The Linux video editor situation

I’ve written about it many times: GNU/Linux has no usable video editor. Either their UI sucks, or basic features are not there, or in most cases, they just crash every other minute, or all of the above. Or when you do start to like an editor (e.g. Avidemux2) but there is one single problem with it and its maintainers refuse to fix, well that’s pissing you off. I just don’t like any of the available solutions (sorry for saying this, ’cause two Linux video editor developers do read my blog).

You might interpret my needs as “Eugenia just asks for too much”, but this is not true. In reality, I need very few editing features! But I need them to be rock solid. And when I say rock solid, I mean it. The other aspect where I am demanding is in format support. I need 24p, I need good understanding of DV/HDV and pulldown options. Basically, what I need is rock solid support for various formats and transformations of these formats to other formats, but very BASIC video editing. You see, 99% of the people who use a video editor do NOT need more than what iMovie ’06 offers in terms of editing abilities. These features include:

* Ability to split events. Ability to re-arrange scenes/media in the timeline.
* Just three tracks: one for video, one for voice and one for music. Keep it simple both for the user and the developer.
* Ability to mute the audio tracks. Ability to change the volume on them by 0% (mute), 10%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%.
* Ability to cross fade the music track events (fixed duration).
* Just 5 classic transitions for video (fixed duration). Keep it simple.
* A filter plugin system. I need the following from the get go though: contrast, brightness, gamma, saturation, white balance correction with high/mid/low wheel support, like on Vegas/FCP. Nothing else by default.
* 5 text titles/credit pre-configured styles, either on top of a choice of solid colors or transparent on top of a scene/picture (can be a plugin too).
* Ability to also use pictures instead of just videos clips.

In terms of editing, THAT’S IT. Most people just don’t need more than that (and yes, “most” people that’s all they need)! And yet, not a single editor on Linux does that INTUITIVELY right now. Don’t these people ever used iMovie or Vegas? How do you even develop a video editor if you haven’t checked out how the competition does it?

But even if you go around the learning curve to do these simple things, chances are that you will stumble on crashes and other weird problems. For example, open an h.264 or full HD file on KDEnLive editor, kaboom! Kino does not even support HDV. And Cinelerra, which takes itself way too seriously, does not even support a SINGLE lossless codec (it tries to fool you with MJpeg)! Regarding the technical aspect of such an app I need rock solid import support, ability to “tell” the application if your project is progressive or not, what kind of aspect ratio each clip or the project should have, what frame rate exactly etc. And the preview window should be able to match the aspect ratio, to have the ability to resize the video inside it only at resolutions that divide exactly by 2 (instead of just stretching), and in the case of HD, it is imperative to have support for second monitors to be able to preview there in 1:1 size. And as for exporting, it should have enough templates for devices, DVD, youtube etc, but it should have also a custom mode that allows me to do all this. It should do the right kind of pulldown if needed (e.g. if you transform from NTSC to PAL or to 24p), it should de-interlace PROPERLY, it should have the right aspect ratio, it should support all sorts of codecs, including lossless. As you can see, the “format support” thing is much more difficult to implement than the “editing” part. Most users just want to put two shit clips together and not be bothered with complex editing, BUT, they need ROCK solid and CORRECT output. This is why I put more emphasis on the format support rather than the editing itself.

Diva, as I wrote in the past, was the only project that was going in the direction that I needed in terms of a “home video editor”. It had the look, the elegance, the usability of iMovie. But it’s a dead project. And nothing else has replaced it in elegance. Here’s a mockup of mine above, based on an old Diva screenshot, on how I would envision a Linux video editor that can be as good as iMovie ’06.


JBQ wrote on December 3rd, 2007 at 6:35 PM PST:

What you’re saying is that they should focus more on the video aspects and less on the editing aspects.

That’s a slightly unorthodox aspect of The Iceberg Secret being at work in the open-source world. Essentially, the part that’s above water (the UI) is only a small part of the problem, the bulk of it actually lies under water. Few people in the free-as-in-beer open-source world will want to work on the part that’s under water, because it’s not glamorous, because it doesn’t have any kind of instant gratification, and because it’s hard.

In a commercial evironment, people do have a good incentive to work on the part that’s underwater: the difference in visibility between the UI and the core is much smaller, the entire product ships at the same time so the gratification happens at the same speed regardless of the layer in which you work, there are some software engineers who crave for the hard problems, and in a well-run software organization the people working on the hard problems are rewarded accordingly.

