4 video editors: Pro results for ambitious amateurs

Video-editing software now offers features formerly only available to pros. We review four of the top packages (with video examples).

When you import HD video into a project, PowerDirector offers, like other programs here, to create "shadow files" (low-resolution proxies) to make editing easier. This is especially useful, because PowerDirector can support AVCHD 2.0 files and video up to 4K resolution; it can also make use of GPU-based acceleration, such as AMD's OpenCL.

However, PowerDirector doesn't support Redcode, and can produce videos only at NTSC or PAL frame rates: 25, 29.97, 30, 50 and 60 FPS. By contrast, Corel VideoStudio lets you work with and export 24 FPS footage, (although CyberLink confirmed with me it plans to add 24 FPS support in the next version of PowerDirector). On the other hand, PowerDirector has remarkably thorough support for 3D, including the ability to export 3D video to YouTube.

PowerDirector's most touted feature is the way it automates the editing process via content-analysis tools. The Magic Cut function, for instance, automatically creates an edited clip from source footage by letting you select the types of things you want to see preserved, such as "scene with moving objects" or "scenes with people speaking." I've used these tools in previous versions of PowerDirector and, while they're both no substitute for native editing expertise and need to be experimented with to be useful, they can be a handy way to extract certain types of footage from longer clips without foraging manually.

A similar feature is Content Aware Editing, in which PowerDirector analyzes a given video clip, singles out shots that are stable and well-lit, and offers you the opportunity to fix shots that are shaky or dark. The resulting report is remarkably informative: You see details about the kinds of motion taking place in different parts of the clip -- zooming, panning, the presence of faces, etc. -- and can even see a before-and-after view of applied fixes. Video with camera shake repaired looks a little watery, but is quite comparable to the results I got from the Adobe or Sony products.

The full suite version of PowerDirector includes programs like those that flank Premiere Pro in Adobe Creative Suite. ColorDirector is CyberLink's color-grading tool, which allows more detailed manipulation of colors than what's available in PowerDirector itself, and can also use motion tracking to apply color effects. AudioDirector lets you perform detailed editing on audio, including automatic noise reduction and a fascinating repair tool that lets you use Photoshop-like editing on a waveform. This last is especially good for removing clicks and pops.

The more basic WaveEditor product (which ships with other SKUs of PowerDirector as well) is also included. PhotoDirector is for quick, guided editing of still images, a la Photoshop Elements, or generating slideshows.

Each of these apps cross-integrates with PowerDirector itself: e.g., if you're in PowerDirector and you open a clip for grading in ColorDirector, changes are automatically saved back to the same clip in PowerDirector.

Bottom line

What it lacks in some pro-level features like 24fps editing, PowerDirector makes up for in the edit-automation tools it provides for the less technical user and its support for 3D authoring.

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CyberLink PowerDirector 11 lets you run it in three different modes; there's excellent camera-shake correction; there are other features such as audio restore.

Sony Vegas Pro 12

$599.95; as part of Sony Vegas Pro 12 Suite, $899; as part of Vegas Pro 12 Edit (without DVD Architect Pro), $399.95 OS: Windows Vista and later

Sony Vegas has power and capacity enough to contend with Adobe Premiere. It doesn't directly integrate with as broad a suite of products -- Vegas's suite is much more modest -- but it shouldn't be dismissed for that reason.

Almost every high-end video format is supported in Vegas, including Redcode, Panasonic P2 and AVCHD 2.0 files. Images and video can be uploaded from a DV source or any system-registered capture device (e.g., a webcam).

Because working with large files can be unwieldy, Vegas has a "Smart Proxy" system: lower-resolution versions of high-res clips are automatically generated for use in the timeline, with the final edited product rendered at full resolution. In addition, rendered effects can be previewed quickly from a RAM cache; since Vegas is fully 64-bit, you can devote as much memory to the cache as you can spare.

Sony Vegas Pro 12's effects chain system makes it possible to combine multiple effects, but it takes some learning to master properly.

Little about Vegas's interface has changed since I last sat down with the program a couple of years ago. It has the flavor of a mid-2000s-era Windows app (such as toolbars and panels that can be docked in tab sets), but it's designed to be functional, not flashy, and it isn't difficult to navigate or use.

A feature I liked in previous editions of Vegas was the excellent guided help, which is still here. Choose a tutorial (such as "How to add audio effects"), and Vegas will walk you through each step of the tutorial, letting you try it out it with whatever project you're currently working on. That way you're not just reading a set of instructions, but you're actually using the function, which is enormously handy for complex and multi-step processes.

