Getting Started with Video Editing: Cheap Software

Video editing is taking the world by storm. Everywhere you look, you see videos made by average people. If you just bought a DV camcorder and want to show the world or your family what it’s seeing, you need video editing software. It’s possible some software was included with the camcorder, but you might want to take a look at the options before jumping in.

This overview is discusses the best options under $100, including some free software that could prove very useful even if you decide to buy other software.


Video Editing Definitions

Before we get into the software discussion, it’s best to go over some definitions of terms you’ll come across later in this article.

Effect – Something that changes the video in some way. This could be moving the video, changing colors, blurring, fading, or something else.

Transition – An effect that determines how one video/picture/title transitions to the next. This might involve the first video fading, sliding, exploding, or anything else.

Opacity – Translucency/transparency. When you can see an object and can see through that object, it has less than 100% opacity. Opacity defines how visible a layer is.

Keyframing – A feature that allows adjustment of an effect or movement over time. For instance, you might have a black-and-white effect on your color film. Keyframing allows you to transition smoothly back and forth between color and black-and-white. If you can keyframe opacity, then you adjust the layer’s visibility over time.

Chromakeying – Keys transparency to a color. This is used for shots of someone in front of a green or blue screen and then layering that video on top of a picture or another video. Most home users won’t need the feature.

High Definition (HD) Video – DV AVI is 720×480, which is 480p and is the same as DVD quality. HD video can be as high as 1980×1080, or 1080p.


Totally Free Video Editing Software

Windows Movie Maker

Windows Movie Maker is surprisingly good. I tried it after giving Pinnacle Studio Quickstart and Cyberlink PowerDirector a whirl, and I was amazed at how well Windows Movie Maker stacked up to those two. Microsoft is definitely on the right track with Movie Maker. The coolest thing about Movie Maker is that it uses XML to define effects and transitions, and there are a lot of really cool and powerful customizations you can do by editing those XML files. Take a look at the links below for more info.

However, there are two major problems with Movie Maker. The first is that styling and moving Titles over the video is terrible. There’s almost nothing you can do with titles… you’ll hardly want to use them if you use Movie Maker. My guess is that this will improve in the next version, whenever that is.

The second problem is that all of the output formats (except one) are WMV formats. That’s a bad thing because a number of other softwares and systems cannot import or play WMV files. For instance, virtualdub cannot import WMV to convert it to a different format. Fortunately, there is a workaround because the one non-WMV output is DV AVI, which is a very high quality format (the same as used on DV camcorders). With some adjustment (described in the links below), the DV AVI file can be imported into virtualdub or any program that can import DV AVI files and converted to any format you desire, be it quicktime, DivX, MPEG2, or something else. Unfortunately, because Microsoft controls the WMV format, they are likely to make this even more restrictive in the future.

I also fought numerous crashes when testing Movie Maker 2. I eventually decided it wasn’t worth the headaches (Titles, DV AVI conversion, and extra work with XML to create what other programs can do with a GUI interface), so I kept looking.



Wax / WinMorph

There are several free Windows video editors you can download. Wax is the only one I found that was remotely usable. Wax is based on the interface used for professional video editing apps and allows for an arbitrary number of effects, videos, pictures, and audio tracks to be played at one time. Wax also supports video opacity, keyframing, and chromakeying, which are rare features even for $100 software.

Wax is unique in offering a number of 3D text effects. It also has some support for importing 3D models. Unfortunately, its 2D Title controls are non-existent. The only way to do any decent 2D titles is to use an image editor to make the text look like you want and then save it as a PNG and import into Wax. The more video and effects I threw at Wax, the slower and more painful previewing was. It also crashed a number of times.

Wax is probably best considered a video compositing app for mixing video together rather than a true video editor. It can do things that none of the other software mentioned here can do so it’s worth having around in those moments you want to do something that only it can do. Also, WinMorph and Wink are very useful applications in their own right. They are worth having in your video editing toolbox.


Other Free software and utilities

  • VirtualDub –

    • VirtualDub is the video utility to have. The more you work with video, the more you’ll find yourself using it for one task or another.

  • WinDv –

    • WinDv is a free app for capturing video from a DV digital video camera. It can come in handy from time to time, and it supports buffered capturing for no dropped frames.

  • Audacity (Windows/Linux/Mac) –

    • Audacity is an audio application for recording, mixing, and adding effects to audio. Because most of these video applications have pretty minimal audio features, it is nice to have around.

  • Avid FreeDV (Windows/Mac) –

    • Free, limited version of the $700 Avid DV application. The biggest downsides are limited export formats and limited effects/transitions. It would be tough to use as a primary editing application.

  • Cinelerra (Linux) –

    • Editing application for Linux. It looks rather nice, but I didn’t test it.

  • Jahshaka Effects (Windows/Linux) –

    • Exceptionally powerful effects software. The problem is that it is just as hard to use as it is powerful. It is also pretty unstable. Jahshaka is included here because there is no other free or cheap software like it.

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  1. P Williams says:

    hi i was just wondering if there are any freeware program that you may know about that can change black and white video to color your responce would be greatly appreciated thanks

  2. AMCap thats what i use.

  3. darkphoenix22 says:

    Does anyone know if there’s any free programs out there that support a feature called masking? I’ve only ever seen it in the programs I can’t afford…

  4. I use trakAxPC ( – easy to learn and quite alot of nice features.

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