My latest attempt at creating video mashups under Linux

I used a combination of dvdrip, youtube-dl, ffmpeg, audacity, avidemux and openshot on Arch Linux to create a video, recently.

dvdrip

Use this to rip the contents of a DVD to file(s). You will end up with a collection of VOB files that you can view in VLC and import directly into avidemux.

youtube-dl

Downloads Youtube videos. I used the command-line version rather than the Firefox extension. The CLI seems less fussier. Using Arch Linux is a good choice for downloading videos, as Youtube tends to tweak their functionality a lot. A distro like Arch allows you to keep up-to-date.

ffmpeg

Transcoder. This allows you to convert one file format into another. This is very useful generally, but particularly if you want to, say, extract the audio content from a file, and you are not interested in the video itself.

ffmpeg is quite versatile, but I found it a bit finnicky. It would sometime complain that the target format was incompatible with the operation that I wanted to perform. That’s fair enough, I suppose, but I wish it had a “Just Do It (TM)” option where it would make an intelligent best-guess.

audacity

Audio editor. As far as I am aware, this is an audio editor without peer. I did find it frustrating to use, though. I was confused about whereabouts I was setting the start and end points for my audio clips. They seemed to be transient, based on range selection. What I wanted to do was fine-tune the start point of a clip, and likewise for the end-point. Maybe it was my lack of inexperience with the software that was the problem.

avidemux

I liked this program very much. It was stable, and never crashed on me. It is excellent for saving clips that I want to extract from a VOB file. Features I found very useful were:

  • frame-by-frame forwards/backwards – allowing you to choose start- and end- points with accuracy
  • a chunkier forwards/backwards facility – it skips a few frames at a time, so that you are not constantly advancing only one frame.
  • wheel slider bar. Slide it to the right, and the video plays forward. Slide it to the left, and it plays backwards. The further you slide it, the faster the video plays. This is great for scanning a video quickly. If you move past a portion that you suddenly realise looks interesting, just slide the wheel the other way to move back. Then you can use the buttons mentioned above to fine-tune your position
  • start- and end-point markers – use this to set the start and end points of your clip. You can click the button marked A to move to the start of the clip, and B to move to the end. To save your clip, press Ctl-C and Ctl-S.

The only thing I found a bit odd is that you can’t seem to create a new clip file. You can only seem to over-write an existing file. It is a problem that is easy enough to overcome: copy and paste some dummy MPG file, and overwrite it when you save.

It’s too bad you cannot see a timeline of the audio. That would be a great feature to have, because it would mean you could create clips precisely aligned with their speech.

avidemux seems to have a lot of other features which i did not explore. Its effects look quite good. It does not have multiple tracks, so it is not a complete video solution. I found it to be a very effective tool for what I wanted from it: creating clips from longer videos.

openshot

NLVE (Non-Linear Video Editor). This piece of software is where you do your actual video editing. It is in another league compared to Windows Movie Maker. You have multiple tracks. You can mute sound or video across tracks, and likewise for individual clips.

This is great if you want to create a video for a song. Put your soundtrack on one track. Create another track, muted, onto which you can place clips.

One trick I learned is that if you are likely to experiment with the ordering and placement of clips, then create two video tracks. You can shuffle clips between the two, making them a little easier to re-arrange.

The most powerful features of openshot are: multiple tracks, an ability to re-arrange the clips and cut them.

As per avidemux, I would have liked to have seen an audio oscilloscope for when I wanted precise cutting at speech or music.

openshot also has “sequences”, whereby you can combine clips together as a unit. I had not explored this feature, but it seems powerful, and worthy of further investigation.

The downside to openshot is that it is prone to crashing. Saving your work regularly is a must! Moving clips on the timeline, and then moving the time slider bar causes the most crashing. Also, if you play a clip from your “assets” list, this seems to put the player in a wrong timeline state, causing a crash.

I have learnt today that openshot had not released in 3 years, but that a beta version was available. So a new version of openshot should, hopefully, be available soon. To be honest, it seems a bit daft that they would wait so long. 3 years is too long to wait for bug fixes

The contenders

Open Source has a number of other NLVE options. Perhaps too many options. It’s quality, and not quantity, that counts.

Cinelerra – it bills itself as a “full-featured film production software system”. I had played with it many years ago, and very recently. It was buggy then, and very buggy now. Apparently it is used by professionals, although I strain to accept that as credible. It certainly does seem feature-packed. Unfortunately, the software is so buggy as to be unusable. Cinelerra has been around for ages, and is in active development. I think the developers really need to concentrate on the basics, and leave the bells and whistles until after.

Blender – this software is usually associated with 3D modelling and animation. However, a quick search on YouTube reveals that it seems to have a capable NLVE. So perhaps this is a piece of software that I really need to investigate further.

Pitivi – quite an old piece of software. When I used it ages ago, I recall not liking it particularly. It is written in Python. I have the impression that it has come a long way since I last used it, so it may well be worth re-evaluation

Kino – another piece of software that I used ages ago. It only handled DV files at the time. That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, as DV files are good quality, and you can always transcode to them. Kino seemed a lot like avidemux: it didn’t do “much”, but it did do what it did fairly well. Perhaps Kino is something I should re-evaluate after all these years

Kdenline – I was mostly toying with choosing either openshot or kdenlive as my NLVE. Reviews of kdenlive suggested that it, too was quite buggy. I don’t have KDE installed on my system, and I’m not inclined to install a whole collection of software just so that I can run kdenlive. So I just skipped this one. Unless I can find some justification for using it instead of openshot – like reliability – I’m happy to pass on it for now

LiVES – this seems a bit of an oddball video editing system. It seems to have been originally designed as a “VJ” (Video Jockey) system, where you can create video mashups on the fly. It had a counter-intuitive interface, too. However, looking at their website, it seems that it now has a more conventional approach, and gears itself to being a NLVE. I don’t know what the whole “VJ” deal is, though. Gimmick?

Are there any other serious contenders that are worthy of a mention. I’m sure that there are others that I have forgotten about, or were never aware of. I would dearly want to love Cinelerra due to its features, but, like I said, is so unstable as to be unusable.

Comparing Cinelerra to Kino is instructive. You see, it doesn’t matter so much “what” the workflow is, just so long as it is well-defined, known, and reliable. Cinelerra is the jack of all trades, but master of none. It even does thing like capture your webcam. But from what I have read, it does so incredibly badly. It would have been better if they had just ignored the functionality, and let someone else write a cam capture. Chances are, if you want to make a little bit more of a professional video, then you are going to want to use a camcorder. Your camcorder will write to an AVI file, or something similar, which you can probably use directly. Or, if not, you can transcode to a suitable format, and will be better quality anyway.

Comments?

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About mcturra2000

Computer programmer living in Scotland.
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