I’ve been doing video editing on computers for a long time now, and have used lots of different pieces of software. Most of the editing software I use is what would be considered “Pro” editing software like Final Cut Pro, AVID, Sony Vegas, and so on. These packages are very powerful and offer a professional video editor the tools they need to edit just about any production including TV shows, commercials and even feature films.
But in the last few years there have been a lot of “smaller” video editing software packages that have come along that are created for the casual video editor. These are made for the person who wants to edit simple but clean videos of their vacation, school performances, training videos, etc.
To be sure, a lot of video projects don’t require expensive software. It’s definitely possible to create an enjoyable and informational video with just simple cuts, some music, some text, and some transitions. With just a little bit of time and experimentation, your average Joe can take the video shot on a phone, low cost handy cam, or even webcam, and make something people don’t mind watching.
When friends and family ask me what video editing software they should get, I first ask them what kind of videos they want to make and then usually point them to one of these inexpensive packages.
But there are a lot of these “casual video editing” packages out there. So I decided to start looking at each one of them and showing what can be created with them. That way you can see the pros and cons of all of them and make up your own mind on which one to use.
If you are already a Pro editor or have a lot of video editing knowledge, these reviews will be too basic for you. But if you’re new to editing I hope to give you some good general video editing information along with the review of the specific application.
I will only be covering PC applications because, quite frankly, iMovie is so heavily entrenched on the Mac that it’s what most casual users will use. I know there are still quite a few Final Cut Express users around but Apple has discontinued that package and has staked out iMovie for casual editing and Final Cut X for everyone else.
One more note on iMovie. A lot of people have asked me, “Is there iMovie for PC?” Technically the answer to that is no. Apple does not make a version of iMovie that works on the PC so until there is iMovie for Windows, these other casual editing packages on the PC are as close as you will find.
Wondershare Video Editor
First on the list that I’ll be taking a look at is the creatively named Wondershare Video Editor from a company called Wondershare.
Wondershare offers several video related products besides Video Editor including, at the time of this writing, Video Converter Ultimate, DVD Slideshow Builder Deluxe, YouTube Downloader, Fantashow, and more.
I’ll be testing Version 3.1.3 of Video Editor.
Feel free to jump down to the bottom of this post to view my Video Review and my conclusions.
You can grab a free trial of Video Editor at the Wondershare site. The full version costs $39.00, so it’s pretty affordable as far as editing software goes. It is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. I’ll be using it on Windows 7. There is a Mac version as well if you want to check that out. It also comes with a 30 day money back guarantee which is pretty generous for software.
Once you download and run the installer, you’ll be given the chance to determine where the package gets installed. The default location should be fine and that’s what I used.
Once the installer finished, I noticed two new icons on my desktop and one on my taskbar. One was obviously the icon for Video Editor but there was another one for Wondershare Player. Unfortunately the installer doesn’t give you the option to choose where you want program icons to appear (desktop, taskbar, start menu) and it doesn’t give you the choice to install Wondershare Player or not. This is not a huge issue by any means, and most casual users won’t have a problem with this.
I also noticed that the compatible movie files on my system were now “associated” with Wondershare Player and that the Player icon was now on my thumbnail images in the Windows file browser.
What this means is that now, every time I double-click on a video file, Wondershare Player will automatically be the player that is used. If you’re used to Windows Media Player or QuickTime playing back your video files, this could surprise and maybe annoy you.
Having said that, the Wondershare Player, which is also free to download from the Wondershare site, is not a bad little video player and has some nice functionality.
But if you want to change back to Windows Media Player or whatever you were using to play your video before Wondershare Player was installed, you can simply right-click on a video file, select Properties from the menu and then in the next panel that opens click on the Change button.
On the next panel, just select the player you want to use. In this case I have gone back and selected Windows Media Player. Click OK and then click OK again to close the Properties Panel.
Starting Wondershare Video Editor For the First Time
Once you start the program, you’ll see some options for creating a new project or loading an existing one. There is also a small button labeled Tutorials. I suggest you click on that button and watch all the tutorials that they offer. It could save you some time getting up to speed on the program. Including these easy-to-find quick start tutorials is a nice feature for people just getting started.
Once you’ve watched the tutorials and have a feel for how the editor works, choose a format that you want to edit in. Your choices are Widescreen (16:9) or Standard (4:3). If you are editing footage from a new camera you’ll want to choose Widescreen. It’s what nearly every video camera sold in the last 3 or 4 years records. If you’re editing old DV footage shot a long time ago, you’ll probably need to pick Standard. I’ll be working in Widescreen.
