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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

By Rui Lopes on April 10, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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Watching the evolution of open source tools for video editing and manipulation over the last 10 years has been less than a thrilling experience. But are things about to change for the better in the near future? Can even the people most disenchanted with the current state of affairs feel tempted to regain a spark of hope?

The problem

The everyday user of GNU/Linux (or any of the other Unix-derived operating systems out there) can presently watch, listen to, and even produce rudimentary media content quite comfortably, but open source has not kept up with proprietary software vendors when it comes to the development of professional and semi-professional video editing tools.

I've always maintained that one of the great strengths of Linux is the ability to create distributions that are tailored for specific areas of professional activity. But, while there are some good distros around that appeal specifically to the video and audio crowd (like dyne:bolic and Ubuntu Studio), their number is small, and some of them have stagnated or even completely disappeared over the years.

One of the roots of this problem is that there is currently no professional level non-linear video editor for Linux. Adding to this, almost all of the video editors currently available have development rates that are alarmingly slow. Let's take a look at the best choices we have right now:

The editors, and what to expect of them

There are video editors that I could never compile, or whose latest release is more than five years old. Among them are: Vivia, ZS4, and Scilab Aurora. I won't look into them. Avidemux can perform basic editing operations, but that's not its main function.

Let's start with the most basic video editors. First on the list is Kino. Kino is a very simple tool, but is the most stable and robust of all the Linux-based video editors I have tested. It has never crashed on me. For the casual user, Kino may be the only place they need to look to satisfy their editing needs. It allows capture from a camcorder, basic editing, adding transitions and effects, and exporting to other formats. Unfortunately, it's too limited for experienced video editors. It lacks essential features such as multiple video and audio tracks, advanced titling, and compositing. These will probably not be added in the future, as Kino seems to have a clear idea of where it belongs, and is sticking to its niche. I currently use Kino to capture raw footage, and often for exporting video to various formats -- after I edit my video with another program.

Moving beyond Kino, we have editors that support multiple video and audio itracks, and seem to have some hope of gaining additional utility (although not much). First is Kdenlive, which seems to be a promising project. Or rather, it seemed. The truth is, it's being developed too slowly, and it's still in a stage where it crashes too frequently on too many systems. Then we have Pitivi, which is still too young to be correctly assessed, but which will certainly occupy the same niche as Kino and Kdenlive, making it almost non-relevant for video professionals.

I've used Open Movie Editor enough times to be able to say it's a solid application with a nice set of features. These two positive points are enough to make me keep an eye on its development. Then we have LiVES, which shares these positive traits as well, and seems to be updated very regularly as of late, even trying to make the life of developers easier with a plugin builder bundled. Both of them seem to be good bets for the more advanced hobbyist at the present, and perhaps for the video professional in the future (if they can add compositing and a broader range of plugins and effects to their feature list).

MainActor is the only commercial application on this list. It is no longer available. It was no Avid Xpress or Final Cut, but its mere existence was encouraging. There is currently a petition aimed at the company that developed MainActor asking them to release the code (or parts of it) to the public.

Jahshaka is one of the most hyped pieces of open source software I've encountered. The vision of the developers was (and is) an application designed from scratch to be an editing and compositing powerhouse. The hype promoted on their website was so effective that for many years I (and many others) eagerly awaited a stable release with all the industry-standard features that I'd been promised. At some point, Jahshaka even had corporate sponsors, including Nvidia. But that turned into a mess which would take too much space to present here. The good news is that, on January of this year, according to the developers, Jahshaka was "liberated from its evil benefactors," which means that they can now resume their original path. And I have to admit: I know I shouldn't, but I still have great expectations for Jahshaka.

I use Cinelerra as my main application for video editing and compositing. It is professional and capable in some areas, and barely at alpha stage in others. First released by an anonymous entity/person called Heroine Virtual, for years it remained a paradox: it was the most powerful FOSS video editor and compositor available, but was also notoriously unstable, had a hideous interface, and its development pace was glacial. A community version of Cinelerra appeared later, which was basically a patched and bug-fixed version of the original Cinelerra, done by other developers (with the consent of Heroine Virtual). I'm using the latest community version of Cinelerra, and I can say it's now stable enough for almost all production purposes.

Cinelerra's learning curve may be a little steep for beginners, but it's worth it (and the community provides good documentation). It has some features that you can only otherwise find in commercial applications, including video and audio multitracking, some decent bundled effects (among them LADSPA audio plugins), a good compositor, three-point editing, and motion tracking. Cinelerra also supports renderfarming natively, which puts it on a class of its own. With Cinelerra it's dead easy to set up a render farm with five or six nodes, and watch your render times take a significant decrease.

