Multitrack Video Editor Roundup
In the January 2006 issue of LJ, I wrote an extensive article surveying the state of the art in video production software on Linux. At the time, there were a lot of new players, some brought into the field from the first Google Summer of Code, and very few of them were serviceable all the way around.
The intervening years have done their Darwinian work, with some projects maturing rapidly, others stagnating and others being abandoned or disappearing off the Net altogether. But, as Nietzsche noted (or would have if he were as interested in software as he was in philosophy), “What doesn't kill a project, makes it stronger.” This article is about the survivors. Few though they are, some have managed to thrive.
Video editing on Linux always has been curiously bifurcated. On the one hand, there are glorious high-end finishing packages, such as Discreet Smoke, that are used routinely on big-budget productions, but the price tag for a single Smoke system runs into the tens of thousands of dollars, so it's not particularly budget-friendly. On the other hand, there are excellent low-end packages, such as Kino, which handles DV with grace, speed and polish. The middle ground between them is littered with half-finished projects, failed projects and Cinelerra, a behemoth that is both finished and polished but can be said to “work” only in the sense that a horse with five legs might learn how to walk.
That is changing.
There is nothing, in theory, stopping an open-source video editor from offering the basic functionality of a Premier or a Final Cut Pro, together with the switching ability of a product like Casablanca to produce very quick edits of multicamera shoots. Cuisine, in fact, was developed with this ability in mind, and even though it got only halfway there before it was abandoned, several of the innovations it used toward that end could be instructive. Some of the projects here already are well on that road.
The Linux multitrack field is now dominated by three programs that have been going gangbusters on development. All of them are not only still standing but also are proceeding at a meteoric pace—and in a promising direction: Jason Wood's KDENLIVE, Richard Spindler's OpenMovieEditor and The Blender Foundation's Blender.
KDENLIVE (the KDE Non-LInear Video Editor) is the project that has garnered the bulk of my ink thus far (I reviewed it in-depth in the September 2007 issue of LJ), mostly because it has been a clear leader for quite a long time. It was the first multitrack in the current crop to attain usability.
Pioneered by Jason Wood and now maintained by a team of developers, KDENLIVE is a Qt-based editor that uses FFmpeg as its decoding engine and Dan Dennedy's MLT as its frameserver and EDL backbone. It's a powerful combination, putting it into a position to handle HD as easily as garden-variety DV, and opening up its importable profile to include pretty much any video format you can watch on a Linux box.
The interface is laid out much like that of the late MainActor. It's familiar and easy to pick up, and if you're like me and really hate this paradigm, you can undock the interface components and reconfigure them until your picky little heart is content.
The underlying MLT framework supports infinite audio and video tracks, and there are a healthy number of built-in video and audio effects (although extensive keyframing remains problematic at the time of this writing). Its interface sluggishness mentioned in my prior review largely has been solved, as have the difficulties working with interlaced footage when scaling. The titler subsystem now works and is very nicely compatible with installed TrueType fonts and a wide variety of raster graphics formats.
All of this is great, but it doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world if it can't perform. That's where the drawbacks show up. It's still fairly crash-prone, and the current migration from FFmpeg as the frameserver to MLT has broken a few things relating to a/v synchronization with NTSC footage. These are known issues due to MLT bugs, which are, at the time of this writing, being fixed (and hopefully will be fixed by the time you read this).
There is still a way to go in a couple of areas. Its audio toolkit is rudimentary, but its easy exporting dialogue-splitting means you can split the audio and push it over to Audacity or Ardour for sweetening once your edit is done.
The export GUI also presents a problem. As extensive as it is, it isn't friendly for creating new profiles, which means that you have to hand-tweak scripts or wait for new profiles if you want one that doesn't happen to come prepackaged. Fortunately, the plethora of profiles is quite staggering, including a wide range conforming to all the current HD broadcast standards.
The final weakness—and the most annoying to me personally—is KDENLIVE's lack of support for importing image sequences. It's something that should be axiomatic in a system using FFmpeg as a back end, as FFmpeg is an excellent manipulator of image sequences and Bash has wild cards for such things built in. This alone bumps KDENLIVE out of the professional space, but with this exception, it is a highly promising work in progress, stable enough to use so long as you don't mind pressing Ctrl-S fairly frequently. Its most irritating issues are pretty much solved, and I've used it to complete several short and long-form projects. It's perfectly serviceable for day-to-day use if you know your way around your footage.
KDENLIVE is the only product in this roundup that supports video capture.
Here's hoping the development team keeps up the excellent work!
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