In Part One and Part Two we started our journey to discover the best video editing software of 2013. This third and final part will ultimately reveal the winner, but we still have a lot of ground to cover.
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.
Importing footage and editing with them is just one half the story. A good NLE must be able to export to your delivery format of choice, if that’s all you want to do. Here’s the list (click to enlarge):
*Edius has Grass Valley HQX and HQ, an intermediary codec, Lightworks has Lightworks Archival
Which NLEs export to the greatest number of deliverables? Here’s the count:
|Editshare Lightworks Pro||16|
|Adobe Premiere Pro||14|
|Sony Vegas Pro||14|
|Grass Valley Edius Pro||11|
|Apple Final Cut Pro X||11|
|Avid Media Composer||10|
Does anybody want to explain how Lightworks Pro can export more codecs than anyone else and still cost only $60 a year? Of course, don’t go only by the numbers. Some codecs are limited by bit depth, resolution, etc. Just because two applications support DPX, for example, it doesn’t mean it’s the same kind of DPX. Also, don’t forget that this list doesn’t represent all the codecs or file formats supported, just the most common ones.
Which codecs are found on every software? Here’s the list:
- Uncompressed HD, usually via Quicktime
- TIFF image sequence
- PNG image sequence
It’s no fluke that I said TIFF is the best archival format for video. The difference between TIFF and uncompressed HD is simple: the latter is restricted to HD and 10-bit color. TIFF is only limited by the project settings, which we talked about in Part Two. It is the best quality your NLE can give, and it is recognized ubiquitously.
As far as final deliverables are concerned, only H.264 finds universal flavor.
Here’s how our seven samurai fare for export:
**Other applies to porting the project directly to other applications. Premiere Pro integrates well with the Creative Cloud suite, while Vegas Pro can export a Premiere Pro project file!
|Sony Vegas Pro||5|
|Adobe Premiere Pro||4|
|Editshare Lightworks Pro*||2|
|Grass Valley Edius Pro*||2|
|Apple Final Cut Pro X||1|
|Avid Media Composer||1|
If you’re looking for an NLE that will support any third-party application, then look no further than Sony Vegas Pro. It supports every possible method of moving projects. The second best would be Adobe Premiere Pro, which would be best if you’re going to a CC-based app!
Adobe Premiere Pro, as of October, will integrate directly with:
- After Effects
Curiously, the most widely supported format is AAF, and that’s saying a lot about the respect Avid has in the editing space. I’m not going to comment on why it is in the bottom, though.
Multi-cam editing is important to many workflows. This is a special case, and I’m not going to give it much weight-age. But here’s an overview:
|Sony Vegas Pro||Yes|
|Adobe Premiere Pro||Yes|
|Editshare Lightworks Pro||Yes|
|Grass Valley Edius Pro||Yes|
|Apple Final Cut Pro X||Yes|
|Avid Media Composer||Yes|
Audio is important to NLEs, but only as a playback medium. I wouldn’t take any editor seriously who said he or she can also edit and mix audio just as well.
My reference to audio is restricted to the kind of codecs that can be imported and exported (click to enlarge):
|Total codecs||Bit depth||Sampling (KHz)||Channels|
|Sony Vegas Pro||9||32||192||32|
|Apple Final Cut Pro X||6||16||48||8|
|Adobe Premiere Pro||4||32||96||32|
|Editshare Lightworks Pro||4||24||48||16|
|Grass Valley Edius Pro||2||32||48||16|
|Avid Media Composer||2||24||48||24|
All of them support WAV (which is as good as it gets for video editing). The rest of the specifications are decent enough, though I hope I’m wrong about FCP-X – it should at least support 24-bit audio.
Other systems from the same developer
The ‘before’ and ‘after’ hardware and software chain of an NLE is important because it is usually designed to supplement it. Here’s a list of software and hardware choices provided by a vendor to support its NLE (click to enlarge):
Adobe Premiere Pro delivers more software options, but no hardware options. Avid makes up for software with robust hardware options. This chart is excellent at highlighting the priorities of each manufacturer. Here are some notes:
- Apple is the only vendor selling computers, and its focus is on the individual. The word ‘Shake’ instead of ‘Motion’ would have been much cooler.
- Premiere Pro is platform agnostic, and tries to make its software run on everything. Sony Vegas Pro follows this paradigm.
- Avid, Edius and Lightworks are heavily broadcast-centric, and supplies the technology to pull off the toughest broadcast and collaborative workflows.
- Smoke is a single-computer finishing system, and is unique.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Here’s a good overview on how to conduct a simple SWOT analysis.
Mine follows, but be warned: The analysis is conducted based on all the factors I’ve considered in this article, and my hands on experience with each and every one of them over the past few months. You must be able to form your own conclusions, that is the point of presenting all this data to you. If you haven’t read everything in all the three parts of this article, do not make assumptions and draw conclusions based on this analysis. Also, I’ve been preaching the Strengths and Weaknesses all this time, so I’m going to combine everything into just ‘Okay’ and ‘Not So Okay’.