Complaints include: lack of more pleasant themes, lack of advanced titling, lack of more video effects (and poor documentation for the ones included by default), and better capture and render functionality.

Finally, we come to Blender. Outside of pure video editing applications, I would like to point it out as an example to follow. It is feature-rich, powerful, has lots of manpower working on it, and tutorials and videos about it abound on the Internet. And, surprisingly, it allows quite reliable video editing and compositing. However, as good an all-rounder Blender may be, we still need -- and I cannot stress this enough -- good standalone non-linear video editors.

A look ahead

To say this to a video professional would have seemed like a bad joke ten years ago, but Linux has turned into a good platform for multimedia creation and manipulation. What's lacking is the tools. We need more powerful, more feature-rich tools. Even Hollywood seems to be using Linux these days (and not just for rendering tasks), but the studios use their own in-house applications. I'm not the only video professional using FOSS who is disgruntled with the state of things.

Let's face it: most video professionals who use Linux in conjunction with FOSS tools as their main platform for video editing do it because of:

  • Cost
  • Ability to customize raw performance
  • Affection/Ethics

Note that neither richness of features nor the presence of industry standard features are on that list. There are also two important external factors that I want to point out and that should invite reflection:

  • the apathy of video software companies towards FOSS
  • the lack of developers for FOSS video editing and similar applications

I want to finish by mentioning compositing and special effects again. These are areas that have been sorely overlooked. I'm not asking for Adobe After Effects for Linux, rather something on a smaller and more practical scale with FXhome being the perfect example of the type of applications we need to fill the gap. Regarding compositing, Cinelerra is the only FOSS application that currently allows me to produce decent results (excluding Blender).

My main hopes for the near future are on Jahshaka and Cinelerra, thanks to the recent news I already mentioned. The key, I think, is speed of development, and decent scheduling of major releases. Do not be mistaken -- it will take years to develop high-end open source video software, and the video professional cannot wait years. However, this area finally seems to be heading in a better direction than it was even a few years ago, and that may allow for a bit of optimism on our part.

Rui Lopes is a Portuguese Web designer and filmmaker who has a wide range of interests in the technology field.

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on Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

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Jashaka

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.85.106.241] on April 10, 2008 10:17 PM
http://jahshaka.org/

Great looking video editing software package for linux. They're supposed to be coming up with another release soon. Give them a look over ;)

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Re: Jashaka

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.90.163.17] on April 13, 2008 10:31 AM
This software is Better then FCP or Avid. It not free, but it is incredible.
http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/index?siteID=123112&id=5562809
Check it Out.
Zac

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 217.140.77.75] on April 10, 2008 10:49 PM
The cinelerra community is working on a new NLE which was mentioned some time ago here
http://www.linux.com/feature/126441

Meanwhile the project is named 'Lumiera' and has its home at
http://www.lumiera.org

Of course it is just at a start and we dont have anything useable for an enduser yet.
Anyways, we make slow but steady progress. Recently some GUI programmer joined the team, there are people which will improve the (currently premature) website.
People who want to contribute to the project are greatly welcome and needed, not only programmers but also people who want to care for the infrastructure, documentation and so on. Just visit us at irc.freenode.org #lumiera when you are interested.

Christian 'cehteh' Th├Ąter

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ArdourLerra

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.196.138.185] on April 10, 2008 11:36 PM
Ardour,(www.ardour.org) is a brilliant example of open source and a strong community. We (www.linuxcaffe.ca) had the pleasure of a demonstration by (Ardour manual co-author) Benny Powers, and it was suggested that ardours media handling and interface would carry video editing nicely, but the developers had more audio fish to fry. Maybe a seed might be planted in either camp, and see if the ardour team and the open_cinelerra team can fit the cinelerra video handling and rendering into the ardour media framework and interface. Yeah.. ArdourLerra !

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.150.223.141] on April 11, 2008 12:03 AM
I think that you'reunderestimating KDEnlive's abilities, but I do wish it were more stable. Turning on the Autosave feature helps a lot!

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.158.135.138] on April 11, 2008 12:03 AM
Many of the major studios use proprietary apps that run on Linux. These include products from Discreet/Autodesk, DaVinci, and Thomson.

