Free OpenShot Video Editor is Tremendous

OpenShot is a free, simple-to-use, feature-rich video editor for Linux. The brainchild of programmer Jonathan Thomas, OpenShot has garnered a large and enthusiastic following for many reasons, one being Thomas’s responsiveness to user feedback. To quickly see the best uses of OpenShot, check out the beautifully created music videos of Verity and Gersom de Koning-Tan, from the Netherlands. Several of their videos have had more than one thousand video views. These videos have much going for them, not least their musicality and playfulness.

Scarborough Fair

L.O.V.E - Nat King Cole

Land Down Under

To my mind, OpenShot strikes just the right balance between features and complexity. I formerly used Apple's iMovie HD video editor, but felt betrayed when iMovie 08 came out. (iMovie 08 completely redesigned the earlier iMovie interface, removing many features in the process.) OpenShot is what iMovie 08 should have been. OpenShot is under active development, and while strong already, will become even stronger in the coming months. That's the beauty of open source. The forward momentum of a software program is unconnected from any corporate goals. When you use open-source software, you're not a cog in someone else's wheel. You are the wheel.

Listen to what video producer Neil Chappell has to say about OpenShot: “Before OpenShot burst onto the scene, video editing in Linux was really missing an easy to use, full-featured editor that could save and convert to nearly any format and had a decent set of transitions. Yes KDEnlive has been around for a good while and is up there with the best of them in the proprietary world, even if it is a little buggy, but it is simply too complex for a lot of people to use. Now with this latest version of OpenShot, there are animated titles to use with the help of Blender, even more transitions and effects and it is a simple point and click editor that anyone can use and get great results from. I use it for my YouTube video screencasts as it is quick and easy for me to use and does the job for me in the format that YouTube likes in the presets.” Keep an eye on Neil's YouTube channel if you'd like to stay informed about OpenShot and other Linux topics.

Another OpenShot fan is Harvey Alférez, technology lecturer at Montemorelos University in Mexico. Harvey says, “OpenShot is a video editor which my students can use to easily translate their ideas into creative videos. I have used other FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) video editors, but OpenShot is the most user friendly and offers the best learning curve." Harvey has a doctorate in computer science. He knows a thing or two about computers. (Follow Harvey Alférez on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HarveyAlferez)

One of the best things about OpenShot is that it integrates well with two other fabulous open-source programs: the Inkscape vector-editing program and the Blender 3D animation program. OpenShot uses Inkscape for advanced titling (although the built-in titles in OpenShot are very nice, too.) OpenShot uses Blender for 3D titles. Note: You'll need a very recent version of Blender on your computer to do 3D titles (version 2.5 or later).

Just for kicks, I tried importing some public-domain graphics from OpenClipArt into OpenShot, and these SVG graphics imported beautifully into an additional video track in OpenShot. This is one reason why forward-thinking school districts--I’m thinking here of the Los Altos School District in California--can straightforwardly incorporate OpenShot into their digital design curriculum.

Here's the icing on the cake: OpenShot can easily produce Blu-ray videos (and do so on DVD media), making it suitable for near-professional video production work. As an experiment, I asked Verity and Gersom de Koning-Tan to send me their Scarborough Fair video (one of the videos linked above) in uncompressed format. They used DropBox to send me a 330MB AVI file. I don't have a DVD burner on my Linux laptop, so I transferred this file to my MacBook and used Roxio Toast 11 to burn a Blu-ray disc. (I needed to use iSkySoft Video Converter on this AVI file to create an H.264 file for Toast 11.) This Blu-ray disc, burned on a standard DVD disc, played beautifully in the Blu-ray player in the auditorium at my place of work, the City of Takoma Park, Maryland, Community Center. I sent a copy of this Blu-ray disc (in PAL Blu-ray format) to Gersom and Verity, in the Netherlands, and they tell me it played beautifully on a Blu-ray player at a friend's house over there.

Few people know that you can create Blu-ray discs on regular DVD blank media, with the only drawback being the duration of the video. You can probably fit only about 12 to 15 minutes of Blu-ray video on a DVD disc. I learned about creating Blu-ray on DVDs from Becky Waring's excellent PCWorld.com article, Create Your Own Blu-Ray Video Discs.

