6 free and open source video editing tools

The current state of video editing for Linux

Posted 20 Jan 2015 by 

Chris Long (Red Hat)
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Linux video editing
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I often ask myself what the current state of video editing is for free and open source software (FOSS). Here are my thoughts.

I've spent many years in the visual effects (VFX) industry from the perspective of being either an artist, compositor, video editor, or systems engineer. (I've even got film creds on IMDB!) In the past, I had the pleasure of cutting on, training people on, setting up, and supporting Avid Media Composer, the cream of the crop of professional real-time video editing tools for film and TV alike—at least before things like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere became useful enough to professionals.

In the VFX industry these three tools are used extensively among studios for cutting video and film and are both very simple to use for noobs and professionals alike as well as can be pushed very far in the hands of guru artists. The VFX industry has for the most part of the last 30 years been reliant on Mac and PC for video editing, primarily because all of the Linux-based FOSS tools have been less than great. This is a shame because all of the best 3D and 2D tools, other than video, are entrenched in the Linux environment and perform best there. The lack of decent video editing tools on Linux prevents every VFX studio from becoming a Linux-only shop.

That being said, there are some strides being made to bridge this gap, as I discovered over the last few weeks. They are not Hollywood big, production ready strides but they are useful enough for what I need to do which is basically a bunch of build training and demo videos as Senior Systems Engineer for Red Hat's Systems Engineering EngOps team.
 
I've installed and tested a number of tools before overcoming my fear of learning how to edit video in Blender. (When I first looked at it, the program seemed convoluted.) So, here's an account of the tools I looked at and what I thought about them. Let me qualify this by letting you know that I'm currently running Fedora 21, KDE, and Gnome (because I can't decide which to stick with) on a Lenovo T440s with a VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Haswell-ULT Integrated Graphics Controller (so, no accellerated openGL unfortunately). I approached this as I would if I was an impatient artist trying to find THE tool for the job, with no time for messing about for little or no results.

 

Pitivi

Pitivi was recommended to me, so it was the first app I tried out. It's written in Python, so I thought maybe I can have fun with scripting this because I have a specific thing I'd like to do with overlaying timecode over the video based on the frame count showing actual passage of time regardless of the cuts made to the clip. (It's a demo thing.) It looked great and professional-esque, almost Avid/premiere like. So, I brought in a video clip... and CRASH! I opened it again, brought in a clip, no crash, so that's great. I added another video track... and CRASH! I tried at least 15 more times before giving up on it. And it's a shame, because it looks like it has potential to be simple to use and not overly garish.

I'll try again when version 1.0 is released. Normally, I persevere with beta versions because I've been involved with beta testing software all of my professional life, but this was frustrating and I wasn't getting anywhere.

 

OpenShot

For OpenShot: Open it, check. Bring in video, check. Cut video into timeline, check. Playback video, check. Add a title and hit render, then I waited... and waited... and waited. Then, I checked htop, and nothing happening but I couldn't cancel out of the render. CRASHH!! Oh no.

So, my take was that maybe this one can do the job if you don't want titles? It's free closed source competitor, so it may possibly be more useful? I don't know, but I moved on.

 

Lightworks

With Lightworks, I thought: now we're talking. Lightworks played a very large part in the professional video market about 10 years ago and was used by many PC based studios. It has cut some really cool films along the way and was very expensive then as I recall. So, these days they have released a free version for all platforms. This version gives you all the rudimentary things that you may want, and there's an RPM or deb download available. It installed without issues, then when I double-clicked the icon, nothing happened. No OpenGL, no video, no worky.

Could someone try this out and tell me what it's like? Or, if you're feeling generous, throw me a nifty laptop with at least a Nvidia 870M in it please.

 

Avidemux

For Avidemux, I installed it and opened it. Are people using this for editing? I looked at this as I've seen so many other writeups mention this as a editor which it most definately isn't. I moved on.

 

Cinelerra

For Cinelerra, I tried to download it and found the homepage had no download link (at the time). I noted that the team there seems very focused on the Ubuntu user. Then, I downloaded, extracted, and opened it. I brought some video in, hit the garish, big green tick to accept the import, hit play, and found that it didn't work. Bummer.