As with Premiere Pro, a few of the new features in this version of Vegas Pro are designed to appeal to editors coming in from professional-level suites like Avid. These include the ability to see edit points in a split-screen A/B view and to trim either side of the edit interactively while playing that region in a loop. Likewise, new keyboard shortcuts let you trim parts of just the video or audio track in a selection, making it easier to create common cinematic effects like cutaways or overlapping audio.

New to Vegas is a masked-effects function. This means that effects applied to a video clip can be constrained to only parts of the image -- for example, blurring out a face. There's a steep learning curve involved, since you have to learn about a fair number of different functions at once (such as the effects chain system and the way masking works), but once they're mastered a great many things become possible.

Aside from Vegas's native effects system, the suite version of Sony Vegas Pro includes HitFilm 2 Ultimate, which is akin to Adobe After Effects. HitFilm generates a wide array of visual effects: color processing, particle and lighting effects (rain, smoke, muzzle flashes), and so on. Like After Effects, HitFilm is an application unto itself with its own workflow but, unlike After Effects, HitFilm's interface differs rather radically from its parent program. (HitFilm is not made by Sony, but is a third-party product.)

One of the features Sony touts is the ability to import projects from other editing programs such as Premiere Pro CS 6 and Final Cut Pro 7. However, when I tried to import a Premiere Pro project, the process worked only for the simplest of projects: After Effects segments didn't survive the import process and Premiere projects with multiple timelines only had a single timeline survive the conversion.

Also included with Sony Vegas Pro is NewBlueFX's Titler Pro, a powerful third-party title- and text-generation app that again compares favorably to the same functionality in Adobe After Effects. The suite version of Vegas Pro includes other programs, too: Sound Forge Pro 10, an audio-editing application that supports powerful multi-tracking and many professional audio formats (e.g., exporting to Dolby Digital AC-3, or 5.1 recording and mixing); and DVD Architect 6, which masters Blu-ray Discs as well as DVDs.

Bottom line

Sony Vegas Pro 12 is a very good all-in-one substitute for both Premiere Pro and some parts of Adobe After Effects. What's more, the entire suite edition of Vegas Pro 12 only costs slightly more than the standalone edition of Premiere. document.write('<object class="BrightcoveExperience">'); document.write('<param name="bgcolor" value="#FFFFFF" />'); document.write('<param name="width" value="508" />'); document.write('<param name="height" value="381" />'); document.write('<param name="playerID" value="95678385001" />'); document.write('<param name="publisherID" value="1351824782"/>'); document.write('<param name="isVid" value="true" />'); document.write('<param name="isUI" value="true" />'); document.write('<param name="dynamicStreaming" value="false" />'); document.write('<param name="@videoPlayer" value="2308106045001" />'); document.write('<param name="linkBaseURL" value=' + document.location.href+ '>'); document.write('</object>'); brightcove.createExperiences(); Sony Vegas Pro 12 has a remarkable interactive tutorial system; there's a new way to handle traveling matte effects; some sophisticated programs are included with the suite.


The hardest thing to beat about Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 is the level of cross-integration it sports with the rest of the Creative Suite Products. If you use anything by Adobe already, adding Premiere Pro to the arsenal is a no-brainer, now made all the easier by Adobe's rent-as-you-go licensing. (Additionally, if you're a Mac user, Adobe is the only package of the four that offers an OS X version.)

Sony Vegas Pro 12 Suite ranks closest to Adobe Premiere in terms of its feature set and the expertise needed for it. If you don't want to shell out for Adobe's entire suite and don't need the deep integration offered there, the Vegas Pro bundle offers many of the same features -- professional titling, compositing and effects, disc authoring -- for only $100 more than the standalone version of Premiere Pro.

Less expert users can opt for either Corel VideoStudio Pro X6 or CyberLink PowerDirector 11. Corel's product is the slightly better bargain: It does a very good job of bundling pro-level features into a reasonably priced package aimed at non-technical users. CyberLink's offering is best for those who want automated guidance for the editing process, but it has some limitations (e.g., frame rate handling, no Redcode support) that may frustrate more ambitious users, and the price tag for the full suite version is twice that of Corel's.

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for over 15 years for a variety of publications.

Read more about desktop apps in Computerworld's Desktop Apps Topic Center.

This story, "4 video editors: Pro results for ambitious amateurs" was originally published by Computerworld.

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