KDENLIVE Is a Promising Work in Progress
On the other side of the scale, KDENLIVE underperforms because of its unfinished status and some basic design oversights. The first set of issues will doubtless be fixed in future revisions, but the second are things not yet on the road map, or they are out-and-out software bugs. In the first category, the lack of high-definition profiles is a significant drawback; however, it is rumored that the next release of the software will fix this issue. The ability to create videos from still image files is nonfunctional at the moment due to a software bug, and the titler, while fully implemented, suffers from the same bug and thus doesn't actually create titles that show up in the viewer windows. The performance on the current SVN version, although respectable, is still sluggish enough to be irritating, and it could use some interface optimization.
In terms of major oversights, three come readily to mind. The audio fader envelopes are not directly editable on the timeline, but may be accessed only through the effects control interface—a situation that is cumbersome at best. The faders are limited further by the ability to insert only two keyframes in any given clip, so doing something as simple as a fade-out at the end of a clip necessitates slicing off a separate clip solely for the purposes of fading out—a definite work-flow impediment. Other effects suffer from similar limited keyframe-ability.
Another oversight is the lack of deinterlacing in the scaling work flow. This is significant when switching between resolutions and between aspect ratios in a single project, as if one does not deinterlace before down-scaling interlaced footage, significant unattractive artifacting results. At the moment, for example, the only way to edit interlaced HD footage is to convert it to a deinterlaced high bit rate H.264 before importing it into KDENLIVE. The same rigmarole is necessary for working with interlaced 16x9 SD footage. Although AVIDemux does this handsomely with HD footage, it's an incredible waste of time waiting for the computer to chew down all the raw footage rather than implementing deinterlacing into the output work flow as a check-box option. AVIDemux does not work on raw DV footage at all, so when working in standard-definition DV, one has to resort to hand-converting things on the command line or on (shudder) a Windows machine.
Finally, nondestructive exporting does not seem to be implemented yet. In experiments I conducted with regular DV footage pushing through KDENLIVE, there was a noticeable quality drop between the footage I started with and the footage I wound up with at the other end of the pipeline. Dan Dennedy suggests to me that this may be a limitation with the underlying MLT framework, but the digging I've done seems to indicate that the output is handled by FFMPEG scripts rather than by MLT. If this is indeed the case, tweaking the scripts should be all that's necessary to correct the problem.
Other than those fairly obvious weak points, the only major drawback with KDENLIVE boils down to a failure of imagination on the part of the interface design. The layout of the screens is entirely conventional and fails to leverage some of the more interesting innovations made by other open-source multitrack projects, such as Cuisine's multicamera track-switching paradigm and OpenMovieEditor's clip bin asset management strategy. KDENLIVE is building a solid base to work from, but as it grows, it should not neglect borrowing effective innovations from other open-source projects.
In sum, KDENLIVE is a stable, usable multitrack editor that holds up well under the weight of long-form projects, so long as proper prep work is done to conform the footage before editing. Even though in beta stage, it's worth adding to one's toolbox and using often. Its limitations are significant, but forgivable at its current stage of development. Although not suitable for every project, it is ideal for long-format shows with basic editing needs. Hopefully, as it grows, it will expand its horizons and pilfer the good innovations of other nascent projects, and give us finally a powerful editing system suitable for a wide range of projects. The developers of this program deserve a pat on the back and a friendly beer, and hopefully perceive before them a wide vista for the future of their project.
Dan Sawyer is the founder of ArtisticWhispers Productions (www.artisticwhispers.com), a small audio/video studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been an enthusiastic advocate for free and open-source software since the late 1990s, when he founded the Blenderwars filmmaking community (www.blenderwars.com). Current projects include the independent SF feature Hunting Kestral and The Sophia Project, a fine-art photography book centering on strong women in myth.