 

KDEnlive

KDEnlive is a relatively new discovery for me. I installed it, opened it, lay down some tracks, and cut with my "industry standard" keyboard shortcuts. All seemed pretty smooth. So, then I overlayed the end of one video over the start of another video track so that I could apply a transition, but I couldn't find any. The list of transitions was bare. Hmmm, maybe I have to go back and find out why this is.

So, I'll report back later on this.

 

Blender

By the time I got to Blender, I was really starting to get disheartened. I've looked at Blender in the past but it was a totally different paradigm than anything I had used before professionally. For a start, the keys we all wrong. But, I was back and not about to be defeated. I searched YouTube for something to help, something that wouldn't take me 365 days to go through the basics.

Here's a list of a few that I found useful. And, after about 30 mins of watching, I got started.

I imported the video clips that I needed, check. I laid down the first video track, check. I played the clip back in the player/viewer, check. I was begining to get excited. I started cutting my 45 minute clip down to 5 minutes. Blender has markers: awesome! Cutting long clips without markers is an exercise in futility. Avid started the marker trend and it was a godsend. By using markers with the "m" key you can start to map in real-time, while you're watching, where you want the cuts to happen. And once you're done watching through, you can skip to each marker and make a cut. You can then non-destructively delete the clips that you just cut. You can then automatically close the gap between each of the cuts so you're not screwing around trying to line up the ends of each consecutive clip.

Creating transitions was really simple too and reminded me of using Adobe Premiere. There are some "normal" transitions too, ones that you would expect to see on a film or TV drama, rather than just the "fractal swirl-over fade-back bubble" transition that all of the other apps seem to love.

Another nice thing about Blender is that the audio is able to be unlinked from the video. There are many uses for this, and I was happy to see that I could do it so easily. The next thing I tried was titling. You can go the 2D or 3D route. I chose the 3D route as this can give you much more flexibility for reuse. So, I overlayed this over the video perfectly, and then I chose the format and size that I wanted to render out with, and hit the GO button. It rendered out fast and perfectly.

 

The winner

I have found my new, open source video editor: Blender! It's not Avid, FCP, or Premiere, but it's more than that. It's a true suite of tools that I would say can go head to head with the best of what I've used in the VFX industry. And, I'm genuinely surprised!

One more great thing about Blender: it's fully scriptable in Python. Wow.


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112 Comments

Quentin THEURET

You can also have a look to http://natron.inria.fr/

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chlong

Quentin. Thanks for the link. This looks very interesting. If first impressions are worth anything, this looks like it could be a nice freeware compositor. I'll download it and check it out.

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xxarcarsenalxx

Yes. I have not used it, but I have heard a fair amount of buzz that Natron is fast catching up with The Foundry's Nuke, in both functionality as well as UI/UX. In addition...no offense to anyone, but I'm not sure this article qualifies as a fair comparison between everything if so many of the programs were misconfigured for his system (or vice versa). Now....certainly that is saying alot for the individual programs and their ability to function well ACROSS platforms....but it says nothing about their effectiveness on a single working platform.

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Sascya Assak

Thank you for this summary. I have been looking for editing softwares for linux and I think I will download blender. I also used pitivi, but I don't now, I can't even upload a video there soo.. yeah...

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Coolio

Great place.

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Coolio

Great stuff there. You can also check out devcodemarket.com for tons of open source software.

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Matiseli

Thanks! :) :)

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Edward W. Emmons

Why would anyone involved in the IT industry be using the hardware you describe?

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chrisod

I didn't have any problem getting OpenShot to run. It was a little crashy, but I figured out the apparent cause of the crashes and was able to work around it. More on my blog post about it from year. http://odonnellweb.com/pelican/openshot-video-editor.html

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chlong

Hi Chris,
I totally agree with you. I didn't have any issue's installing it and getting it to run but as you pointed out on your blog, I too found it a "little crashy". But definitely worth a go for some.

For me though it was a little too crashy. Cheers

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Don Watkins

Thanks for a great article. I've used Openshot in the past. It's great to know about Blender. Now, I'm going to have to experiment with it. I had no idea that it could be used in this way.

