OpenShot is a video editor for Linux that aspires to be simple, powerful, and "the very best open source video editor." OpenShot 1.3, which was released on February 13, brings it a little closer to that goal. This release brings a theme for the UI, support for adding multiple clips, new 3D animations, and a wizard for uploading video directly to YouTube or Vimeo. It may be the best open source video editor, but only if one is willing to overlook some stability issues.
Video editing is an area where Linux has lagged somewhat behind Windows and Mac OS X. This isn't to say that Linux users have had no options for editing video on Linux, but the selection of tools is not as broad, nor in many cases as full-featured or well-polished. Mac users have tools like Apple's iMovie that are very easy to use — though inflexible and decidedly unfriendly to open formats like Ogg Theora. Professional and advanced amateur users have quite a few options on Mac and Windows, depending on what they'd like to achieve and how much they're willing to spend.
Linux, on the other hand, has just a handful of viable
alternatives. There's Cinelerra and its
offshoot Cinelerra-CV, which
are very capable editors, but also extremely complex and likely to
intimidate most hobbyists. Kdenlive is another effort for providing a free software alternative for video editing on Linux (as well as FreeBSD and Mac OS X), that's much easier to use than Cinelerra. It might be a bit more intimidating than, say, iMovie, but it's usable by mere mortals.
Another editor that aims to be intuitive, but full-featured, is PiTiVi (which was reviewed here in June 2009). This is an
LGPLed effort sponsored in part by Collabora and developed around the
framework. It is relatively easy to use, and is currently the default video editor for Ubuntu. The development for PiTiVi seems somewhat slowish, and the developers seem to be struggling to find contributors.
There's also Kino, which does (or did) a fair job of balancing features and functionality — but its development seems to have slowed to a crawl if not entirely stopped. The last release came out in September of 2009.
Those are just a few of the standouts. You'll find quite a few video editors for Linux in various states of completion and competence, but the landscape is littered with half-baked editors that are not entirely suitable for "prime time" when it comes to usability or ability to produce professional-quality videos.
OpenShot is a relative newcomer. Development is led by Jonathan Thomas, a software and Web developer who had his first taste of Ubuntu Linux in 2008 and found no video editors he felt were easy, powerful, and stable. So Thomas started with Python, the Media Lovin' Toolkit, and set off to try to realize a easy, powerful, and stable editor with OpenShot.
Easy, Powerful, but Stable?
The 1.3 release of OpenShot is available for Ubuntu in a
Personal Package Archive (PPA), so I installed it and started practicing
with a handful of pictures, a few short movies shot with my phone, and an
MP3 to provide a background track. The project is also on the AV Linux LiveDVD, but the 1.3 release is not yet included with the live DVD. There's also an installer for Fedora 11 through 13, but it's not clear if the packages will work with Fedora 14. Naturally, source is also available.
For background, I don't claim any great skill in the area of non-linear video editing beyond having pieced together a number of videos from conference interviews using Kino in 2006 and 2007. Many years ago, I spent about a year working for a small television station (KTVO) in Kirksville, Missouri — which included linear video editing for broadcast news using antiquated (even at the time) 3/4" U-Matic tape.
OpenShot has a very simple interface. The left-hand corner holds a set
of tabs for files, transitions, effects, and a history tab. The files tab
holds all the clips (pictures, video, and audio) used to create
videos. Effects are filters to modify audio, still images, or video —
this can be used to give a video clip a sepia tone, for example, or apply
an echo effect to audio. The transitions are, as you'd expect, a way to provide transitions from one piece of video to another. OpenShot has everything from simple dissolve and clock transitions to more elaborate star wipes or fractals.
On the right-hand side OpenShot has a video preview, and the bottom part of the OpenShot window holds the timeline that shows clips that have been integrated into the working video from the project files organized by track and file, and a small selection of tools for manipulating clips.
OpenShot is particularly easy to get started with. Drop a few video clips, pictures, and/or sound files into the project files tab and start dragging them into the order you'd like in the clips pane. For very simple projects involving just a few clips and music, it's possible to whip something together in ten minutes even if you've never used OpenShot before.
