Multitrack Video Editor Roundup
OpenMovieEditor is the brainchild and personal hobby of Richard Spindler, and it's generally stable, fast and usable. It supports the full range of framerates and allows for the creation of pretty much any working profile, and it sits partly—though by no means exclusively—on FFmpeg with all the glorious format compatibility that this implies.
The work flow is pretty much what you'd expect, with the interface closely mirroring what we've come to expect from KDENLIVE and similar projects. Unlike KDENLIVE, the interface is not easily reconfigurable. However, because it's built on FLTK, it's fairly rock-solid. It doesn't crash, it's fast and light and doesn't bog down due to fancy widget rendering. The resulting look is fairly inhospitable cosmetically, but you don't need rounded corners and crystalline widgets when you have a program that stays up like a truck and speeds along like a Trans Am.
HD compatibility is no problem; OpenMovieEditor is profile-agnostic. If FFmpeg or libquicktime can read it, you can use it, and it's always obvious what's compatible because it shows up with a thumbnail in the media browser tab.
The development philosophy under which Spindler has proceeded leverages the power of the Open Source world to his project's advantage. When I interviewed him for background for this article, he told me that, behind the scenes, he is involved in several external video projects that he uses to advance OpenMovieEditor, building on a suite of highly stable external libraries: gavl, libquicktime, the Frei0r plugin API, JACK and several others. All of these things extend the package considerably, with Frei0r being of special note as the primary source for the video effects. Spindler himself is involved in Frei0r, libquicktime and Cinelerra development in varying degrees, which gives him the familiarity he uses to integrate their best tricks into his own project.
He has used it to stunning effect. The audio and video effects in OpenMovieEditor work splendidly, although many of them could use more settings controls to move them into a more professional realm. The latest addition to his bag of tricks though is a major step in the right direction and something hereto unheard-of in the realm of open-source video editing packages: nodes-based compositing, which can use all the installed video effects (although Blender also has a nodes-based compositor, its interface with the video editor is oblique and patterned more after the fashion of a finishing system than a video editor).
OpenMovieEditor is unique among Linux multitrack editors in that it is capable of running its audio through the JACK Audio Connection Kit (JACK). This gives it access to all the excellent, readily available Linux pro-audio tools, and with proper kernel patching it works in real time. The upshot is that you can use OpenMovieEditor as part of a sync chain that will allow you to create, compose and tweak your soundtrack while always seeing the video and hearing the audio as it's mixed. It's hard to overstate the power of this; it is unambiguously a professional feature, and it's a great benefit to independent filmmakers and small studios who need the performance it offers and aren't able to buy the higher-end turnkey systems on offer for the film industry. But Spindler isn't done—he and his community members are working on integrating the system with Inkscape and with Blender for generating new transitions and other effects. The future on this seems bright!
When it comes to asset management, the program seems, at first glance, not much different from KDENLIVE. Looks are deceiving though—it's much more flexible. When it comes to open-source projects, OpenMovieEditor's asset management system, which allows clips to be stored in a bin off the timeline for grabbing and inserting, is a work-flow tweak that makes shot selection independent of the status of the edit, and also makes assembling the selected shots far quicker. With its ability to set clips in the use bin rather than whole files, its ability to use image sequences and its thumbnail filesystem browsing, it is far above par, and much more sensible than what's available for asset management in KDENLIVE or Blender.
One caveat that Spindler gave me when I interviewed him via e-mail:
OpenMovieEditor is very much a work in progress; this means that it is not yet feature-complete, but that it has a rapid pace of changes; development is happening rather fast, and not in a very “controlled” fashion. So, it might happen that stuff that worked once can break, or that new features are not as well tested as they should be.
So, it's a wise procedure, when upgrading OpenMovieEditor, to test fresh compiles thoroughly before installing them, or at least to keep around an older package you know to be working to revert to should there be problems.
In sum, OpenMovieEditor is an excellent package all around and well worth the time investment in learning it. It lacks the plethora of export profiles offered by KDENLIVE, but it makes up for this with a well-appointed, intuitive GUI that allows experienced editors to specify their own export settings for pretty much any destination or mastering format supported anywhere under Linux. It goes further, supporting high bit-depth editing, effects and export with integrated (though still primitive) nodes-based compositing. This is a project with nowhere to go but up.
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