Taking a Look Around
When you first start the program, here’s what you see:
Video Editor uses a pretty standard timeline on the bottom, playback window on the right, file explorer on the left layout. This layout can be found in lots of other editing packages and is pretty straightforward.
The timeline at the bottom is where you’ll arrange all your clips, music, effects, etc. The vertical red line with the purplish “arrow” on top is called the playhead, and it’s what you use to scrub through your footage. You can drag the top to the timeline window up and down to make it taller or shorter. Doing so will start to make your video playback window smaller but give you more room when you have a lot of tracks.
In the upper left quadrant of the screen is the Media Library area where you’ll import your footage and choose what other things you want to add to your timeline such as text, effects and transitions.
In the upper right quadrant is where you’ll see what your video looks like as it is playing and what your final result will pretty much be.
The big Create button is what you’ll use to export your completed video to a finished file. You have to do this to send your video to other people, post it on YouTube or put it on a website.
There are lots of different video “file formats” and “codecs” these days. AVI, QuickTime, WMV, MPEG, MTS, and more. There are also multiple video resolutions. 1080i or 1080p or 720i and 720p are the most common for video work today. 1080 video is more information (and higher quality) but it makes your computer work harder when editing.
I wanted to see how Wondershare Video Editor handled the 1080p HD video format. I’m using a fairly beefy computer with a fast processor and quite a bit of RAM to test Video Editor so you should download the trial and do some tests with your own footage to see what your computer’s performance will be like.
I decided to try some footage I shot on my HF S21 HD Canon camcorder. If Video Editor handles the 1080p HD resolution, 720p or smaller will be no problem.
I selected the Import button in the upper left, went to a folder that I made on my desktop that had some .MTS video clips in it, selected all four clips and clicked open. The clips were added to the clip browser, I selected one and hit play. There was just a slight hitch and then my 1080p clip was playing back with no problems.
There’s a reason I put the clips in a folder on my desktop and that’s because it made it so those clips would be on my local drive (drive C:). I always try to load clips from a “local” internal drive (like drive C:) so that those files can be read from the disk as quickly as possible. If you have your clips on an external hard drive that’s plugged in to your computer with a USB cable, the clips my not be able to be read as quickly and your editing playback performance could suffer.
Next, I dragged one of the clips from the media browser and put it on the timeline. I hit the play button and the movie played. I then tried dragging the playhead left and right to go to different parts of the clip.
While the video did change, the playhead did not keep up with my “scrubbing” left and right. It did eventually catch up though and snap to where my mouse was.
Simply clicking on the numbers on the timeline moves the playhead to that position.
If you click and drag to the left or right of the playhead, you can zoom your timeline in and out. With the timeline zoomed in you can move through your footage much more precisely. With it zoomed out, you can see more of the clips on your timeline. You can also use the slider to the left of the Create button to zoom in and out of your timeline.
I found myself looking for a “play from beginning” button or some way to get the playhead back to the start of the movie without dragging it there. I did find a way to do this but it’s not very intuitive. When you are playing your movie you’ll use the Play button to start and pause the playback. To start get the playhead back to the beginning without dragging it there you hit the stop button (to the right of the play button) which, as I said, is not very intuitive.
I was glad to see that pressing the spacebar started and stopped video playback. This is virtually a standard for video editing software.
To the right of the stop button is the frame step button (Wondershare calls it the Forward button), and sure enough, pressing it moved the playhead forward in small increments for more precise positioning.
To the right of the frame step button is a button with a little camera on it. Pressing this takes a “snapshot” of the current frame, saves it to disc and puts it in the media library at the right. However I could not find a way for it to save a full resolution version of the frame. It should be a 1920×1080 images but it is quite a bit smaller than that (640×360.) By the way, to find out where on your hard drive this snapshot is saved, just right click on the thumbnail image in the media library and select Find Target.
To the right of the snapshot button (with the camera on it) is the full screen button. Pressing this will make your video playback take up your entire screen. You have to move your mouse to the bottom of the screen to get the controls to show up again. When they do you can hit the full screen button again to switch back to non-full screen. You can also just double click on the main video window to get it to switch to full screen.
Unfortunately full screen does not mean full resolution, and what you’re seeing in full screen looks like it’s about a quarter of the resolution of the actual video footage so the footage looks kind of jaggy and bad. I’m sure they are doing this to keep the frame rate smooth on playback so it’s a trade off. This does not affect the final rendered output.
