Another work in progress

This one insists on calling itself “Voodoo Death God” but I’m even sure if there is such a thing, so I’m thinking that was a lie to sound impressive or something.

That's what she said.

Still, I do have to admit I like the way this is going.

Video Software: A Rant

I’ve tried several consumer-grade video editing software packages, and I’ve discovered something they have in common: they all suck.

Just to define, I mean software allowing you to assemble video clips into something you might want to upload to YouTube. And by consumer-grade, I mean something you might pick up in the local Best Buy for (generally) less than $100. What I would like to do is place a few short clips next to each other, perhaps with a cross-fade between some of them, apply some simple special effects here and there, and add a soundtrack. I tried three major packages and all three had problems doing some of these basic processes. Why they should all fall so short of what seems to me a minimum acceptable level is beyond me; perhaps my own impatience and/or incompetence might be factors, but I’m not that incompetent.

So, let’s meet our contestants.

First up was Pinnacle Studio HD Ultimate Collection 14 and before you ask, they all have names like that. (And it’s important to give them their full names–you’ll see why when we get to the next package.) This is a pretty powerful software package, and it’s backed up by a massive number of plug-ins you can buy. It does video overlays really well. The layout is pretty basic and logical, with everything laid out pretty much where you would want it. So what killed it? Well, it’s very fussy about video drivers, and apparently my Intel something-or-other is not well liked. Some of the effects you could add you could not preview; you had to render it and hope everything worked out the way you wanted it to. That’s not a big deal, you could always go back and adjust, but it was something of a hiccup. However, that wasn’t its worst lack. That would be the inability to cross-fade between clips.

Yes, fading is something that the package knows about, but doesn’t do. A web search reveals that there are work-arounds, but really, work-arounds for something elementary like this? Argh.

So, with Pinnacle shot down in the night, we next turn to Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD 9. This is pretty nice software, very flexible with a layout a little more extensive than Pinnacle. And yes, it will do fades. So, problem solved, right? Alas not. I put together a somewhat longer series of clips and rendered it and…there were problems. When one clip would switch to the next, whether through a fade or just a cut, the video would pause

noticeably. (You see what I did there?) Again I went to the web. I found no information about what might be causing this; I did find a post from someone who had a similar problem. His solution? He upgraded to the next higher package. That sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it? Damn it, Sony.

Back to the drawing board, I searched for “video software cross-fade” or some damn thing, and found a package called VideoPad. This is a pretty bare-bones freeware package, and you know what? It does fades beautifully. You can adjust the duration of the fade across one or both clips. Very nice. So I rendered a short little sequence, and yeah it had great fades. So what was the problem? Well, each time a transition began, there was a brief pattern of diagonal lines that was superimposed over the image. Just there for a fraction of a second, but noticeable. Sigh. A search of the package’s forums found no solution, and I tried to join said forum so I could post the question, but I never got a confirmation. That’s not a good sign.

Whilst trying to keep my sanity through all this testing and re-testing, I took a break and drove to Best Buy. Just for fun, I looked in their video software section. Same stuff I already had as well as a package by Magix. Do I want to buy more software? No. I’ve used some Magix stuff and it was decent software, but not the sort of thing that made me think they’d licked the problems I was seeing. But as I turned away–

Adobe Premiere Elements, hm? A bit pricey, but I thought I’d research it anyway. I mean, if Adobe can’t do it, we’re all in trouble, right? After reading some reviews I bought it directly from Adobe as a download. (They were offering a rebate which made them cheapest.) Installed and fired it up and…argh. Problems. I could not see a single clip, either on the dashboard or in preview. I suppose it, too, hated my video card (though I met the requirements). My frustration level was fairly high at this point, and after a fairly brief attempt to solve this issue, I initiated a return/refund with Adobe. To their credit, they processed it without any fuss.

So where did that leave me? I didn’t want to try another package to be honest–I knew I was only going to discover more unexpected holes in utility. And three of the folks I tried have very expensive professional versions used by Hollywood–Adobe Premiere Pro, Sony Vegas Pro, and Avid Systems (who bought Pinnacle). So clearly these people must know what they’re doing? Yes?

I was pretty close to abandoning the whole process as a bad learning experience. I had one option left before I did that, and that was to upgrade the Sony to version 10.

Follow me here for a moment. I’d owned the Sony software for perhaps two weeks. Now, generally upgrading from a 9 to a 10 would be free in that time-frame, wouldn’t it? You might think that’s reasonable, but you’re wrong. You see, version 10 was actually Sony Movie Studio HD Platinum 10. Apparently that word “Platinum” meant that it was an entirely different product, so it wasn’t so much as an “upgrade” as a “cross-grade” or something. Too tired to argue, I noted that the price wasn’t too horrible, so I ponied up. Total cost for both, around $120.

And mirabile visu, the video no longer paused between clips! Hoo-hah, I was on my way at last. I assembled a somewhat larger array of clips and rendered them, and found…the next problem. Which is that some of the clips just did not render. At all. I would have a stretch of black that lasted however many seconds the clip ran, then the next clip would pop in as if all were well. Well, all sure wasn’t well.

I couldn’t figure out what might be causing this. I thought it might be the clips with special effects, but a few more runs showed that the unrendered clips were a random mixture of effects shots and straight footage. (Each run would have a different clip that failed, though they were usually in the latter half.)

After trying to think, I went with my first thought: I’m straining the software. I’m asking it to do too much at one time. Now, it might seem funny that software designed to do these things was having trouble doing these things, but I’d pretty much abandoned logic (as well as sanity) by this point.

So I carefully constructed my final project by making smaller projects. If I applied an effect to, say, clip06, I would render it as clip06effect. Then I would start a new project and use the rendered effect clip rather than make the software do too much. Believe it or not, that worked. Finally, I had a complete 3 minute movie. I figured adding the soundtrack would be the start of another nightmare, but it was surprisingly trouble-free. I guess maybe Sony figured I’d suffered enough, or perhaps it hadn’t had time to think up some new problems to throw at me.

So in sum, I don’t know how many of you might take up video editing (you fools) but I hope my journey might help you through some of the pitfalls. I would like to close by thanking you for your patronage, and to tell Pinnacle, Sony and Adobe to shape up.

PS: All of the above packages had rather difficult trimmers, which one would need to cut out unwanted frames. I ended up with yet another package for that, SolveigMM AVI Trimmer. This little freeware editor is excellent, and highly recommended.