Roland wrote on December 3rd, 2007 at 9:59 PM PST:

Hi Eugenia,

Give Cinelerra another test. It may surprise you!
If you need live informations on Cinelerra ==> irc:// .
Did you test Open Movie Editor? The blender-3D sequencer?
You say “GNU/Linux has no usable video editor”. That’s not really true since there are lot of proprietaries video editors that run on Linux. You should better say “GNU/Linux has no usable open source video editor” (even if some poeple will not agree with you).

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on December 3rd, 2007 at 10:05 PM PST:

There are no consumer proprietary video editors for Linux. The editors available are only for specific companies to do GFX work, and the MainConcept editor is not available anymore.

Cinelerra is just not good btw, sorry. It crashes all too easily (ever tried to load HDV and work with it in full HD, it crawls), and it does not support the Lagarith or Huffyuv lossless codecs. Without this, it is a joke for me.

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Eugenia wrote on December 3rd, 2007 at 10:23 PM PST:

Regarding Open Movie Editor, it says that it doesn’t support anything other than 25p. So that means that NTSC video is out of the question. Sorry, but this is not serious.

Sorry Richard (I know you will read this), you do this in your own time, and for that purpose is a good effort. But it’s not a general purpose home video editor.

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Eugenia wrote on December 3rd, 2007 at 10:33 PM PST:

I just re-installed Cinelerra. It’s pathetic how easily I can crash it. Just pathetic.

Please, don’t try to convince me that there are good editing apps on Linux for video. They aren’t. None works.

Richard wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 1:24 AM PST:

(Open Movie Editor developer talking) ๐Ÿ˜‰

The current version of Open Movie Editor actually does support different framerates like 29.97, and others.

But there are still many things missing, I agree, and I certainly do not see Open Movie Editor as anything resambling a “finished” product. It is currently a toy and very much work in progress. The releases I am putting out do not even have a “serious” version number, only a date stamp, because basically they are mostly previews to gather feedback and bug reports. One cannot work on a piece of software in isolation, so any kind of complaint is immensely useful.

And btw. this is why I read your Blog Eugenia, because you are not one of those whiners that claim that if you try hard enough cinelerra will work. It won’t. You understand what you are talking about, and I think I agree to almost all of the stuff you say.


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Eugenia wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 1:34 AM PST:

Thank you for the understanding Richard. Most people will suggest the X or Y application without knowing that they are sub-par even to iMovie (which is already a joke among video editors), and they hope this way to make me change my mind. I appreciate that you are truthful with the whole situation.

I gave Cinelerra one more go tonight. All I can say is: Oh. My. God. What a freakishly stupid app. Crashing it was a PIECE OF CAKE. It wasn’t even able to load a simple QVGA .mpg file correctly. The “Record” window froze. Loading mpeg4 or wmv meant instant crash. HD editing and exporting was slow as hell and it didn’t even let me specify size/framerate.

I will have to say it one more time: there is no consumer/home video editor for Linux that actually works. And when I mean “works”, I mean it to work as well as iMovie does, and let’s not forget that iMovie is already the lowest video editor out there in terms of functionality. And yet, iMovie fairs about 100 times better than ANY “home or consumer” Linux video editor (no, I don’t have a peak at the pro Linux editors that no one can get their hands on and either are not for sale or they cost thousands of dollars).

>>The current version of Open Movie Editor actually does support different framerates like 29.97, and others.

Offer me a .deb file if you have one. The only one available in the repos is from 10 months ago. I don’t have dev tools on ubuntu as a matter or principle (it was the main reason I switched from Arch to ubuntu, I didn’t want to bother with compilations anymore). I would like to follow the development of your app if you like.

Richard wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 3:44 AM PST:

What specific version of Ubuntu are you running?

l3v1 wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 6:41 AM PST:

Well, the day has come. I’m stunned and surprised, but in this issue, I agree with you ๐Ÿ™‚ Every and each video “editor” for Linux sucks big time.

Yet, on a sidenote, the video-related “features” you listed (i.e. minus the audio and GUI stuff) are such that probably would take a fairly short time to do (been there), given [and this is the most important bit] a well designed and prepared sw framework/architecture to develop in/for. Neither of which I’ve seen up to now, including those mentioned by you and by the commenters above, are stuff I’d ever understand why someone would want to code anything for. Regarding the O.M.E., FLTK makes me want to tear my hair out. Cinerella, well, tried it so many times with hopes never becoming real, also its gui always made me want to run away and never look back. Are there any rumours of anyone picking up Diva ?