To the right of the full screen button is a volume control that affects the volume of playback not the volume of the final exported video.
The Media Library
Above the timeline and to the left is a row of icons that lets you switch what appears in the Media Library. This includes Media, Text, Effect, PIP(Picture in Picture),Transition, Intro/Credit, and Sound.
But before we explore the Media Library further, notice in the upper left corner of the screen a button that says Download. If you click on that button you have the option to download then install additional media resources like graphics, effects, and transitions. They’re free so you might as well if you have the time.
Incidentally, if you want to check out the actual files for the content that comes with Video Editor such as the .jpg, .png and .mov files, some of them are located in these folders:
C:\Program Files (x86)\Wondershare\Video Editor\Contents
C:\Program Files (x86)\Wondershare\Video Editor\PiPObject
You can copy them, but don’t move these files anywhere or they won’t show up in Video Editor anymore and might cause other problems.
With the Media tab selected, the Media Library will show all the videos clips, image files, and audio clips you currently have imported into Video Editor. Also if you look at the very top middle of the interface, you’ll see a drop down with “User’s Album” selected. If you click on the drop down you’ll see additional items such as Sample Colors and Sample Video that can be selected. Select User’s Album to go back to seeing your imported assets.
With the User’s Album selected and your clips visible, you can right click on a clip for other options.
If you select Add Clip, the clip gets added to the timeline where the playhead is currently positioned.
Selecting Apply to PIP (Picture in Picture) with place the clip on a new PIP track. This will allow you to resize, rotate and position the clip over whatever is on the main Video track.
If you choose Scene Detection the Scene Detection tool will open, and if you press Detect, the tool will go through the clip and try to find big changes in the picture. When it finds a big change, it will split the clip at that point. It will keep doing this until it finds the end of the clip. You will then have a list of the split clips that can be applied to your timeline as separate clips. The accuracy of this can be a bit hit and miss but that’s sort of to be expected.
I tried loading in several file formats and all the common image and movie formats came in with no problem. Video Editor even respects the alpha (transparency) channel of image formats like .png or .tif for clean overlay graphics. It does not, however, respect the alpha channels of QuickTime movie files. I have found this to be the case in more than one of these casual editing applications. If you have no idea what an alpha channel is, I explain them here.
Lastly, to the right of the Import drop down is a button labeled Record. This is where you can capture audio and video from your webcam.
By the way, all the 12 Inch video backgrounds work just fine in Video Editor, but it refused to import any of our animated elements. This is probably because it doesn’t support the JPEG 2000 codec we use for our element animations. It wouldn’t really matter if it could load the elements because the transparency channel wouldn’t work anyway. You could convert our elements movies to some other format and it would probably load the file, but you’d have to use Video Editor’s tools to roughly remove the black background from the elements to use them as an overlay and it wouldn’t look very good. More on that below.
Switching to the Text tab will bring up the text presets in the Media Library window.
The presets have descriptive text, but I found the small thumbnails hard to read. I would like the option to make them bigger. Hovering your mouse over the preset gives you a little preview of the motion that pre-exists on the preset and left clicking on the thumbnail brings the preview into the main video window where you can click play and see what it does.
Once you pick the preset you want, you right click on it, select Apply, and it gets added to the Text section of the Timeline. Once the text preset is on the timeline, you can actually edit the text by double clicking on the effect in the timeline or by clicking the little edit icon to the left of the Split (scissors) icon.
In the text editing window you can enter your text, pick and modify the style, and choose and apply some animation if you wish.
There does not appear to be a way to start with simple text and add things to it. In other words, you have to pick a preset and edit it to what you want instead of starting from scratch. Also, the only way to add a drop shadow would be to use one of the presets that lets you enter two lines of text, and then use one of the lines as the shadow.
Unlike PIP effects, multiple text effects can’t be layered. You get just one text effect at any given time.
I’ve grabbed a frame from a clip with the drop shadow text so you can see the quality of the text that gets rendered. You can download the full resolution frame and see it for yourself.
I’m not sure how the text is being generated, but I can only assume they had to take some shortcuts to get it to render over the top of the video. The jaggedness around the edge of the text is pretty bad and what I captured is pretty good compared to some of the other presets. It may also look better over Standard video as opposed to the HD video I’m using.