How does this help? I want to know where each software is going. It’s the kind of analysis you would do if you’re planning on setting up a small (or large) post facility. You’d want to know how likely your choice of NLE will stick around five years from now. The costs of setting up hardware, workflows and training editors is not negligible, you know. It’s also the kind of analysis you should be doing if you’re planning on learning an NLE to set up a career in editing. Choosing the wrong NLE today will have serious repercussions tomorrow.
Use this only as a guide, and don’t take it literally, because it’s just my subjective opinion on things:
|Okay||Not So Okay|
|Sony Vegas Pro||Business oriented and is likely to align its services to any market demand. Has the money, the contacts, the marketing and the media leverage to swing any way.||Bureaucratic, slow to move and change, is too ‘bottom-line’ focused to take a leadership position. Notice how Sony comes up with great products, but usually only after someone else has tested the market with something similar first?|
|Apple Final Cut Pro X||Fan base, the new Mac Pro and iMac, metadata and XML redesign, can build on this revised platform to whatever is required in the future.||The dominance of Windows, the dominance of Android, proclivity to shake things up (like abandoning FCP 7 and Shake users) without consideration to customer loyalty.|
|Adobe Premiere Pro||Business oriented and is likely to align its services to any market demand. Has the money, the contacts, the marketing and the media leverage to swing any way. In addition to all this, they have priceless data on how and what the world is moving towards.||Pricing model has many questions unanswered, company is too big and has too many applications in all spheres of design and art, has the proclivity to introduce and then abandan half of their projects (OnLocation, CinemaDNG, Soundbooth, etc).|
|Editshare Lightworks Pro||To ‘free’ software by providing services around it. They recognize that video editing applications have very few “new tricks” to show. Great user base and pedigree. Support for three operating systems. Hardware.||They need more marketing, their focus is on the broadcast market but they are giving away their software – won’t those who pay for hardware pay a few dollars more for software? Make up your minds and swing!|
|Autodesk Smoke||A finishing application with great tools and capabilities. Autodesk’s kitty of 3D applications is unparalleled.||No audio app in their kitty. Being Mac-centric was, in my opinion, backward thinking. Too expensive for just an NLE.|
|Grass Valley Edius Pro||Strong hardware and software support and strategy, has the potential to usurp Avid’s position in the market.||Narrow focus on just the broadcast market, no supporting applications for color, audio, VFX, etc. High price for what is on offer. Why are there four versions of Edius?|
|Avid Media Composer||The brand name, and the number of editors who have been trained in the ‘Avid’ way. Hardware, marketing and contacts. Massive knowhow – who knows broadcast and Hollywood better than Avid?||Price reduction shows they are under severe pressure, they need to redesign their app from scratch. Are they financially stable enough to accomplish this?|
Looking forward, I like the chances of FCP-X, Premiere Pro and Vegas Pro. I can’t say the same about everyone else. However, to be fair to everyone, I won’t give this aspect much importance in this shootout. After all, it’s about the best video editing software as of 2013, not 2045.
The best video editing software in the world
The following results are obtained by considering every single factor I’ve outlined in these three parts, with more priority given to workflow-based stuff, and less to things like pedigree, etc. I am not going to reveal the mathematics behind my analysis, but I’ll say this: When I started putting everything together, I told myself I’d accept the first result I got, and wouldn’t try to manipulate the results based on any prejudices. Here are some notes on how I went about it:
- More important codecs like Prores, TIFF, H.264, etc., got priority over ones not widely used.
- The total number of codecs for video and audio got low priority, simply because that doesn’t mean you’ll use them.
- Other than workflow, the other top priorities were price, GPU support, project settings, and updates.
- Support, specifications, operating systems and availability came next.
- Subjective parameters like pedigree, future outlook, uninstallation, etc., got the least priority.
Let the chips fall where they may. If you’ve selected different parameters, you’ll arrive at different results. Here’s mine:
7 Autodesk Smoke
I was really surprised by this. I was actually hoping it’d do better, because it is such a class act. However, it is tough to recommend Autodesk Smoke solely as a video editing software to anyone. If you’re wondering, I didn’t give priority to its ‘uninstallation gimmick’. I’m not that cruel.
6 Avid Media Composer
This was expected. Avid feels old, was slow to use, and has features from the dawn of 1080p. Even with AMA it really can’t compete if it continues to live in the past. The performance it gave in this evaluation was so sub par that I cannot seriously recommend it to anyone. As a silver lining on the horizon, you can pay more for Symphony, which will improve the experience quite a bit.
In fact, I strongly suggest that anyone thinking of purchasing Avid Media Composer buy it with Symphony.
