Getting Started with PiTiVi

The PiTiVi video editor is an intuitive video editor for creating your next masterpiece.

Video editing on Linux has had a long and complicated history. Although Linux has long-bathed in image editing, music production and other creativity-enabling applications, the platform traditionally has struggled with video production. In the early days, the problem was pinned on the complexities of supporting different video codecs, but as codec support continued to improve, the spotlight instead was shone on video editors.

Unfortunately, video editors were largely divided into two camps: hugely complex, resource-hungry behemoths, such as Cinelerra, or over-simple, limited offerings such as Kino. Across the world Linux, users craved a middle ground, desperately hoping for a simple, usability-orientated editor that supports a wide variety of media formats fused with the ability to be used on real-world projects.

The PiTiVi Story

Three years ago at the GNOME developer conference, Edward Hervey, a French developer living in Barcelona, presented the first cut of his video editor project, PiTiVi. With it, Edward made a series of firm decisions. First, it was based on the GStreamer multimedia framework—arguably the most popular and recommended way to handle low-level multimedia operations and content. Second, he focused his project firmly on usability and ease of use. Edward never set out to produce a super-complex professional editing tool, but rather a tool focused on simple real-world projects, such as editing your honeymoon video and putting it on YouTube. Finally, Edward was willing to delay the development of PiTiVi to “do things right”.

The latter was particularly apt. It took him three years to get PiTiVi in a shape where it could be used for the “real” projects he targeted. Much of the reason for this was that as Edward hacked on PiTiVi, he would find bugs and missing features in GStreamer, so he would step away from the PiTiVi coal-face to fix the GStreamer bug or feature before returning back to PiTiVi. Although it was a frustrating and time-consuming process, Edward's work paid off. GStreamer is an incredibly powerful and stable framework for building applications, so much so that I myself created a music multitracker project with it called Jokosher. Edward's work not only generated a better GStreamer, but also a more powerful and mature PiTiVi.

Getting PiTiVi

PiTiVi is available for all major Linux distributions and is now bundled by default with Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx. You can find packages for these different distributions in most distribution archives, so use apt-get, yum or emerge to grab PiTiVi for your system. When you have installed it, you can click Applications→Sound & Video→PiTiVi to load it. If all else fails, you can download PiTiVi from its Web site at

With PiTiVi ready to roll, you also need to ensure you have the right video codecs installed for the video formats you want to edit. This is as simple as ensuring you have the gstreamer-good package installed. If you want more codecs, but ones that are legally restricted in terms of redistribution, install the gstreamer-ugly package. Finally, there is another package with a set of work-in-progress codecs called gstreamer-bad, which you can try. Personally, I install them all so I have the widest codec coverage.

The Interface

Start PiTiVi by clicking Applications→Sound & Video→PiTiVi. First, let's take a look at the PiTiVi (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Main PiTiVi Interface

The interface consists of four main areas: the source list, previewer, timeline and toolbar.

The source list is the main white area on the left part of the window. This is where you can import the different video clips, photos and sound files that will be used in your project. You can either drag the files onto this white area or click the Import clips... button to load them. Whichever approach you use, each clip will appear in the source list area ready for use in your project. Test this by either dragging a video onto the source list or importing it with the Import clips... button and selecting a video. If for some reason PiTiVi can't load your file (most likely due to it being an unsupported format), an error appears at the bottom of the source list.

The previewer is to the right of the source list and provides a place to view the video in your project. The black box is where you will see your video, and the buttons underneath are standard transport buttons to control playback. The previewer is used not only for playing back your edited project, but also for previewing clips in the source list. Test this by dragging the video you imported into the source list and dropping it on the black box in the previewer. Now, use the transport controls to play it, and you should see the video play back. Click the different transport buttons to fiddle with the playback.

The timeline is the long area underneath the source view and previewer. This area is where you perform the editing on your project. The concept is simple: the timeline provides a literal timeline of your project with the far left being the very beginning of your video project and time increasing to the right. In the timeline, you can drop clips, cut them into pieces and arrange them in your desired order. The timeline also can be used to adjust volume, add pictures and overlay music over different parts. Test the timeline by dragging the video from the source list and dropping it on the timeline; the clip appears in the timeline, similar to Figure 2.

Figure 2. A Video Loaded into the Timeline

When a clip is loaded, there are two bars: the Video and Audio tracks. If you see only the second bar, you may need to click the clip in the timeline and drag it up to the video track to see both. Each bar represents exactly what it says—the different video frames and the audio content. This content is displayed separately, so you can remove one and not the other if you like. This is common for removing audio and replacing it with something else, such as a soundtrack.

Before moving on, the timeline has two additional special features: the ruler and the zoom. The ruler is the gray part with the numbers at the top of the timeline. If you click any part of the ruler, you can skip to a different part of the timeline, and that part of the project is shown in the previewer. When you click on the ruler, you can see the current position in the video by the red line that is drawn vertically on the timeline (this is called the playhead). To the left of the ruler is the zoom. This little slider can be used to adjust the scale of the timeline. This is useful for zooming out on the project to see it as a whole or zooming in closely to specific parts of a clip to cut a specific scene at just the right point.

The final area to look at is the toolbar, which is below the timeline. This line of buttons provides a simple palette of tools that you can use to edit content on the timeline. Let's explore some of these tools now.