bit depth
Autodesk Smoke 10,000 x 10,000 60 16-bit
Adobe Premiere Pro 10,240 x 8,192 60 10-bit
Apple Final Cut Pro X 5120 x 2160 60 16-bit^
Sony Vegas Pro 4096 x 4096 60 32-bit
Grass Valley Edius Pro 4096 x 2048 60 10-bit
Avid Media Composer 1920 x 1080 60 10-bit
Editshare Lightworks Pro 1920 x 1080 30 10-bit

***All NLEs can go up to 60p. Sometimes, 60p means 59.94p. ^There is no document from Apple in support of this, but FCP-X exports 12-bit Prores 444 and 16-bit TIFF.

Except for Lightworks Pro, all NLEs support 1080p60. Smoke, being a finishing application with VFX in mind, supports the best specifications overall. Adobe Premiere Pro isn’t far behind, but is limited by its 10-bit working space.

Avid Media Composer is showing its age. The fact that it can’t work with projects over 1080p at all, even with AMA, is a testament to its regressive thinking. Sony Vegas Pro gives us the most pleasant surprise. It covers every cinema and broadcast project out there, with the best color possible. If it adds 120p, it will make a lot of gamers happy too!

In Part Three we’ll cover the rest – output, round-tripping, audio, software and hardware, and everything else. And of course, we’ll have a winner.

 

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