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chlong

Thanks for the support.
I'm sure once you start with Blender, your going to get hooked and you probably wont stop at video either. I'm definitely interested in checking out Quentin Theuret's recommendation of Natron too. Maybe I will review of that in the future too.
Have fun getting hooked on Blender, I know that the Blender community is extremely helpful too if you need help.
Cheers.

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Bart Burroughs

not sure what distro you use. But in Ubuntu 14.04 I installed and use Lightworks as well as Kdenlive with no issues. Kdenlive has all of the filters available so not sure how you installed but for me it was as easy as opening the software center and installing it, it installed everything else needed by default. perhaps look into a different distro or read up on how to install properly on your distro of choice? I have only played with Lightworks a little bit so not all that familiar with what it can do but I do know it required a 64 bit install only as of the last time I checked.

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chlong

Hi Bart.
I've got my distro info in the article, Fedora 21, KDE, and or Gnome, no accellerated openGL unfortunately. Hence my issues with Lightworks, my test machine doesn't meet tech requirements.
As far as Kdenlive goes, I will be going to revisit it to figure out where the transitions have got to. I hope I can find the source of the issue in a short time as I quite like the layout and use of standard Avid like shortcuts with Kdenlive.
Cheers

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M D

I use Kdenlive for quite a bit of video editing in particular because it has handled all of the video formats that I have used (even with different formats in the same timeline) and easily converted or rendered to whatever else I've needed and didn't mess up the audio/video sync, it just worked. I don't get a good realtime preview because of my antiquated computer, but I can still watch every frame to see the effect (by turning off realtime viewing), it just takes a little longer (or render a small section). It does crash occasionally, but autobackup seems to work fairly well. It does tend to be a bit more of a memory hog than say Cinelerra. Cinelerra has two particular strengths of which I make use, its images stabilization capability combined with the ability to easily set up a simple render farm on several computers. This is very useful for me since I tend to use 'non-state-of-the-art' computers. I've tried Blender, but I always got frustrated with converting all my videos to a particular format that Blender was happy with. Maybe I need to just buckle down and fight through it for one video just to give it a fair chance.

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chlong

I'm definitely going to be digging deeper into Kdenlive to see how I can get these transitions to work. I can apply a transition now but it but it still doesn't render.

I'm will also revisit Cinelerra when the new release comes out, according to their site, "New FEDORA & UBUNTU version of Cinelerra to be released February 2, 2015."
And Pitivi diserves another viewing once the new version is ready.

I didn't find any issue with accepting different codecs with Blender 2.72b I have ffmpeg version 2.4.5 installed with a multitude of codecs that were included in the standard Fedora 21 yum repos

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Igor

cinelerra-cv.org - CinelerraCV
http://git.cinelerra-cv.org/gitweb?p=CinelerraCV.git;a=summary
https://launchpad.net/~cinelerra-ppa/+archive/ubuntu/ppa
------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------
cinelerra.org - CinelerraHV
http://sourceforge.net/projects/heroines/files/
http://heroinewarrior.com/cinelerra.php#download

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Robin McBurnie

Hi I know it's a few months on, but just to say that KDenlive on Ubuntu is mostly stable and has a range of transitions / effects available, although sometimes the panel that displays which are applied where will only show what's applied to the selected clip.
You can also split audio from video tracks - it can use a whole bunch of Audio plugiins, if you just want do keep the Audio internal to KDenlive.
You could though export a low-res version of the video edit for use in the like of Ardour (DAW) so as to key audio events to the video. You can then either import the final (stereo) Audio from your DAW and make it the soundtrack (muting any other audio tracks)
It has 2D title animation built-in, but somewhat basic.

I personally like Blender and the latest 2.7x releases have improved things still further, but if you don't have the time to invest in learning to use Blender, KDenlive is a bit more intuitive and easier to do straightforward to relatively complex NLE work>
Note Blender is worth doing in the long run as it WILL come in useful at some point - the compositor alone is worth learning to use!

