Consumer-level Video Editing on Windows

What a sad state of affairs.  It’s widely acknowledged that Apple has an advantage, but you have to experience it to appreciate just how bad video editing can be on Windows.  When you need more than Windows MovieMaker, things get bleak.  In addition to MovieMaker, I’ve tried Corel Videostudio, Pinnacle Studio Plus, Adobe Premiere Elements, Cyberlink Powerdirector, and Sony Vegas.  I have not tried pro-level products like Adobe Premiere or the Avid products.  So, here’s the rundown and the suprising conclusion.

  • Windows MovieMaker:  now that it supports AVCHD you can get basic things done.  It works, but doesn’t offer much flexibility.
  • Adobe Premiere Elements:  Adobe has taken over from the other Windows-related software company as the king of bloatware.   APE is a 1.2 gig download.   Installed with little of the included content, the app footprint is 610 mb.  The app takes nearly 4 minutes to boot on my 2.67g quadproc.   Why bother?  It can’t even do something as basic as white balance.  You need to upgrade to full Premiere for that.  As the self-proclaimed elegant savior of grahics arts professionals who want to work on Windows instead of Mac, this is a poor showing.  As an aside, Photoshop CS4 is another regretable piece of bloatware.  Only Lightroom shows some competent restraint.
  • Corel Videostudio:  I used this in my first round of video-making because it supported AVCHD earlier than the others, had a decent range of features, and didn’t make the process impossibly complicated.  That’s still true but 3 versions beyond version 11–we’re now at “Pro X3”–not much has changed.  The biggest problem is that they use a proprietary codec stack so if they don’t support an output mode you need, you are out of luck.  A lot of the overly friendly effort at UI just gets in the way.
  • Pinnacle:  I am not up to date.  Circa 2008 the UI was so gushy that it was hard to do things and the rendering speed was much slower than Corel.

  • Cyberlink Powerdirector:  Cyberlink is a come-on marketing gimmick company, incessantly trying to get you to upgrade to all kinds of add-on goodies.   Though they have a female CEO (plaudits), their marketing is distinctly pre-feminist with lots of tasteful but cheesy visages of western women.  PowerDirector’s UI is a bizarre gusher of nearly meaningless icons (just choose an effect;  one click; the rest is easy).

    But, there are some very technically competent people working on this product.   It has superb codec support and renders incredibly fast.  And it is possibly the only product that lets you work natively in AVCHD.  It’s just very hard to get over the UI.

  • Sony Vegas:  Sony Vegas is a product line that ranges from 49.95 to 599.95.  These are serious products for working professionals.  The UI is mid-90’s.  Bizarrely, the cheapest product, “Movie Studio HD”, and the two most expensive support AVCHD while 3 middle range variants don’t.  Sony really doesn’t cripple this product very much compared to it’s more expense consumer variants.  The $600 product has features that only working professionals would need.

    The UI is downright ugly, though the new version of the pro variant now sports the de rigeur dark grey skin.  There are lots of direct manipulation controls on top of objects, which are very hard to discover.   There are several mode toggles that have quite subtle effects.  It’s the classic case of hard to discover, but easy to use once you know it.

    The whole line is technically competent with great performance.   Rather than trying to edit natively by relying on various hardware gimmicks or special buffering to improve performance the way the other products do, Vegas edits by default in a reduced resolution mode that works smoothly regardless of hardware or video card.  There is no special configuration–it just works.

    The product comes with good codec support and works with standards-based codecs so you can add additional codecs.  Rendering speed is very good.  It boots much faster than any of the other products. The range of capabilities is far greater than any of the other products that cost 2-3 times as much.   The look is off-putting.  But, in a little more than an hour you can go through most of the tutorials that work within the live product.  These walk you through the weirdnesses, which have their own consistent logic.

    While the UI is seriously clunky, it actually works smoothly.  That is saying a lot in video editing.  When you drag some footage, it drags immediately and smoothly.  Let go, it stops.  Change an effect and it’s immediately done.  Most of the other products suffer from infuriating UI sludge.

The surprising conclusion:  for 39.95 (web download price) Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD is far and away the best consumer choice for video editing on Windows, which is good–because it works–and sad–because Windows video editing is a far cry from iMovie and Final Cut Pro.


  • Lewis Levin
    February 24, 2010 - 2:32 am | Permalink

    I have been looking for an “anti-shake” plug-in for the Vegas products. There is only one, which I will try out soon. Also, people use a stand-alone combination to create “un-shooken” footage that can then be used in Vegas. Wish there was something built-in for this. It IS a hard problem, though. Basically, the software needs to create a cross-frame visual reference point by analyzing many frames and then move frames around (pan/crop) to match the chosen reference point. Lots of compute used to do this.

  • Lewis Levin
    March 18, 2010 - 6:29 am | Permalink

    New BlueFX Stabilizer is a plug-in for $100 that seems to work. I also tried BorisFX which includes a stabilizer among other effects, but I could not figure out how to make it work.

  • admin
    January 31, 2011 - 5:29 pm | Permalink

    The latest version of Sony Vegas includes a very good anti-shake filter.

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