5 Grass Valley Edius Pro
Grass Valley Edius Pro came close to Final Cut Pro X, but lost on price. In many ways, Edius Pro is what Avid should have been. The good news is that there is an Elite version that adds even more capability at a greater cost.
Edius is really pushing hard at the broadcast space. I’m pretty certain we are not seeing changes happen quickly because the space itself is a deadbeat. I think (not that Grass Valley cares what I think) Grass Valley should focus on cloud streaming more. This way, they’ll be in a great position to take advantage of the future of broadcast.
4 Apple Final Cut Pro X
FCP-X is brilliant, and it is adding new features every three months for free. If Edius is great for the broadcast space, FCP-X is great for the personal editor or small post house. There’s hardly anything it can’t do. Apple is positioning FCP-X quite well, I just hope it doesn’t give it up.
In fact, out of all the NLEs on this list, this is the only NLE likely to move move up by December, 2013. If the new Mac Pro is everything I think it is, by next year FCP-X will be in the top three.
3 Editshare Lightworks Pro
The surprise package. Who’d a thunk? Lightworks Pro is only $60 a year (works out to be $5 per month), and if you’re looking to get into the broadcast space this is the second NLE I recommend. Editshare has the hardware to back you up, and imagine the cost savings of having a Linux post house.
Lightworks Pro has great pedigree, and it has been overshadowed by poor marketing. The glacial pace at which they have ‘yet to bring’ the Mac version out, and keep their promise of making the software open source, is telling. You guys have a great product. Don’t you know that?
2 Sony Vegas Pro
Ultimately, money talks. Sony has been quietly piling on the features in Vegas Pro. It is no longer a small player (actually it hasn’t been for 5 years now, since version 8). It is a powerful NLE capable of every cinema and broadcast workflow, backed by a company who is master of both the cinema and the broadcast space:
- Sony makes cinema cameras.
- Sony makes broadcast cameras.
- Sony makes consumer cameras.
- Sony makes cinema projectors.
- Sony makes televisions, tablets and smartphones.
- Sony makes pro and consumer audio systems.
- Sony writes firmware and software for all of the above.
If Sony Vegas Pro is second, it is only because Sony doesn’t have a lot of hardware or software to support Vegas Pro specifically. That, and the fact that it doesn’t run on Macs or Linux.
1 Adobe Premiere Pro
Was there any doubt? I’d already told you I was using Premiere Pro (in fact, I’ve been using it since 2002), and this is the reason why: Throw anything at it, it can do it easily. If there’s something it can’t do, it has powerful friends and legends like After Effects, Speedgrade and Photoshop to make up for its shortcomings. And the integration is so near perfect, that you really wouldn’t notice moving from one app to the other.
To solidly put the nail in the coffin, the entire suite of apps is available to you for only $50 a month. If you buy the Creative Cloud for teams membership, you also get cloud storage and powerful collaboration tools that are the very future of post production.
You’ll hear many sound bites about the pricing model of Creative Cloud. What you won’t read much about is the massive statement of intent that Adobe has made by moving its entire business to the cloud. They are backing up their talk by walking the walk.
Therefore, no matter who you are, newcomer, seasoned professional or Oscar-winner, I have no hesitation in recommending Adobe Premiere Pro as your primary choice of video editing software. For this reason, I give it the title of the best video editing software as of 2013. Unless there are some updates that shake up the world of editing, I don’t really see anyone displacing this order in the near future.
Which NLE should you choose?
You really want me telling you what to choose? I take no responsibility, but here’s some advice:
- If you’re an absolute newbie and want to learn an editing application – go for Adobe Creative Cloud.
- If you’re looking to improve your future workflow with a better suite of tools – go for Adobe Creative Cloud.
- If you’re looking to set up a small production facility – go for Adobe Creative Cloud for teams.
- If you’re looking to set up editing for live streaming – go for Adobe Creative Cloud. FCP-X is great, but Adobe will do both HLS and Flash, and maybe even DASH.
- If you’re looking to set up a large production facility – give your editors iMacs and let them use FCP-X+Premiere Pro and Mac Pros with Adobe Creative Cloud. This way, if you have a future ‘problem’ with Creative Cloud, you will not suffer financially. Did you notice how FCP-X and Premiere Pro complement each other?
Which codec should you use?
Want to know? Here goes:
- No matter what you acquire on, your first priority should be to edit native.
- If editing native is too hard on your resources, convert to Prores HQ or better and edit.
- If you have VFX work and just want an offline proxy codec, choose Prores proxy.
- For mastering work for the long term, use TIFF image sequences and WAV for audio.
- For mastering work for the short term (just to please clients or whatever), store it in Prores and save space.
- For streaming, VOD and everything else choose H.264.
I’m spent. That’s that.
Remember, today is a great man’s birthday. He stood for peace. No matter which software you use or end up using, always be at peace.