Five Low-Cost Windows Video Editing Programs

Sooner or later you will need to record video of a conferencepresentation or training session. And since Windows is the world’s mostpopular personal computer operating system, the computer you will wantto use to capture and edit your video will probably run Windows.

This article is not a full review of every available video editingprogram for Windows. It’s a brief rundown of five sub-$100 video editingprograms we have used and found to work competently on most decenthardware running Windows XP, Vista or Seven, with the caveat that theywill all crash more often and run slower on Vista than on Windows 7or XP.

MyMovie-Windows Live Movie Maker

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If you have happy memories of Windows MovieMaker in pre-Seven versionsof Windows, you may be shocked to find that this utility is missing fromWindows Seven. Instead, you are supposed to download its replacement,called MyMovie-Windows Live Movie Maker. Which, sad to say, sucks. Ifyou are using XP or Vista, do not download this turkey. Stick withWindows MovieMaker. The latest version is 2.6, and you can download itfree from Microsoft.com. You may get some notice saying this version maynot work with Windows Seven. Ignore it. MovieMaker 2.6 runs just fine onWindows Seven.

Now about MovieMaker itself: Think of it as the NotePad of videoeditors. If you only expect to make one or two videos, ever, and to doonly the simplest possible edits (i.e. cut off the ends of a couple ofclips, stick them together into a longer video, and maybe add a simpletitle or two) MovieMaker is all you need. It will grab and work withvideo in almost every popular camcorder format.

If you have an old version of MovieMaker, it may not work with new highdefinition video formats such as MPEG 4/H.264, but downloading version2.6 only takes a minute or two.

If MovieMaker crashes, which it will sooner or later, it will autosaveyour work at the crash point. And it will save your finished movie as a.wmv file. You can use other programs, including annoying-but-versatile(and free) SUPER totransmogrify it into other formats if you want.

VideoSpin and Studio by Pinnacle

VideoSpin is supposedly free, but if you need to take in or outputvideos in MPG4 or MPG2 formats, which you almost certainly will, youwill need to pony up some cash. So you might as well download a trialversion of Pinnacle Studio, and if you like it, buy a $49.99 copy ofPinnacle Studio HD.

Consider this a personal thing, but I find the constant Pinnacle barrageof upsell attempts irritating. Yes, I’m sure my video would look muchbetter if I upgraded to a fancier Pinnacle or Avid product or bought anadditional content pack or set of transitions, but right now I have ajob to do, okay?

Pinnacle sells millions of copies every year, so many people obviouslylike it. One thing it has, even in sort-of free VideoSpin and $49.99Pinnacle Studio HD, is a great titling utility, up there with the onesin $1000-plus Avid, Adobe, and Apple (Final Cut) professional videoediting suites. And the latest version (14 at this writing) does notcrash nearly as often as earlier versions we’ve tried. So Pinnacle iscertainly worth a spin — or a VideoSpin, anyway.

MAGIX Movie Edit Pro 17

There are two versions currently available: Pro 17 for $59.99 and Pro 17Plus for $99.99. Pro has a lot of the features you’ll find in $1000-plusvideo edit suites, and Plus has all kinds of special effects you mayonly use once in a blue moon, but are nice to have around.

The main problem with MAGIX is that it’s a European company with Germanand Russian programmers who tend to make things look and feel moreindustrial than is typical in American consumer-grade software. Andusability? Let’s just say usability isn’t a major MAGIX selling point,even though the UI is a lot better in v.17 than it was in single-digitversions.

MAGIX is big on fully-functional, freely downloadable trial versions, soit costs nothing (besides a little time) to give their video editors atest. You may fall in love with MAGIX — many do — or at least keep acopy around for some of the special effects MAGIX offers as part ofMovie Edit Pro that can cost hundreds of dollars as plugins for othervideo edit programs.

And there’s another MAGIX program you might want to look at if thisarticle is making your eyes glaze over: MAGIX Video easy HD. $39.99.Easy? Totally. As easy as others claim to be, but aren’t. Don’t expectSpielberg-level output from a program that claims, among other features,”Automatic video editing wizard, Clearly laid-out user interface withlarge buttons,” and a “Beginner’s manual with step-by-stepinstructions.” Chances are, though, you will turn out a better “first”video, with less work, using this program than with almost any othervideo editing software.

Corel VideoStudio Pro X3

It costs $69.99 and does an okay job, although the main selling point ofthis program is that you can use its Express Edit mode for quick anddirty, beginner-level editing, and later progress to fancier, moreadvanced techniques. VideoStudio also has about as easy a DVD-burningutility as you’ll find in any video editing package, even expensiveprofessional ones. Well worth a look — and yes, there’s a trial versionavailable for free download.

Adobe Premiere Elements 9

It’s pretty good for visual work, including great titling. But soundediting? I’ve never liked Premiere’s sound editor. But this new versionof Premiere Elements has some very cool built-in, automated audio tools,namely Audio Polish, Auto Mute, Cleaner, Hum Remover, Noise Fader, andNoise Reducer. I did a fast test of Noise Reducer, and it’s at least asgood as the equivalent utility in the free Audacity audio editor, butnot as good as Virtos Noise Wizard — which costs $59.50 or more, whileall of Elements only costs $99.99. Hmm. An interesting valueproposition. An even better one is a Premiere Elements and PhotoshopElements bundle for $149.99.

One note: several friends have called Premiere Elements the crashiestvideo program they’ve ever used. I had it crash once while doing asimple AVCHD video test edit. This is not good. But then again, most32-bit Windows video editing programs tend to crash, while 64 bit onesare more stable. And none of them are stable in Windows Vista. WindowsVista is simply not a usable operating system for video editing.

A second note: Adobe Premiere Elements isn’t the world’s easiest programto learn. It’s up there with MAGIX and some of the other pro-levelprograms — which shouldn’t surprise anyone, seeing as it’s a cut-downversion of Adobe Premiere, which costs well over $1000 these days.

Sony Vegas Platinum

Sony Vegas Platinum is the hardest to learn of all the editing programslisted here, but becoming proficient with it will put you 90% of the wayto professional-level video production — and once you’re familiar withthe sub-$100 “consumer” version of Vegas, you will have 90% of theskills needed to make full use of the $600 “pro” version, which is usedby many top-end video and movie producers because it is fast, not toohardware-hungry, and handles virtually any kind of standard definitionor high definition video file there is.

Another Vegas advantage is that it crashes less frequently than anyconsumer-priced or even pro-priced video editing software running ontypical home or small-office computer hardware — with the caveat that,like any complex software package, it less stable on Vista than on otherWindows versions.

For best results, use multiple hard drives

One trick that saves me grief in Vegas (and can save grief in almost anyvideo editing program) is to use one hard drive for the program andanother for video data. The video data hard drive can be an external USB2.0 or Firewire drive. Either IO protocol is fast enough to deal witheven the most data-intensive AVCCAM or AVCHD video formats, and it’sthese formats where you’re most likely to see frames drop if your dataand program are on the same hard drive.

But whatever editing software you use, and no matter how many harddrives you have, knowing how to turn out decent-looking (anddecent-sounding) video is both fun and potential career-enhancing, soit’s knowledge well worth acquiring.

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