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Bart Burroughs

to bad about no opengl acceleration Lightworks is really quite good but more tailored to professionals. kdenlive can do a lot but isn't as hard core as lightworks. Fits my needs and I'm sure can do even more than I use it for if you took the time to read up on all the features etc. hope you get it working with filters/effects again. cheers.

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chlong

kdenlive is going to be looked at again for sure.

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Bart Burroughs

too bad about no opengl acceleration Lightworks is really quite good but more tailored to professionals. kdenlive can do a lot but isn't as hard core as lightworks. Fits my needs and I'm sure can do even more than I use it for if you took the time to read up on all the features etc. hope you get it working with filters/effects again. cheers.

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dmacleo

somewhat related I guess, but if there were an anydvd equivalent for opensource (makemkv not what I need) I could dump windows.
running vm to use it just not really useful and wine doesn't work.
right now I dual boot on a few machines.
I do really like Win7 but I also like mint and kubuntu.
I use avidemux a lot but had not tried blender, will look at it.
thanks.

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Kevin

Hi, I had a similar experience to you over the past few years especially with PiTiVi. I would recommend going to an Ubuntu variant as I've had much better luck. I recommend Ubuntu Studio...you can select pre installed packs of functionality such as video editing, audio production, protography, desktop publishing, etc. and everything is installed and configured correctly for you when you install the OS. It also has a slimmer window manager xfce without effects that keeps your CPU cycles and memory working for your video editing and not flashy effects in your window manager. If you map the windows kep to open xfce4-appfinder it functions very similarly to standard Ubuntu with a few minor variations in keybindings for workspace management. It has become my one stop shop and I'll likely never try out another variant now.

Back to video editing though, Kdenlives transitions and effects were a bit weird to me as well when I was transitioning from Premiere and Vegas, but once I got the hang of them, they are fairly intuitive. I now use it as my video editor for all my family videos and I've found a very efficient workflow. The developer has also made a lot of headway in getting realtime feedback into the preview so you can see your parameter modifications of effects and transitions in realtime. I haven't used it in anger, but for all of my simple projects its worked very well. The few times it has crashed the autobackup feature has always had almost all of my changes in it whether I've saved recently or not.

That being said when I was doing serious work with 3d and titling I used blender quite a bit. I even coded up my own plugin so I could use gimp as an effects processor which was slow, but allowed me to use gimp plugins I had found for effects. That was quite a while ago and Blender has come a long way and is much more scriptable now like you said. If you do a lot of different aspects of video production, paying the tax of the Blender learning curve is a very worthwhile investment as it has pretty much everything all in one place which makes the workflow great. At least I thought it was great back a few years ago (I've had to lay off the 3D for a few years for time/family reasons), but everything I've seen come out over the past couple years seems to just make things better. I hope I can get back into it in the coming years as my kids grow up!

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chlong

Hi Kevin.
Thanks for you response.
Working for Redhat, I feel I'm sort of obligated to be running one of the RH related desktops hence choosing Fedora 21 for that purpose on my work laptop. I love it.

Having said that I had been running Ubuntu 14.04 on my personal machine up until a couple of months ago and enjoyed the experience. My personal machine is a Gigabyte P24, now commandeered by my 11 year old son.
I was struck by the fact that most of the issues that manifested, did so similarly on a debian as on Fedora platform and seemed to come down to the mobile Nvidia 870M and the Nvidia Drivers but thats a whole other story.

It's great to hear about your experiences with both Kdenlive and Blender and I hope you can get the time in the future to pursue your 3D again.
Cheers.

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Kevin

Yeah, I figured you wouldn't be jumping on the Ubuntu bandwagon. ;) However, I wanted to spread the Ubuntu Studio love to any readers of the comments. Maybe eventually someone will do a similar "Studio" distro of Fedora (hint, hint)...maybe there is one already that I don't know about?

Thanks for bringing visibility to multimedia related software in Linux...it's come a long way in the 10+ years I've been using it and is definitely worth the look.

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Luke Myers

Thanks for sharing. I've had a similar experience with video editing on Linux except that I never got over my fear of Blender. Kdenlive is my editor of choice. It's basically a (very nice) frontend to MLT, so will rely on transitions available to MLT. You may want to double check that frei0r is installed to add transitions/effects.

