Video editing on Linux can work — I’ve seen some terrific stuff. The trick is figuring out the proper configuration. Before you say, “ah, yes, you’ve just terrified me into never touching Linux again” — this post isn’t for you. For you, the idea is for us to research some of the optimal configurations and then share the knowledge so you can get video editing on a laptop with little or no pain. So, forget you read this. Move along. Seriously, go do something else; pick up your camcorder and find something pretty to shoot or try cheesecloth over the lens or something.

Okay, is that person gone? Good. Still here? Let’s talk.

I’ve just finished a semi-frustrating day of evaluating some different video editors on Linux. My latest install is Fedora, which has the advantage of having akmod support, which in short makes combining real-time kernels (or any kernel changes) and proprietary graphics drivers dead-easy. It’s fantastic.

Less fantastic: trying to get video editing. Here’s my short list:

OpenShot, backend: ffmpeg
PiTiVi, backend: GStreamer
OpenMovieEditor, backend: SDL
Blender, backend: ffmpeg (also on Windows + Mac, notably)
kdenlive, backend: ffmpeg (can be made to run on Windows + Mac, too)

My test system: Fedora 12, with an (optional boot) real-time driver, NI Audio Kontrol 1 audio interface and onboard audio, NVIDIA 9500M, all on an Asus laptop.

So far, progress is, frankly, slow. Blender is brilliant, thanks to its ability to create low-resolution proxies. The problem: its interface is still painfully odd, and I’m having endless troubles with the audio back-end. The moment I unmute audio playback — even ensuring ALSA is the default engine — the video rendering bogs down, dropping frames and even playing back sound and image at erratic speeds. I need to try building Blender from scratch, but that’s going to take more time. Why am I not using Fedora’s packages? Because there aren’t any: Fedora won’t bundle ffmpeg due to licensing issues.

I have high hopes for OpenShot and PiTiVi, and each has allowed me to do super-fast quick edits and uploads. But their interfaces need a lot of work for bigger projects, and they even refused to load larger files. Don’t underestimate this pair: PiTiVi in particular is blazing fast and an ideal open, slice, export tool. It’s just for now they’re limited to quick edits.

kdenlive looks terrific. It has lovely support for things like screencasting, robust library support, and a mature interface (finally) with the time-saving functions you’d come to expect. It’s also, however, bogging down on performance, which suggests to me that it’s actually the way my audio system is configured that’s screwing up both kdenlive and Blender. Removing the pulseaudio plug-ins has not helped so far. Oh yeah — and there’s the fact that kdenlive looks like utter grap under GNOME.

OpenMovieEditor also looks promising, but I had some build dependency issues and, while it’s well supported on Ubuntu/Debian, there’s no Fedora package. I’ll return to working it out (like, why its configuration thinks I don’t have libdrm when I do) and report back.

Major extra points to the command-line fffmpeg, which is hands down the easiest way to convert… well, any media whatsoever.

“Ha!” A cry emerges from the back of the room… “Just as I suspected! Linux is a failure for any real work! You get only what you deserve, sir! Why, this video editor was probably programmed by a teenage kid with no girlfr—”

Hold on, there; not so fast. In fact, a lot of the problems here are familiar from proprietary (and pricey) software. There’s the fact that I have to move around plug-ins to keep Premiere from trying to load them and promptly crash. There’s the vaunted Final Cut Pro, which likes to transcode everything into a handful of its favorite formats because it doesn’t have something like the versatile GStreamer engine that will play anything you want. (That’s not a dig at Apple, either; you can thank the obscurities of patent law, for one.) There’s countless performance problems with such-and-such a resolution or codec on [insert your software here]. I’ve seen broken software, bugs, crashing installers, apps that refuse to start… and that’s stuff you pay for.

So, I’m going to assume this is not entirely wasted time. And I’m not done yet.

What I’m curious to know is, for those readers with more experience than me, how familiar does all of this sound? Any tips of your own for making this stuff work?

And yes, my ultimate goal: let’s live in a world where video editing doesn’t leave you with a pit in your stomach. Yipes.

  • sbn..

    When  you said you were going to do this, I had an internal debate whether or not to warn you of Blender.

    You may remember from other comments that I'm a bit of a fanboy. But even I will tell you that sound in Blender is sketchy, and if I had a project that depended on it, I'd use something else.

    The sound engine in Blender is a bit neglected, and suffers from the fact that the devs have had to find a cross-platform one that has a compatible license and isn't too big (remember, the whole package for 2.49 is  less than 20MB). This hasn't been possible, or at least wasn't when it was last evaluated some years ago, leading to lots of #ifdefs and different bugs on each platform (with some platforms barely workable at all).

    I'm a bit tired of saying this, because it makes me sound a bit naïve and too optimistic, but here goes: This will be fixed in Blender 2.5. (I know how much that helps right now)

    It's my understanding that if they haven't selected the right library yet, talks are very far. Whichever one they choose, it'll have to be fully cross-platform as everyone is tired of the other mess. Expect to see working builds by the time the current open movie gets near the editing stage.

    In any case, don't get too frustrated trying to make it work. Ask or #blender / #blendercoders on before spending too much time trying to get it to work.

  • Antonio Roberts

    For me kdenlive and Openshot are the winners, it's all I ever use. If you read some of the comparisons over at you'll see that whilst Pitivi is good it lacks so many features.

  • Jorge from Madrid

    I'm doing some early stop-motion works using just plain mencoder/ImageMagick/ffmpeg and bash scripting. It could seem a little bit primitive but it's also very portable to any *nix flavor and even some windows (in fact, I'm using Mac OS X).

    My scripts are really in the "quick and dirty" stage, but they work. I'm sure there are more options but it's a good way to make sketches, like the Processing enviroment. Anyone interested in sharing tips?

  • zach

    I'm on Mac OS, but open source video editing is at the top of my wish list as well. I'm so sick of firing up FCP for simple tasks and waiting for it to render my video into HDV or whatever. I would love to try out Sony Vegas, but it's not worth installing Windows.

    Blender would be a good solution, especially with Python scripting, but I've never gotten around the fact that it doesn't use a Cocoa interface. I understand this is necessary for portability, but the current solution is quite obfuscated. I'll give it another try with 2.5…

  • moniker

    Have you tried LiVES?

  • Jon

    Very interesting article as I've been looking to take the plunge from OSX. Could anyone share their experience of cinelerra?

  • SuperSportNews

    пока я жив, я буду помнить ваш ресурс :) заношу в букмарки….