The state of video editing on Linux

2013-06-05

Just my personal experience with editing video on Linux.

Openshot

Initially it was the project I liked the most, but I experienced many of the problems reported in 2011 while working with the latest Openshot in 2013, even if some of them have been "fixed". One word which describes Openshot best is unreliable. I'm never sure if I manage to repeat the same edit as before or encounter a show-stopper bug which will repeatedly crash my project, or will render badly. So sometimes I was lucky and managed to produce a good-looking video, sometimes I just couldn't do what I want. UI of some features is barely usable.

The good thing is that it indeed imports anything, and the user interface in general is not bad to edit small clips. It has some nice filters, transitions, and geometric transformations (zoom and pan, scrolling, speed control), supports title creation (via Inkscape). I missed keyboard shortcuts1, and had difficulty aligning multiple clips in time. Zoom-and-pan doesn't render nicely (I suspect floating point numbers are truncated somewhere). It seems there are some frame counting or frame-rate issues.

A minor nuisance: it saves full paths to media in the project file (which is just a Python pickle file). The project breaks if you move or rename a project directory.

Verdict: Openshot in 2013 is still alpha quality.

Kdenlive

Looks good at first. I'm trying it on a new project: import a clip, play, zone in, zone out, cut into a new clip, CRASH! All settings and the project are lost. Good thing: keyboard shortcuts work (but are not discoverable).

Verdict: still alpha quality.

Flowblade

Good things: it mostly works as advertised. There are some usability issues, and some features are missing, but it works. There are well-advertised keyboard shortcuts. Some things are not very convenient: speed control is not interactive (requires pre-rendering), working with static images is a pain (they can be imported, but I didn't figure out how to move/delete/cut them once they are in the timeline; my workaround is to convert them to video sequences with ffmpeg just before importing).

Bad things: it did crash sometimes when adding clips, and in rendering. I was happy to have the autosaved project recovered. The crashes were sporadic, and didn't reproduce later. Still that's not a good sign. Sometimes the UI became unresponsive. I also had troubles to set the thumbnail directory when I started using it.

The same nuisance of saving full paths in the project file like in Openshot.

Verdict: that's a very promising editor. Less featureful than Openshot, it was a little more stable in my use.

LiVES

It's been around for many years already. UI design is a bit... eye-catchy. Good thing: it didn't crash for me. Bad thing: I didn't create even a single project in it. LiVES unpacks every imported clip frame by frame and saves them all as images to the hard drive. I don't know, probably it is the right thing to do, I just don't have a hard drive big enough (and not nearly enough patience) to do it.

Verdict: it's not for me, YMMV.

Pitivi

I couldn't edit even a single clip with Pitivi. Pitivi is dogmatic about file formats, and it simply refuses to import most of my raw video material. Sometimes it imports only a soundtrack of a video sequence. Sometimes it refuses to import a file at all (it's allergic to mp3 audio).

Verdict: unusable as it comes out of the box.

Videolan Movie Creator

Bugs. Crashes. Very essential. UI needs some work too (I missed precise positioning of the cut points, and filters' list is a mess).

Verdict: early alpha, but the team doesn't pretend it's ready.

Bottom line

I couldn't find one reliable video editor in Linux. Editing task is always a gamble. I managed to use Openshot and Flowblade, and I favor Flowblade (a one man project!) slightly more.

I'd happily trade half the features for a bullet-proof stability. I believe all video editors in Linux need to borrow Erlang's "let it fail" approach. An NPE in the rendering lib2 or in the codec? Please let it fail in the other process, and recover. The media is defective? Do as much as you can to repair, show a placeholder, but never crash. And never ever lose the edits.

I'd like to see a video editor which puts stability and correctness first. Then usability of the feature set it offers. And expanding the features only reluctantly.


  1. By pressing every key on the keyboard, I've discovered j, k, l, space and arrows for playback control, m to add a marker, c to cut. I didn't find shortcuts to move to the next/previous marker and to resize the clips. 

  2. Crashes are common to Openshot, Kdenlive, and Flowblade. All of them rely on MLT framework for rendering. It might be responsible for a great deal of crashes in all of them. Though I don't know.