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Kdenlive is nearly there for me

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.227.25.99] on April 11, 2008 12:46 AM
My money at the moment is on Kdenlive. They are anticipating a new v.0.6 any day now. It can handle HDV already and they are anticipating AVCHD editing abilities fairly soon as well I think. The UI is modern and what most folks think of as a NLE. My expectations are more along the lines of a 'pro-sumer' quality editor along the lines of Ulead VideoStudio or Pinnacle Studio, which allows decent hardware to edit HDV, has decent titling and transitions and themes and basic effects - enough to make a very nice HD home movie or semi-pro video. I think there is a big middle ground of Linux users to be served by something like that, who don't really need any effects or compositing - just solid normal and hi-def functionality.

Cinelerra's titling is truly abysmal and it seems to reject most of the formats I would like to use, requiring very particular re-formatting of all my footage. Blender is the opposite problem, it will 'assemble' any format you throw at it, and I use Blender all the time for 3D but as a true video editor it doesn't allow you to view what you're working on with sound or in real framerates. Usability is miserable, at least it's just not at all what people expect in an editor. I was completely disgruntled with the new release of LiVES the other day - it refused to load my footage because it was 30fps! Uh, okay . . . As Kino will likely never step up to HD it's just not on my list either. Jahshaka - well, best wishes, but I refuse to even visit their website now until they actually have a functioning release. Promises promises.

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.227.25.99] on April 11, 2008 12:49 AM
Edit - I think it was actually OME that refused to load 30fps not LiVES. Sorry. So many not-there-yet projects, so little time . . . ;)

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.58.203.63] on April 11, 2008 01:03 AM
At the other end of the food chain, I'm frustrated by the lack of a simple, cuts only, frame accurate MPEG 2 editor, a la TMPG's editor and VideoReDo.

Scott Atkinson
Watertown NY

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Re: Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.83.171.113] on April 11, 2008 10:51 AM
http://dvbcut.sourceforge.net/index.html
This application might be interesting for you.

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Re: Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.154.217.13] on April 12, 2008 12:28 AM
Have you tried GOPChop ?
http://outflux.net/unix/software/GOPchop/
works quite well, ok, it's simple, but allows you save basic cut lists, export selected trimmed sequences. Does what it proposes itself to do, and does it nicely.

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Jack audio output in Cinelerra would be an important step forward.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.203.89.240] on April 11, 2008 02:27 AM
As for Cinelerra and Ardour, I think the biggest gain that we can realistically hope for is a good jack integration in Cinelerra. That would enable Cinelerra to patch into Ardour, letting Ardour do what it does so well. Beyond that, my bets are on the Lumiera effort. It will strive to cover all the features of Cinelerra, and then some of the fuctionality we missed in Cinelerra, like clever handling of interlacing, among other things.

Herman Robak

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Cross platform might be essential for success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.216.138.227] on April 11, 2008 09:18 AM
You mention Blender as a good example and it is , but also it is the only cross platform app you mentioned in your article. I think this is essential to generate enough interest (developer and user) for it to succeed.

Branislav

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.144.131.167] on April 11, 2008 01:27 PM
Ardour may be a good bet after all (even though the current developers dont seem to be interested in video) but the following screenshot (http://animix.sourceforge.net/anicomp/images/anicomp_preview_2.png) seems to indicate that it is possible to embed stills so with a bit of work video may be possible also. This would certainly remove the audio dev from the equation and only leave the (small task) of video dev.

Dave

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.149.141.52] on April 11, 2008 01:36 PM
There is nothing I have found on Linux that can match Ulead DVD Movie Factory 5 for ability, solidity, and easy creation from camera to DVD. I have to stay with Microsoft just for this program.

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MainActor

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.216.252.253] on April 11, 2008 01:43 PM
Since MainActor is no longer being sold, the above projects should approach MainConcept about open-sourcing MainActor code.

With one or two exceptions, this is really the only way that complex, polished and functional end-user applications have come to FOSS anyway.

Of course we could wait another decade for original FOSS editors to get where commercial ones were back in 1998.

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Re: MainActor

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.203.89.240] on April 11, 2008 02:11 PM
Mozilla was rewritten more or less from scratch a while after Netscape free its source code. So I think you are wrong. Reusing Free Software and reusing large, proprietary software is not the same thing. You usually have to pay quite a few developers to put up with the quirks of such a code base. Efforts with the size of the Gimp and Cinelerra (or Main Actor) are in the "sour spot": They are too big for a band of enthusiasts, yet not quite as essential as a Web browser (Mozilla) or an office suite (OpenOffice.org).