Richard wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 7:49 AM PST:

Frameworks don’t matter, FLTK is only used for the frontend, the backend works mainly with libquicktime and gavl. Those are solid and proven, and imho the only serious tools for building a nice video editing suite.

QT and GTK are not stable, they are in constant flux, API changes and incompatibilities all the time. ๐Ÿ˜›

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Eugenia wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 12:27 PM PST:

I am running Gutsy.

Dan Dennedy wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 4:54 PM PST:

Hi Eugenia, I agree my shit stinks. ๐Ÿ˜›

I was trying to coax Kino into something as usable as iMovie, but Kino’s foundation is crude, I am slow, and the consumer electronics world started introducing to consumers all these new fangled formats and crap like pulldown. Now, it’s showing its age. Maybe with a little more effort it could be as you describe for DV only, but is that worthwhile and interesting?

Well, now I am plodding along on MLT in support of kdenlive. It is slow-going because I am just not feeling very motivated. I go through cycles like biorhythms. There is a lot more issues to the kdenlive render function than its UI–like lacking the ability to reduce framerate and perform multi-pass encoding, and those parts are my responsibility.

I have to admit the rate of change and breakage in the GNU/Linux ecosystem saps my energy and motivation. For example, on my main dev workstation, the acceleration and native-panel resolution broke in Xorg 7.3 due to the server upgrading to xrandr 1.2 and regressing. Sigh. It’s just not motivating to work on a desktop with a broken aspect ratio and slow as molasses. I use my flatbed scanner a few times a year, and each time I shudder at the thought of wondering if it will JustWork or what method I have to use to configure permissions this time. Don’t even get me started on all the problem reports from people attempting to use the new firewire subsystem with their DV and HDV equipment.

I realize these examples are side effects of progress, but it does take its toll. I guess you can say the same about Free video editing software–it’s a slow and painful process especially when no one is paid to work on it. I have to admit, I have been spending too much time on my company-issued MacBook running OS X while sitting with the family in front of the TV.

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Eugenia wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 5:23 PM PST:

I fully understand Dan. I know what creates the situation on Linux.

It’s just that this “no usable video editor on Linux” is the best example of the open source development model not working for all cases. OSS is not a panacea.

Video editing applications are complex beasts and require support from a lot parts of the system, and when these parts are in constant flux, then you never have a good enough solution for your users.

Might be more worth while writing an HDV capture app for Win/OSX (there is none for OSX that just does capture in .m2t or .m2ts), ability to remove pulldown from the HV20 and others like it or de-interlace and save as full HD, and then save on an OSS lossless format like Lagarith, Huffyuv or MJpeg. Basically this is what Cineform does for Windows, and they charge over $400 for it. There is no open source app that does just this easily and cleanly.

Renan J. Felix wrote on December 4th, 2007 at 8:41 PM PST:

This is why I gave up with Linux. I followed Diva’s development closely, as things slowed down I emailed Michael to see how things were going and he responded that he was ready to give up. I even suggested that he try MLT for the back end. Dan gave me his input. Cinelerra was still a headache just to get it to work. I wish Richard the best of luck with OME and the same to Pitivi but Vegas Movie Studio is here and works now. This is a case where profit is the true motivator. Pick any video editor that works in Windows or Mac and you’ll notice that its developers get paid for their efforts. Enough said.

l3v1 wrote on December 5th, 2007 at 2:11 AM PST:

“Frameworks donรขโ‚ฌโ„ขt matter,”

Mmmkay. Yeesh.

Ygg wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 3:48 PM PST:

Might be more worth while writing an HDV capture app for Win/OSX (there is none for OSX that just does capture in .m2t or .m2ts)

install the firewire sdk (downloadable off apple’s website) then run virtualdvhs

simple capture app that dumps to disk the mpeg2 transport stream your firewire cam has on tape

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Eugenia wrote on December 6th, 2007 at 5:13 PM PST:

I know of it, but installing a full SDK just to get hold of a “test app”, is a bit weird. And this is not a maintained app, for example, it’s a hit and miss if it works with Leopard or not.

Roland wrote on December 7th, 2007 at 8:49 AM PST:

Hi Eugenia,

To use iMovie you need a Mac. On windows machine you have Movie Maker for little video editing. Even if Cinelerra has lot of problems, I bet it’s better than Movie Maker.
Are you speaking about “little video editing features”; I don’t know iMovie but can you tell me a thing that Movie Maker can do and a combination of mencoder, ffmpeg, cinelerra and gimp can’t?

