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Buyers' guide: Video-editing software

What to consider when choosing a video editor

If you’re going to shoot video you intend other people to see, you’ll need a video editor to whip it into shape. As with photo editors, such software now comes in consumer-friendly packages that do much of the hard work for you. They can also help identify your best footage. Don’t expect to create a finished video worthy of submission to the Sundance independent film festival, but you’ll be impressed with the breadth and power these packages provide.

Technology advancements drive the feature sets behind such products. With many people now enjoying HD TV and DVD and Blu-ray films at home, you’ll find features that let you author high-quality footage with surround sound.

We test consumer video-editing packages with a variety of sources. We used footage recorded on a Canon miniDV camcorder, a pocket-sized Flip Ultra, a semi-pro Panasonic AVCHD camera, a Microsoft webcam and sample video downloaded from the web. Most are easily able to handle such diverse footage. Adobe Premiere Elements 9, for example, can combine standard-definition and HD clips in the same project.

Group test: What's the best video-editing software?

Processing power

If you want to work in HD, however, you’ll need a powerful computer. Many consumer video editors offset some of the hardware demands either by using low-resolution proxy files (virtual copies) of footage or automatically playing it back at a lower resolution in the preview and editing screens of the application. Such methods have no ill-effect on the finished movie, which is always exported at the resolution you specify.

Assembling your story

A timeline is usually provided for assembling and editing purposes. Here, you can arrange your clips in sequence, apply transitions and cut out unwanted segments of footage. Some applications also have a storyboard mode, within which you assemble the movie by dragging thumbnails of the imported clips from your library on to a visual representation of the movie. This may be more attractive to casual users, but timeline editing also gives far more control over the timing of transitions and audio levels.

Photo Advisor

Many other features are common to all consumer video-editing applications. All export to Blu-ray, for example, with some also supporting 3D Blu-ray. For this you’ll need a Blu-ray disc writer, such as the 12-speed Buffalo BR3D-12U3. In several programs the route from camera to disc is an alternative to editing with a timeline. You can manually add a navigation menu and simple titles or get the program to do so automatically.

Important features

Another common feature is image stabilisation. Although most modern camcorders have anti-shake technology, the increasing use of mobile devices to capture footage means that video is often in need of some calming down. Several applications will analyse the clips for such movement and provide automated or manual solutions.

Colour correction is arguably the most important feature. Given that most users will shoot video with a disregard to proper lighting of the scene, it can lift footage out of the amateur zone.
 
Video software

Automatic scene detection is a key feature of some consumer video-editing packages. During the video-capture process, applications such as Avid Studio can detect natural breaks in the video and divide it into scenes. Special photographic effects are another common theme, offering a way to turn your scene into a sequence that resembles animation created using time-lapse or stop-motion photography.

3D

The film effect du jour is, of course, 3D. Consumer video editors are often bundled with a pair of (usually flimsy) red/green glasses for viewing a 3D version of your footage, often created as the result of an applied effect. For the most part this isn’t the stereoscopic 3D seen in blockbuster movies such as Avatar, just the old-fashioned anaglyph version. If you have a yearning to make your own 50s B-movie, side-by-side viewing is the feature for you.

3D Advisor

You'll also tend to find a selection of royalty-free video clips and images that are of limited use for anything other than for sharpening your editing skills. Of more use are the bundled plug-ins and effects - apply them and your video will really come to life.

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