Video editing and authoring has the added annoyance of patent encumbered codecs, which are a real turn-off. Users want and need them, developers would rather not think about the legal and practical hassles, and distros won't touch them. Whining ensues.

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Support your favorite!!

Posted by: TK on April 11, 2008 07:17 PM
I'm of the increasing mindset that we, the community, need to start dropping some dollars into our favorite projects so they can have a fighting chance. Saying stuff like, "It's not quite there yet so I choose to ignore it," basically takes the wind out of their sails unnecessarily. Set aside $5, $10, even $100 per month ... something that won't hurt your finances ... and donate to your favorite project! Enough donations, and you'll see that particular project start rising to the challenges. I say that because I would personally like to see a FOSS video editor project be stable and usable enough to _fully_ rival proprietary offerings, and include all the nice little plugins and processes everyone _wants_. :)

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.65.31.177] on April 12, 2008 08:11 AM
I just tried openmovieeditor on my ZenWalk 5.0 installation. It functioned like it was designed by a four-year-old. Or maybe somebody wrote it in two weeks and then abandoned it. It's totally inadequate, a real POS. This has been the consistent history of Linux non-linear video editors. I see no reason that it will ever change. I have a dual boot system with Xpro so that I can run my $99 Womble MM video editor. It's dinky, but it runs circles around all of the Linux NLE's.

Don't hold your breath waiting for a real Linux video NLE that works smoothly and performs well, -it's not in the cards.

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Re: Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.163.12.197] on April 12, 2008 10:26 PM
mencoder -oac lavc -ovc lavc -of mpeg -mpegopts format=dvd:tsaf -vf scale=720:480,harddup -srate 48000 -af lavcresample=48000 -lavcopts vcodec=mpeg2video:vrc_buf_size=1835:vrc_maxrate=9800:vbitrate=5000:keyint=18:vstrict=0:acodec=ac3:abitrate=192:aspect=4/3 -ofps 30000/1001 -o .mpg (input)

This is just one example, you can change and add so many more values, you got to be new to unix to say these things, linux is already more capablle than windows.


Linux has much more control over video editing than windows. People are lazy and want to point and click.
I've used all the highend windows apps, you can do everything on linux you just have to read. Documentation, documentation, read.
You know what I shouldn't have even posted, bunch a noobs, wastin my time.

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.110.21.43] on April 13, 2008 01:46 AM
I want an unprofessional video editor. I want to take my consumer-quality DV camcorder and plug it into my Ubuntu box. I want the box to waken the correct program for capturing my video. I want to be able to start a widescreen project and drag jpegs and video clips into it with both a timeline and storyboard views. I want to be able to crop the video segment lengths. I want to add ogg or mp3 music and be able to adjust the sound level. I want to be able to do some titles. I'd like to burn it to a DVD. As a bonus, I'd like to be able to create a menu and have chapters start wherever I choose. I don't want to have to know my frame rate, the format of my video files or ANYTHING ELSE. I am not a video professional and I hardly qualify as an amateur, but I've been able to do exactly what I've described on other systems. That's what I'd like to see on Linux. And please don't tell me to go use another system-- I'm already doing that. I'm just saying what I want out of Linux video.

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.25.142.175] on April 13, 2008 11:27 AM
True: the only thing I want is to simply import and edit my DV movies (add titles, subtitles, some music, a few transition effects) and burn it to DVD. That's all I want. And still there are geeks calling us 'noobs'. Come on. You must accept that not everyone can be a geek in video-editing. I would not surprised if the geek in video-editing doesn't know a bloody thing about spreadsheets of bookkeeping. Accept that we are all geeks and noobs at the same time, depending on the subject.

I have been watching the development of video-editing software in Linux for some time. I gave up to be honest. After trying loads of different video editing software in Linux (even MainActor: which is OK, but not more than that), I am now back using Studio from Pinnacle. Why? Because it just does what I want.

If you want to boil water you are not going to construct your own boiler from bits and pieces you find in your garage and you hope it works, if all it takes is to get yourself one of those nice electric kettles at the nearest electronics shop.

This principle also applies to video editing. As long as I can get Studio for less than 100 euros I will this software and use it rather than having to tinker for hours and still having a result that doesn't even come close to what Pinnacle delivers as a standard.

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.100.63.216] on April 14, 2008 03:17 AM
I think what most users are looking for is a robust, stable app that is close to what Windows Movie Maker or Apple's iMovie does. Most users just want to import their JPEGS, video clips, some music or audio, drag in transitions, put some text on frames and render a movie they can burn into a DVD appropriate format.

