Video Editing Hell – Linux to the Rescue!

Originally posted by Jens.
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I’m the proud owner of the oldest and crappiest computers here at Frictional Games. This is very unfortunate, to say the least, considering I’m the one usually recording videos of our work, editing and then publishing it. For the Penumbra games it worked pretty OK, for Amnesia it works surprisingly well to record videos, probably thanks to a much more polished and optimized game engine. But as online videos increase in quality it puts more strain on my poor computers and I bet that “Security Update” is a synonym for “Force User To Upgrade Computer”, which really does not help at all.

I record videos on my PC using Fraps and CamStudio, the former for doing full screen capture of in-game scenes and the latter for partial screen recordings of the editors. These programs save in specific formats that I have to convert into other formats in order to import the videos into the editing software. I have not been really happy with the software that I have used for these conversions, VirtualDub, while it works it has problems using many of the codecs that I have installed, often resulting in error screens. My first step on this “Improve The Video Editing Workflow With Out Spending Any Cash On Software Or Hardware”-journey (“It vew wosaco soh”-reescha as the Swedish Chef would say) was therefore to find a new converting tool, should be the easiest thing to find in the world I thought. Hell no!

Video converters seems to be a typical piece of software that encourages it creators to add a lot of advertisements in them or to limit them a lot for the “free” part. Those that are truly free tend to be a bit too basic, while I’m happy to not have to tweak a lot of settings there is some essentials configurations you want to be able to control. It think I tried 4-5 different “free” converters until I finally found MediaCoder. MediaCoder is quite nice once you get past two obstacles. The first is that the homepage and download site is filled with advertisements, placed so that it is difficult to know if you are clicking on an advertisement or the actual link. This continues on with a lot of advertisement in the software itself, it gives a bit of a bad impression because you get worried that the software might be filled with spyware and the alike! But as far as I know it is not 🙂 The other obstacle is that it is very detailed with settings and configurations for all the codecs. However, it has a nice setup wizard which smooths it all out a bit and once you have configured a codec the way you want you do not have to do it again.

I continued my “It vew wosaco soh”-reescha by looking into video editor options.

For editing I have been using good old iMove running on my super fast 1.4 Ghz PowerPC Mac. iMovie is simple and quite enough for doing our type of demonstration videos (infact all trailers for the Penumbra games made by us were created using iMovie). But as YouTube allows for larger and larger resolutions these days, the videos have been more and more time consuming to make, not to mention painfully slow on the interface when everything lags around, the computer struggling to render the previews in real time. The export of the final videos also take quite some time on that old Mac, when it was created there were no such fancy things has h.264 codecs.

This really led me to start looking into some options for video editing on my PC, a real monster machine powered by an AMD Athlon 2.2 Ghz (sniff Yes, I know, it’s not really a monster at all). I searched long and hard to find some suitable free software, something that was not very complicated, yet feature rich enough to do the type of editing we have in our videos. I finally found VideoSpin by Pinnacle, which at first seemed to be pretty nice, but while trying to use it to edit our next video, it was clear it was way to simplistic. Of course there is Movie Maker, but that really didn’t cut it either, so I searched long and hard but could not really find anything usable for Windows. But, for Linux there were 5 options that seemed very promising. I figured why not try some Linux editing, I do have Ubuntu installed too, so it would be easy to test some software.

I downloaded Kino, PiTiVi, kdenlive, Open Movie Editor and Cinelerra-cv (maybe LiVES too). Kino and PiTiVi was very rudimentary, Kino the better. Open Movie Editor was almost right but, I’m almost ashamed for it, it wasn’t a very visually appealing interface. Cinelerra was promising, but the interface a tad to cluttered, not very pretty and for our editing needs too complicated. I was starting to get a bit worried, kdenlive was low on my list because it looked to be as simple as Kino and PiTiVi, but kdenlive really shined! It’s about the same level as iMovie, a bit more functions and a killer with the amount of supported codecs (not a unique feature, but well implemented). I’m not sure if it was due to running kdenlive on the latest Ubuntu release or if it is a common problem, but it took a bit of tinkering to get all the codecs to work properly. I’m guessing the latest Ubuntu release as it has caused quite a bit of problems for our own Penumbra games.

I’ve been working with the software (converter & editor) during the day and after a lot of baby steps of testing I’m starting to get quite comfortable with them both. To summarise, the “It vew wosaco soh”-reescha was quite successful, it takes a while to get used to a new program but this setup is definitely an improvement over the old. At least it buys this dying computer of mine a bit more time until the day of doom. Our next YouTube video will also be in HD, making it our first contribution to the bandwidth monster.

What are your suggestions for good video editing tools for Linux / Windows?