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chlong

Luke, thanks for the info. I'll check for frei0r.
As far as your fear? It's easy to conquer with the list of tutes I posted. I fear that I too long before I tried to get over mine. But later is better than never :)
Cheers

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Perry

Right click on the clip in the timeline to add transitions in kdenlive.

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chlong

Seriously?? Seriously?? How could I miss that :O.
I did manage to add a transition now but It doesn't seem to render it and unfortunately I don't even see a preview of it. I guess I need more investigation.
Thanks for the tip Perry.

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CountryfiedLinux

The Kdenlive version for Ubuntu 14.10 is terribly buggy. The one on the LTS works very well. Actually 14.10 is a buggy release with a lot of issues so no surprise that a package for it is buggy as well. On 14.04 LTS I find rendering in H.264 works best.

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Seth Kenlon

Kdenlive does transitions and compositing somewhat uniquely in that the transition itlself is a clip on the timeline.

THat said, you can do simple fades simply by adjusting opacity on the clip's handles as described here:
https://opensource.com/life/11/11/effects-and-transitions-kdenlive

For advanced compositing tips, see this post:
http://straightedgelinux.com/blog/howto/kdenlive/comp.html

For fading titles:
http://straightedgelinux.com/blog/howto/kdenlive/titlefade.html

Blender is a great editor, though, I agree!

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chlong

Thanks for the links Seth.

Very helpful
Cheers

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Lawrence D’Oliveiro

As another Blender fan, let me just point out that it is also a compositor, not just a video editor. And that’s before you get into all the actual 3D functionality. :)

For example, see this tutorial I did https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Blender_3D:_Noob_to_Pro/Compositing/Portal... on how to do a gateway/portal/Tardis-type effect.

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chlong

Lawrence. This is a perfect tute for my son who is a Dr Who fanatic.
Thanks

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Mikko

Your description of Cinelerra looks like you didn't bother to learn the basics of using it. Just pressing play in the previewer after importing some video doesn't do anything, there are more steps to it. That said, Cinelerra probably is unstable and antiquated in many ways. It has also had its problems as a development project (lack of openness, glacial speed, the usual).

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chlong

Hi Mikko.
You are indeed correct. These reviews are taken from the perspective of a professional video editor who wants to find a "professional" like editing tool. I'm sure that this tool has alot of merit to people who have taken the time to learn it.

"I approached this as I would if I was an impatient artist trying to find THE tool for the job, with no time for messing about for little or no results."

Cheers

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Otto

Currently, both versions of the program CV and HV are actively developing. Many bug fixes, new features are introduced gradually.
Often people say that the old program. But many young editors, including the program X, will long to catch up with this program.

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chlong

I will revisit Cinelerra when the new release comes out, according to their site, "New FEDORA & UBUNTU version of Cinelerra to be released February 2, 2015."

I'm looking forward to seeing it in action.

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Philippe Allemand

I was used to edit my family movies with Cinelerra during a while until I got an Full HD camera producing AVCHD videos. Since then cinelerra becomes a nightmare and I could no longer create a correct HD video. After several trials with differents kind of transformation of my AVCHD test video, I finally succeded to have something that can be imported, Then I could render a short movie and... I obtained a 1088 pixels height output, 8 extra pixels which pollute my output. I needed to crop them using avidemux. It took me several hours to get this result so Idecided to look for something else

I passed to Kdenlive and then I can edit smootly. Of course some of the cinelerra's functionalities are missing, some effects, transitions are not working as they did with cinelerra, all the effects are only linear (no bezier transitions like with cinelerra) but over all I can do almost everything I want with Kdenlive.

The codecs are such a mess in cinelerra and most of the propose video format are not working or cannot be imported.

If someone has a list of the accepted and working format that's would be nice to share it. I tried again this WE with the latest version and Ubuntu 14.04. It is still too difficult.

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Jeff F.

Hi Chris,
When reviewing, please specify the Pitivi version you were using. It makes a world of difference. And is it possible you were hit by https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=1178168 or one of the myriad downstream bugs?

What we're seeing lately is that basically no distro manages to package Pitivi 100% correctly, so users end up encountering bugs we never heard about and that do not occur with Pitivi.org's official distro-agnostic packages.