KDENlive comes the closest to this - but still needs some tightening. PiTiVi looks great but crashes constantly. The linux community has reached parity with iTunes - why can't we do it with a linux version of iMovie or WMM?

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.242.58.137] on April 14, 2008 07:10 AM
Blender can do quite sophisticated stuff as a video editor. Run it through filters, add layers, colour keying, etc. But it's not exactly user friendly. It might make sense for somebody to split out those functions as Blender Video.

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WHOA

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.216.252.253] on April 16, 2008 03:56 PM
Very interesting reply to a MainActor inquiry here:
http://mainactor.flavor8.com/index.php?PHPSESSID=prvki6r640akvivb7liogtb5g6&topic=48.msg124
"thanks for your interest in MainActor and for the Open Source suggestion. We are interested to go this way, however there are resources and long term committments needed from our side which cost time and money. Therefore we are still considering our next steps..."

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 77.105.18.231] on April 17, 2008 04:06 PM
What I pray for is Ardour extended to handle video and being stable and in every way efficient as Blender. Then I'll start pressing Vegas and Nuendo into the pits of oblivion. Why Ardour and not Cinelerra or Jahshaka? Because for years now we don't tend to use audio or video editors but media editors. And that means that software shouldn't care if I have audio in one, video in second and MIDI in third track. It should process it and mix it, not saying audio or video.

There is one more thing that is even more important. Anybody who spent some time working in professional studio knows that "main" software (be it Premiere, Nuendo, Jahshaka or whatever) is just a piece of what is needed to get the job done. Very often, that is the least expensive piece and the one that will not do that final touch that makes something great production. Plugins counts here! No matter how much money is invested in editor pro studio will most probably invest couple more thousands of euros in good VST's. And even if we get a great editor for Linux, we're still in chase for great LADSPA's. Ardour can be Nuendo's younger brother, but we need something to come at the place where Waves bundle, Ozone and Absinth were. Not to mention that video effects plugins for Linux are almost non-existant. At least, some VST wrapper would do the trick.

One more thing about professional studios using Linux.... (I know some will hate me for this one)... It IS important how things look like. Just take a look at pro software on Mac and Win. Yes, it looks great. There are two components of the look: usability (including efficiency) and niceness. Compare Sound Forge with Audacity. Work with both for a couple of days and SF will show as a tool that always puts needed icon under your pointer and has great shortcuts that makes you work fast as you think. At the same time Audacity, which do its sound job great, has those huge transport buttons like it is a kid's toy and takes ages to select and find function you need. And eye-candyness is important too. Doing anything creative asks for creative looking environment. That's why plugins that costs a lot looks like they came from the game not just system sliders and buttons. Beside personal feel while working, producer have clients and guests in the studio. And it all have to look spacey and expensive then! Funny thing is that we don't have a nice system that will make possible for community to develop the look of the software. We all know that most of the codemasters are not interested in making graphics. But there is a huge community of people who would be more than happy to give their share making graphics for the software. So, only thing we need is a good skinning system. It would be great to have something standardized and easily implemented in any new piece of software. or we have but I missed to notice?

dandellion Kimban

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Open source video editing: what we have now and what we need - so why not improve Blender?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 137.229.239.43] on April 30, 2008 10:07 PM
There are frequent mentions of Blender whenever open source video editing is discussed.

I'd strongly encourage those who are interested in having a top quality open source video editor join in on the coversations at blenderartists.org the feature requests at blenderstorm.org and other venues and help our developers to bring Blender to better meet your video editing needs.

As far as the interface - with Blender 2.50 we will have a fully customizable interface so setting up mouse, menu, and buttons exactly as you want them will be possible. You will be able to create your ideal interface. This will allow simple interfaces for users who want to learn the absolute minimum as well as accomodate the needs of the power user.

For other functionality, after 2.50 comes out Blender will have two projects that should help it to become an amazing video editing tool

1) Project Durian - this project will (among other things) focus on improving Blenders compositing tools, also the lead video editing developer will have a number of nice additions

2) Project Mango - this project will be a live action video - it will strongly focus on the video editing side of things, including matchmoving, motion tracking, etc.

Also Blender has a strong and well managed foundation supporting its growth and development, and a strong and active developer and user base. Thus unlike most of the video editing projects it is unlikely to cease development and fade away - a fate that is pretty common among video editing tools.

LetterRip

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