Peter Schlaile wrote on December 8th, 2007 at 1:35 AM PST:

Hi Eugenia,

did you try Blender ?

Yes, it is a 3D-modeller, but it has a nice little video
sequencing application integrated, that does your short list
pretty well.

It even let you do pro stuff with it’s integrated
node compositor.

Let alone the complete 3D-suite that makes complex
3D transitions (and also simple good titling, for which
I use it ๐Ÿ™‚ a charme.


P.S.: I once searched a working application to edit 2 hours of live footage and had the same problem as you, that there were no serious little editing application, that simply does it’s job. Well, now I’m a blender developer and now there is one ๐Ÿ™‚

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Eugenia wrote on December 8th, 2007 at 10:29 AM PST:

To truly use Blender like this, you gotta understand the rest of the Blender app too. No one is willing to learn Blender just so they can put together a video of their dog. It’s just not realistic. Blender is a very targeted application, not a generic video app.

Peter Schlaile wrote on December 8th, 2007 at 2:16 PM PST:

… you might be surprised, that I first used Blender as a video editing app and figured out how to use the 3D modeller afterwards… (I was really surprised, how easy it was, to make really good looking titles instead of those crappy ones, you get out of consumer video editing apps. And that, without really knowing the modeller ๐Ÿ™‚ )

So you are wrong about the “have to understand the rest of Blender”, but are probably right, that most people won’t use it for “family videos”, because there are simply too many buttons on the screen (and you can’t see the video editor at first startup…)

But nevertheless: in contrast to other video editing apps (like e.g. Avid), it is _really_ straight forward in it’s usage…

And considering the fact, that the really interesting people maybe want to do “killer action movies” or good looking commercials instead of “videos of their dog”, I personally like an application, into which you can grow, when your projects get more demanding (especially when we get into visual effects) a lot more like those “Windows Movie Maker” wannabees.

Besides: I still can’t get why you need HD editing for movies about your dog ๐Ÿ™‚


P.S.: It isn’t probably too hard, to make a Blender startup file, that hides a lot of the 3D modeller and makes only the video editor accessible. So with a little bit of tweaking, probably even “family video guys” might start to like it…

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Eugenia wrote on December 8th, 2007 at 6:11 PM PST:

I had a look at Blender earlier today, and I could not find anywhere the video editing part. I found the ffmpeg exporting dialogs, but I found no de-interlacing options, and no HDV/DV reading ability. Post some screenshots on how someone can connect his camcorder on Blender and get his work done and export in a delivery user format.

You see, I am not interested in editing pirated xvid files, I am interested in DV/HDV/AVCHD support, I am a videographer, not a video remixer. Besides, I just don’t see the point of using a tool that it was designed for something different.

Peter Schlaile wrote on December 9th, 2007 at 2:36 AM PST:

See the button “SR:2 – Model” at the top of the screen, when
you startup blender? That is one of the screen-area presets.
Click on it and choose “SR: 4 – Sequence” and you are in the
video sequencer.

That was my point about presets. One can customize those
screen area and build presets for different usages of the
program. (This is also sensible for video editing. The default preset is fine for simply usage, but can be configured to present several input-monitors and one large output monitor. That is the screen, I use most of the day…)

Blender is an orthogonal application. That is one of the greatest things that you can build. It simply offers the whole design pipeline from 3D-modelling over animating through compositing down to video sequence editing and does
this consistently.

You can use some parts of the pipeline or everything at once (which is what VFX guys do all day).

Probably a look into the Manual will make things a lot more clearly.

To answer your usage question: just put the video on the timeline (Spacebar – Movie – Select the movie you captured,
hit N-key and click on Filter-Y).

If you want to generate interlaced output, click on “fields” in render dialog and use “odd” to toggle field order.


Peter Schlaile wrote on December 9th, 2007 at 3:02 AM PST:

… and you might also find
my old Changelog from 2006

worth reading, if you want to read about my “rants and solutions” that I had at that time ๐Ÿ™‚


Reply from Eugenia: Sorry Peter, this application is not designed for home video editing. It’s a specialized 3D app with some video support on the side. This is not what Joe User needs. It’s impossible to get your head around this app. I don’t have 6 months just to figure it out. Sorry.

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