Choice Cuts on the Rise

August 13th, 2007 Software, Sydney Morning Herald, Tech

Drew Turney rounds up the best consumer video editing suites.

Digital video editing is just one area where a huge, expensive machine — the editing suite — has been made virtual and put inside your PC at a fraction of the cost. Now the price of storage tapes and film has been mostly taken out of the picture and the handling of your footage made so much easier, there’s never been a better time to invest a few hundred dollars (or less) in digital video editing software.

The cheaper cousins to far more comprehensive pro suites like Avid and Final Cut Studio, the four applications we looked at don’t just stop at editing your video. Many come with even more tools at the post-production and output end of the process. Several have a host of free effects such as scene transitions while others give you the means to easily buy more. Most even have the DVD creation component that used to be the domain of separate applications right in the box.

The magic of video editing happens in the timeline. Any motion image software operates on the same basic principles of arranging video and sound clips into tracks that play concurrently, media or ‘assets’ coming into frame according to how you arrange them.

If you’ve ever made an animation in Flash or mixed a song in programs like Apple Garageband you’ll be pretty comfortable using the timeline. If not you’ll want to invest a few hours in some tutorials, but don’t worry — there are plenty around including those that may come with your software.

The biggest change in consumer video editing has been wrought by high definition, something you have to be aware of if you want to play your movie on a television set in the next 5 years. As Australian television broadcasting moves to HD, new TVs sold will be HD ready — capable of displaying at a much higher resolution than ever before to take advantage of huge LCD and plasma screens.

Many new camcorders are coming with what you might have heard termed HDV. It’s simply a compression format that lets you record in high definition on standard definition storage media — an uncompressed high definition format would be far too unwieldy on a consumer camcorder.

Formats and codecs are more scary words that might make you feel video editing is only for geeks, but in a pure workflow from your camera to your final product your software should contain all the codecs (compression algorithms) you need to work. Like virus scanning software, some will also download new or critical codecs as you need them.

If you need to work from other sources you can run into codec troubles. There are almost as many codecs are video formats in the world, and sourcing them can be like finding a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, there’s a core set of widely used codecs that can enable the majority of sound and video files.

The most important question to ask yourself before purchasing is how fancy you want to get. Other applications specialise in applying effects or creating music for a movie so your video editor can be no more than a no-frills assembly area. If you’re more of a film-the-kids-at-soccer type and want easy to use flair in your digital family heirlooms, an inexpensive, all-in-the-box solution is perfect.

But above all, make sure your camcorder model is compatible with the software. A quick check of the vendor’s website or call to their hotline could save you a frustrating return to the store.

Pinnacle Studio Plus 11
RTRP: $199.95
Score: 3
lakopacific.com

The Windows contender with the least clutter both on screen and in the package, Pinnacle Studio Plus was a little slow switching between work areas even on a fairly new computer and crashed a couple of times when we threw too much at it but otherwise behaved dependably. It was a little tricky to navigate through clips captured or collected from a few places but it’s bundled with music and DVD software.

Roxio Easy Media Creator
RRP: $179
Score: 4
roxio.com.au

For sheer features versus price, Easy Media Creator Suite 9 is the clear winner. It’s not only one of the cheapest around, it’s a lot more than just an editing suite, with data backup, a photo organiser, media sharing and music mixer. It outputs for iPod, PSP, mobile, DVD and more and has so many cool tricks we couldn’t possibly list them. With a streamlined, Windows Explorer-like interface, there’s not much it can’t do.

Cyberlink PowerDirector
RRP: $159
Score: 3
lakopacific.com

PowerDirector is easy to use and wears its hobbyist-level credentials proudly on its sleeve with big, clear icons and an uncluttered screen. It’s preloaded with plenty of clip art-ish effects, templates and themes — including the ever-lovable custom voice balloons. Most intriguing however is the 25Gb of free space with online storage provider MediaMax and a direct link to publish your results to YouTube.

Final Cut Express HD
Score: 4
RRP: $429
apple.com.au/finalcutexpress

The little brother of Apple’s Final Cut Studio in more than name only, Final Cut Express is priced to give you an indication of what you’re getting besides just the Apple brand name, and if you’re a hobbyist who wants to get serious, it should be your jumping off point. With Apple’s brushed steel look and no-nonsense interface, ease of use is a big drawcard.

Verdict

The best program of the bunch depends on you. If you’re a beginner to video editing, both PowerDirector and Roxio Easy Media Creator will hold your hand through the process and open your eyes to the possibilities, but if this is your first step to a professional editing suite, Final Cut Express behaves the most like the pro tools and offers Apple’s intuitive ease of use.


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