Keep in mind, this is a low-cost casual editing system and was never meant to be used for generating titles for movies or TV shows. This level of quality in the text may be fine for fun or simple videos. After all, you can at least read what the text says and there are at least a few options to be creative with the text. You can also apply the simple Fade animation to the text that fades it on and off. It’s actually the text transition I use most of the time.
There are several different video effects included with Video Editor. These effects can only be applied to the video clips, not to text or PIP images.
You can select an Effect and then press the Play button to see a bigger preview. Hovering over the thumbnail shows a small preview as well.
To apply an effect, you simply place the playhead where you want the effect to start, right click the effect and select Apply. You can also just drag the effect down to the Effect section of the timeline and position it where you want.
Some effects simply do things to the color of the video, others overlay short video clips of fireworks, snow, etc., on the main video clips. It’s a rookie mistake to use too many effects so try not to fall into the “more is more” trap.
As with text, there is only one row of effects, so you can only apply one effect at a time.
Some effects such as Emboss have parameters that you can adjust and others don’t have any parameters, they are just on or off. Double clicking the effect while it’s on the timeline will bring up any available parameters.
In addition to the filters in the Effects tab, there are other effects that you can access by right clicking on the video clip on your timeline. These effects include the “Power Tool” and the Flash and Hold effect. The Power Tool includes a Tilt Shift effect, a Mosaic Effect (to obscure faces, for example) and more.
PIP (Picture in Picture)
The PIP tab will reveal several “overlay” graphics that you can choose. These are graphics that you can place on top of the video on the main Video section of the timeline. Some of these are actually animated but most are just stills.
You can just drag the PIP graphic from the Media Library to a PIP track on the timeline or you can right click on the graphic and select Apply to have the graphic drop in wherever your playhead is.
Selecting the PIP graphic on the timeline allows you to resize and position the graphic in the main video window. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be anyway to constrain the resize so you could exactly maintain the aspect ratio of the graphic.
If you double click the PIP graphic in the timeline, you can choose an animation to put on the graphic. A simple Fade effect does not appear to be included however.
If you click on the Advanced button you are actually given quite a few options for your PIP graphic.
With the Motion tab selected you can add a motion preset to your PIP graphic, and here you actually can select Keep Aspect Ratio so it doesn’t change the aspect of your graphic when you resize.
There does not appear to be any way to edit the motions or make your own. You’re limited to the starting size and position of your graphic and the motion presets go from there.
The Mask tab lets you select a mask shape for your PIP graphic. Double clicking on the mask shape will apply it to your graphic
The Effect tab is where you can do things like add a border to your PIP graphic, flip it, and give it a drop shadow. I’m not sure why we are given the option to put a drop shadow on a PIP graphic but not text. For this reason and because the text quality isn’t great, I’d always make my text in a paint program (such as Photoshop or Paint.net) with transparency and import it as a PIP effect.
Also under the Effect tab is a setting called Alpha that allows you to make part of a graphic transparent so you can see the video clip underneath. This is for when you add your own graphics to the PIP track and need to make parts of them transparent.
For example, I brought in a simple .tif file of a Christmas tree graphic that had a built in alpha channel for transparency and it overlaid nicely with my background video. I didn’t have to do anything but put it on the PIP track.
But, as expected, when I loaded in the same image as a .jpg file (with no alpha) I could not see through to my background. So, if you have some .jpg clip art, the only way to make the graphic overlay is to use the Alpha settings in the Effect tab of the PIP edit screen.
This will take all the pixels of the same color (in this case solid black) and remove them so you can see the video track below. This only works sometimes though because if your graphic has some parts that are solid black within it, those will be lost as well and you’ll have a hole in your graphic where you don’t want it. This approach is not nearly as clean as having an alpha channel, but sometimes the file you have won’t have one.
One last thing about the PIP graphics included with Video Editor. The graphics themselves are really too low resolution to be used with HD video. Most of them appear to have been created with Standard definition video in mind. The largest of all the content would only be suitable for 720p video. This means that while you can definitely add these graphics to your videos, if you notice that the graphics are jaggy or pixilated, its because they weren’t created at a large enough size. It’ll be up to you to decide whether you can live with those artifacts in your video or not.
Selecting the Transition tab brings up all the different transitions that you can use to transition from one video clip to the next including my favorite, the Fade!
Adding a transition is easy. When you have two video clips on your timeline you can just drag the transition you want to the end of the first video clip and release it. Once the transition is applied on the timeline, you can double click it and adjust its duration.
Note that playback of your project may slow down when it’s trying to do the transition.