Next time, we'd really appreciate if you came to talk to us on IRC about your issues beforehand.

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chlong

Hi Jeff.
Thanks for the comment. I was using version pitivi-0.94-x86_64.
I'll definitely be looking at this in the future. As I said in my review.

"it looks like it has potential to be simple to use.......
I'll try again when version 1.0 is released."

I would be happy to talk to you guy's IRC in the future but for this review, I was approaching it from the WYSIWIG, download, install, run, I'm an impatient artist trying to find a tool now! sense. Pitivi has heaps of promise.
Cheers

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JOS

the best is lightworks,, lightworks is professional , is complete .

blender is for animation 3D xD

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Magali

Have a look at this link : http://blendervelvets.org/

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A Random KDEnlive user

I am not sure which version of KDEnlive you're using, mine is on 0.9.10. Transitions is in the right-click menu when you select a clip in the timeline. It also strikes me as funny why the corresponding "Transitions" tab is empty, but on the other hand the right-click menu has a number of interesting options. It also includes some options such as GLSL transitions but so far I don't know what I'm missing to make it work, I've never succeeded in applying those.

It also has a number of useful tools for compositing tasks, but in terms of complexity I'll rate it as more useful as a video editor than a compositor.

One thing that I'm not really fond of using some of the more complex editing tasks within KDEnlive is that the aliasing is... not really stellar enough for viewing comfort. It has a rotoscoping tool, but it's not really recommended to use it without feathering on the edges.

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Dan

I was very disappointed (as a programmer) that I couldn't even get OpenShot to work anywhere. I use Ubuntu, which seems reasonable, and I have literally never (since 2008) been able to get a video export from a Linux app. I understand that Linux users don't usually do video, but... devs who invest their time in Linux (my time is in Mono ans server scripts, sorry) need to consider how they seem to engage people. Based upon reviews of all the non-functioning apps (from a user who can compile the source!), video has gone nowhere... ever... :(

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IkeQ

Flowblade is a very decent FOSS project that doesn't get mentioned much; fast and stable with a comfortable interface.

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nicubunu

A few years ago I was involved with a project where I had to edit (simple edits: cut the video, add titles, credits, transcode) videos on a regular basis (a few of them once a month). At the time, after trying various alternatives, I settled on Kdenlive, which seemed to fill the bill. Now I don't do that any more, have only to edit once in a blue moon a video of my baby daughter (I still prefer to deal with photos) and Kdenlive feels strange in a Gtk+ desktop, so I gave OpenShot a try and it works (I like how it uses Inkscape as an external editor for titles). I got multiple recommendations for Blender, but it always feel like I lack the time (read balls) to start learning it, for the others the learning curve i very simple (a few minutes and you are ready to go).

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chlong

When I started this, I was looking for something simple yet professional enough, that would prevent me having to go downstairs to sit on a Mac to cut my training videos and that's how I came to "Force" myself to spend 1/2hr learning the basics on youtube to use Blender.
Because at the end of the day, it seemed to give the closest feel to professional that I could find out of everything that I tried. I can definitely understand where you're coming from.

Cheers

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nicubunu

...and since you ask about Avidemux, yes, I used that some 10 years ago when I was still a fresh Linux *desktop* users and wanted a close replacement for VirtualDub I used to know from the Windows world. Now if I want just a transcode or resize, there's Mencoder for the job.

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Martin Furter

I also used avidemux. It is not a video editor, I would call it a video cutter and transcoder. That's all I needed to process recorded TV shows. Avidemux is very easy to use, the only difficult thing is configuring the encoder if you're not happy with the standard settings (or the results they produce).

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A photo of chris long playing guitar.

I'm a Senior Systems Engineer @ Red Hat working in Brisbane, Australia

I have over 20 years of hands on IT engineering experience including 10+ years’ hands on management in both the creative and corporate worlds. I also have 10+ years’ in the digital creative domain as a devops engineer and VFX operator.

I have a veracious passion for cutting edge technologies and am very interested in the UX of all tech. I believe that good user experience is the key to adoption of a