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January 14, 2010 6:55 AM   Subscribe

What is the best video editing software for me?

I am completely new to editing video, but have a BS in Computer Science and have been involved with technology most of my life - so a steep learning curve is not a problem as long as I can get done what I need to.

I have three four-minute video clips that I recorded on my Droid cell phone (720 x 480 3gp). When these videos were recorded, we were also recording the audio using 4 SM-58s (it was a round table discussion type setting).

My end goal is to take the video and line up the good audio with it, and add a few title cards at the beginning of the video.

Unfortunately I don't think Windows Movie Maker has the flexibility that I need as I tried to use it, but wasn't able to fine tune the lining up of the audio/video.

I have tried Adobe Premiere at a friends house, but the rendering was taking way too long (at least I thought it was - three titles, a 4 minute video and 4 minute audio was going to take 3 hours to render). Is there a faster way to render? It just didn't seem like it should take that long.

My setup is:
Dell XPS420
Windows 7 Home Premium
Core 2 Duo processor
256MB DDR4 ATI HD 2600 XT Video
standard crap onboard soundcard
4 GB of 800 MHz Dual Channel Dual DDR2 SDRAM

Is there any other video editing software out there that will work? I don't need anything complicated, but I need it to be flexible enough to do what I want to do. Open source/freeware is preferred, but I can pay money if something out there will do what I need.

THANK YOU ALL IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR ADVICE. I have been lacking in Mefi participation as of late, but plan on getting back into mix.
posted by Brettus to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're reasonably comfortable with (mostly) plaintext scripting coming from a CS background, look into Avisynth. Basically, what I would do in this situation is call ImageSource to load the titlecards before using FFMPEGSource2 or DirectShowSource2 to bring in the video and plain old DirectShowSource (audio=true) to bring in the audio and setting the appropriate delay with Audiodub.

From there (there being 5 or so minutes in a text editor), you're on easy street: Microsoft Expression Encoder 3 (free) will take Avisynth audio and video input; video encoders like x264 and Xvid will take it for video input, and you can feed the Avisynth audio data through a program like MeGUI to LAME, Nero Digital AAC, Aften AC3 encoder, Winamp AAC+, etc.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:05 AM on January 14, 2010

Thanks Inspector! I have no doubt I could try and learn all of these tools, however the preferred method would be an all-in-one, and some type of visual point/click interface. However, I will certainly consider this method.
posted by Brettus at 7:07 AM on January 14, 2010

If the editing you're doing is fairly simple you might try VirtualDub, a quick little editor that's rock-solid and free. It wouldn't do anything like the title cards so you might have to create those separately.
posted by XMLicious at 7:17 AM on January 14, 2010

3 hours does sound a bit long just to render -- what was the resolution of the source footage, and what compression codec were you using? That sounds about right for "Mpeg4 compression on HD source, to HD output," not so much for anything else.

Honestly I'd give Premiere another look -- in the "Windows editing tools that cost less than AVID" category, it's pretty much at the top of the pile. Some people swear by Vegas, but I've not had any experience with it.

One thing you might not think of, but is free and runs on Windows, is the 3d suite Blender. As of 2.49, the video sequence editor is serviceable, although the "learning curve" is rather cliff-like. 2.5/2.6 will eventually have a vastly improved sequence editor, but that's still in the dev pipeline.

If you're willing to try a Linux livecd like dyne:bolic, and can get it working on your system (sometimes quirky), there're quite a few good editors. PiTiVi is getting a lot of positive buzzi lately, though I haven't worked with it.
posted by Alterscape at 7:28 AM on January 14, 2010

I like Sony Vegas, and it could definitely work for this. It's pretty spendy, though.
posted by wheat at 7:32 AM on January 14, 2010

My main ignorance comes from the codec encoding side of things. Unlike Audio where there is just a codec and a bit rate, with video there the video AND audio side of things - and to make matters worse, apparently an AVI could use one of a thousand different codecs when created. It's enough to make my head spin, but to be fair to the technology, I haven't given a true attempt at learning it.

I am trying to see if I can get a trial of Vegas to try it out, and I will certainly ask my friend to try and re-render. I believe I was rendering as you said, Mpeg4 HD in, HD out. I hope that I am not coming off too ignorant here.
posted by Brettus at 7:36 AM on January 14, 2010

The video side is confusing at first but becomes fairly easy with familiarity. AVI, MP4, 3GP, etc. are just containers: they limit the types of content streams (video, audio, subtitles, images, chapters) that can be inside, but don't dictate them. What you'll be doing when transcoding video is compressing it using an encoder that complies with a standard such as MPEG-2, MPEG-4 ASP, MPEG-4 AVC, etc. From there, you have some flexibility with the type of container you'll place the video in (multiplexing, or "muxing") along with the audio.

Recently, MPEG-4 ASP streams compressed with the DivX or XviD encoders and placed in an AVI container along with AC3, DTS, or (most often) MP3 audio have been popular; this set-up has lately been eroded by the used of MPEG-4 AVC streams compressed with the x264 encoder and accompanied by AC3 or DTS or (less often) AAC audio in the MKV container, particularly for high-definition content. (This is of course mostly relevant to internet piracy and/or media PC enthusiasts). A bit more reading and you'll be saying this sort of babble without even thinking :)

By the way, I suspect your 720x480 content is probably anamorphic (pixels are non-square, meaning the image is stretched to its proper dimensions on playback), as is the case with 720x480 NTSC DVD content. You can probably check for anamorphism using a free program like MediaInfo, but as a first step when transcoding if you don't want to deal with anamorphism afterward you can try resizing to 640x480 for content that ought to be 4:3 ("fullscreen") or 720x400 for content that ought to be 16:9 ("widescreen"). Both of these dimensions are not precisely accurate but they're close enough that you shouldn't notice any image distortion. If you resize incorrectly (e.g., treat content as 16:9 when it ought to be 4:3), you'll immediately notice that people and objects look unduly fat or thin.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:55 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Use Premiere or Vegas...other stuff is a lot pricier (Final Cut / Avid).

The h.264 / x264 video codec that Inspector Gadget is talking about is helpful as it is platform independent. It's also an impressive codec for lossy encoding (some BluRay content is encoded with h264.) It is good to choose when rendering from a proprietary codec into ".mov" or ".avi" files. Set the quality to "High" for good results.

You can also render out the video side of things using NTSC DV/DVCPRO25 which fits into ".mov" containers. There are some problems with this format but it will properly maintain your aspect ratio if your incoming video is 720x480. Set the quality for "Best". Note that this format sucks at displaying sharp text.

I would recommend avoiding DivX and Xvid as they are, in my opinion, "messy" consumer level formats.

Another option is to output the video as Flash Video in a .flv container. This nearly universal format's drawback is the playback software requirement—you need a ".flv player" to view it or Flash and website infrastructure to do that for you—and its tendency to be very lossy. The bonus? Small file sizes that can be placed on the internet for streaming video.
posted by Khazk at 12:49 PM on January 14, 2010

Thanks everyone for the assistance. Once thing that I should have made clear from the get-go is that the destination for these videos is YouTube. I would like to make them the highest resolution possible, but maintaing pristine quality isn't a major concern.

Thanks again everyone!
posted by Brettus at 1:29 PM on January 14, 2010

I gave Sony Vegas a go and it was MUCH easier than Premiere, and rendered the video in 10 minutes. I found Vegas to be much more intuitive and easy to learn. It may not be as powerful as Premiere, but it did everything I wanted it to do.

One of the videos can be seen here:
posted by Brettus at 1:57 PM on January 15, 2010

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