The OpenShot 1.3 release features a new theme for the interface and uses the stock desktop icons. I haven't used OpenShot prior to the 1.3 release, but looking at screenshots of older releases, it does look like the new theme is an improvement.
But there's more than just a facelift for the project. This release is supposed to feature improved stability over previous releases of OpenShot, as well as auto saving. Using OpenShot 1.3 from the PPAs on Ubuntu 10.10 on a system with 4GB of RAM (and a Core 2 Duo processor), OpenShot was still a bit fragile. When I first started experimenting with OpenShot it crashed because I tried to apply the Resize tool (apparently meant for still clips) to a video. It also crashed when applying an effect to a video, but worked just fine on restart, and crashed a couple of times when exporting movies — though the export finished successfully before OpenShot simply stopped responding. OpenShot 1.3 may be more stable than prior releases, but it's certainly not bulletproof.
One usability enhancement in the 1.3 release is a simplified export dialog. This is a really intuitive dialog when using the Simple tab, but its Advanced tab exposes just about any option that one might want when exporting a project. On the Simple tab, you have the option of Blu-Ray, DVD, Device, or Web. Blu-Ray and DVD have several options that are reasonable for those formats, while Device has presets for Xbox 360, Apple TV, and Nokia nHD. The Web preset features options like Wikipedia (Ogg Theora), FlickrHD, and a few options for Vimeo and YouTube. The Advanced tab provides just about any option that most users would want. Certainly more than enough for the bulk of home users looking to edit family vacation videos or funny pet videos. It may not offer every option that professionals may want, but it's certainly a good start.
The 1.3 release also simplifies organizing and finding files. Since I was only juggling about 10 files at a time, I didn't really find it hard to keep track — but this would be a useful feature for more ambitious projects.
OpenShot 1.3 also adds an "Add to Timeline" feature for pulling in multiple files. For example, you can select a handful of still images, and use the Add to Timeline feature to pop it into the timeline at the precise start time you'd like, as well as setting transitions and/or fades between the clips. The tool also gives the option of re-arranging the order of the files, or just shuffling them if you'd prefer a random order. This would be a very nice tool for creating a video out of family photos.
There's very little that I miss about working with linear video editing
equipment at KTVO, but I do miss the physical controls for working with
video. The shuttle (dial) for moving back and forth through video frame by
frame gives a lot more control than trying to use the mouse and a slider.
It is a bit surprising, perhaps, but the scroll wheel doesn't work for
Thankfully, OpenShot has keyboard shortcuts for frame stepping, pausing, etc., that allow just as much control while editing (though they lack the feel).
One thing that OpenShot has done very well, that I missed in Kino, is create titles. Whether you need credits at the start and end of a video, or overlays (like captions) over a portion of the video, OpenShot makes it very easy to do. If you have Blender installed, OpenShot will let you create animated 3D titles. Unfortunately, Ubuntu 10.10 ships with Blender 2.49, while OpenShot 1.3 expects 2.56. Herein lies one of the strengths and weaknesses of open source video packages that I've encountered over the years — many video editing packages build on readily available libraries or supporting packages (like Blender), but tend to be fussy about versions. Getting all of the dependencies right is quite a headache for users who want to use the most recent releases. Waiting for downstream projects means being several months behind the curve — and given the amount of catching up that open source video editors have to do, is also undesirable. A feature like uploading to YouTube — which is new in OpenShot 1.3 — is expected in a commercial package.
For anyone who's going to be at the upcoming Southern California Linux
Expo, Thomas will be providing an in-depth look at OpenShot covering basic video editing to advanced effects. There's also a comprehensive guide for those new to video editing or just new to OpenShot. Developers interested in becoming involved should see the Launchpad project and mailing list.
OpenShot 1.3 represents significant progress on the open source video editing front. While it has some work to do in terms of stability, its feature set is certainly at the "good enough" point for many users. OpenShot is worth a serious look by anyone who's interested in doing video editing on Linux.
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