There are certainly some acceptable transition effects included and some that are pretty wacky, but this is all pretty subjective. Use what you like. You’re not making Citizen Kane after all.
These templates are a combination of backgrounds and animated text and could be used at the beginning of your video, or between segments of your video. Again, these backgrounds that come with Video Editor are technically a bit too low resolution for 1080p video but they might be OK for your purposes.
You can just drag these templates to wherever you want them on the main Video timeline. You’ll notice that a text effect comes along for the ride. As you might expect, double clicking on the text effect allows you to customize the text.
The Sound tab is just a library of sound effects that you can add to your project. Just drag a sound file down to the timeline and you’ll see a Sound track appear. Double clicking on them brings up some options you can change like Speed, Volume, Fade In and Fade Out.
Exporting Your Video
When you have your video just the way you want it, it’s time to export it to one big happy video file. This is where the Create button comes in.
When you press the Create button you are presented with a screen with four tabs at the top.
The first one is the Device tab and here you can just select what the device is that you’d like to view your final movie on. For example, if I select iPhone 5 as my device the output settings automatically change to be compatible with that device.
There are a lot of device options here and it’s nice that Wondershare took the time to create configurations for so many popular and not as popular devices.
Also, within each Device configuration you can go in and set options such as resolution, audio settings, etc.
Once you choose the Device you want and the settings you want, you can give your video a name, select where you want it saved, and hit Create. Of course this doesn’t actually transfer your video to a device, it just saves it on your hard drive. You’ll have to take care of the transfer to a device yourself.
If you know specifically that you want an AVI or a QuickTime movie (or other format) with certain parameters and are familiar with what settings you want to use, you can use the Format tab to setup the output of your video file.
For example, I wanted to save my movie as a full 1920×1080 HD QuickTime file, with a frame rate of 30 fps.
So I clicked on the drop down next to the word Profile and selected MOV. To my surprise, I could only select a format up to 720p. Where was my full 1080p HD goodness? Then I noticed that when you click on the Profile drop down, if you scroll all the way down, there is a MOV selection with HD next to it. Sure enough this setting allowed me to set the options I wanted.
There is also an option to export your video directly to YouTube. You can enter your YouTube account name and password and other information. This saves you the step of exporting your video first and then signing in to YouTube and uploading the video. Personally, I prefer to export my finished video, check it, and then upload it, but I can see where this feature could be handy for some people.
Lastly, there is the option to export your video to SD DVD. I know several people who still like to have a physical DVD to give to people so I actually tested this. You have the option of burning your DVD directly to a DVD and/or an image file if you want to burn to a disc later. When you output to a DVD, you’ll get a little preview of your movie as it gets created and then the movie will be written to the DVD.
There is no menu for your DVD, it starts playing as soon as it is loaded by the DVD player and when it finished, will start playing again from the beginning. It’s definitely a “no frills” DVD, but might work for your needs. If you want something fancier, you’ll want to export the image file and then use another DVD authoring program to create your DVD with menus.
My Video Review of Wondershare Video Editor:
Wondershare Video Editor contains the features you would expect from a basic casual computer editing application. You can easily create simple videos with cuts, transitions, music, and voiceover narration. There are plenty of video effects to choose from, but I would recommend exercising restraint. Once your video is complete, Video Editor provides a good number of options for exporting and sharing your video.
It’s too bad the stock graphics that are included haven’t been updated to full HD resolution and that the text that you can create in the application isn’t very crisp. Also, support for QuickTime files that contain alpha channel would be welcome in the next version.
Product: Wondershare Video Editor Version 3
Current Price: $39.00 (US)
Free Trial Available
30 Day Money Back Guarantee
Includes basic editing functionality plus transitions, audio and multi-layer graphics
Option to edit in Standard or Widescreen aspects
Comes with a fair amount of stock content for PIP (overlays) and sound effects
Large amount of video filters and effects included
Support for most common video file formats
Support for PNG and TIFF images with alpha transparency
Large number of export presets and video file formats
Direct to YouTube export available
Option to burn finished movie to DVD
No option to not install Wondershare Player
Low resolution text
No option for text drop shadows
Included stock images and animations are too low resolution for 1080p HD editing
Playhead didn’t keep up with scrubbing on timeline with 1080p video
Unintuitive “play movie from beginning” functionality
Full screen playback is low resolution
No support for QuickTime movies that contain Alpha channel
No simple fade effect for PIP graphics