By now you might be wondering about Jonathan Thomas, the very smart programmer who created OpenShot. This recent interview gives some nice background information.

Here is another interview with Thomas that will be of greater interest to computer programmers.

Wondering how Gersom and Verity created those music videos mentioned above? Here is their story of how they came to make these videos:

“Verity and I (Gersom) have been using Linux Ubuntu for about two years now. It was first introduced to us by my brother who runs an 'open source solutions' company here in the Netherlands called Metasync. At first I was really reluctant to use Linux since it required me to learn how to go about on a new operating system. I deemed Linux to be only for the 'tech savvy' sort of people. After being convinced to try it out (dual boot) I ended up preferring Linux due to its stability and customisability. Verity started using Linux soon after she tried it out on my desktop. We wanted to start making Youtube videos but I found that most Linux video editing programs either had a high learning curve (e.g. Cinelerra) or didn't have enough options and crashed a lot (Open Movie Editor). When my brother mentioned OpenShot, I thought I'd give it a try. It ended up working very well, but there are still some glitches which show that it is a work in progress. One of these being that it sometimes lags (not due to my computer hardware) and another being that when it upgrades, your old video projects close randomly while you're editing. There are work-arounds for this, but it can be frustrating.

We use a Canon 500D to shoot the videos and use a Audio Technica 2020 microphone + Belkin Tune Studio to record. One thing I really liked was that when I plugged in the Belkin Tune Studio in my computer as my recording device, it really was 'plug & play': I didn't have to install anything! It just worked: Go Linux! (The audio for these videos was recorded on a MacBook, but Belkin Tune Studio works fine on Linux.)

“Verity edits most of the videos, and she says it takes about 5-6 hours. It takes longer due to some glitches: we have to spend extra time rendering parts of our videos into new files. The audio is recorded in Mac's GarageBand (we have yet to find a digital audio workstation for Linux which combines simplicity with quality).

“In short OpenShot is: 1. Easy to use. 2. Can work with HD video smoothly 3. Can change video colouring/lighting, among other things 4. Gives users the ability to add effects. 5. Can render video at a very high speed (especially when compared to Windows editing programs). This really makes OpenShot a powerful addition to the Linux community.”

I asked Verity and Gersom if they might create a screencast showing and explaining how they create their multitrack videos. They answered me on YouTube saying: “We might consider making a screencast on how we use OpenShot, but perhaps we'll do this later, perhaps when we have over 100 subscribers or so, so that many people can really learn from it.” So if you'd like to see such a screencast, subscribe to their channel and suggest to others that they do so, too. And be sure to leave supportive comments on their videos. Supportive comments can mean a lot to any video producer.

I checked in with Jonathan Thomas to find out what new features are coming to OpenShot. Here are some of the new features you'll be seeing in OpenShot 2.0, due for release later this year or early next year.

Node-based audio processing – will support powerful analysis features: waveforms, spectral analysis, and so on.

Animation curve-based key-frame system -- will rival Hollywood animation packages

Professional-quality Telecine and inverse Telecine features -- smoothly decrease or increase framerates

Considering how much value OpenShot brings me, it was a no-brainer for me to send a monetary donation to Jonathan Thomas via the OpenShot website. You can, too, if you feel the world could use a top-quality, free video editor. If you'd like to join in the programming effort for OpenShot, here is how you can do so.

Back in 2006, I wanted to create a multitrack video explaining four points of view on Warren Buffet's gift of $30 billion to the Gates Foundation. I didn't have the money to buy and learn Apple's Final Cut software, so I created this video, Double Gift/Shades of Gray, using Apple's QuickTime Pro. This 5-minute video took 10 hours to make using QuickTime Pro. While making this video, I thought to myself: “In the next few years a free video editor will be developed that will let anyone make this kind of video with a minimum of effort and cost.” OpenShot is that video editing program.

The way we express appreciation for the creation of such an incredible free tool is to use it. Doing so is the nicest way of saying thanks to Jonathan Thomas and the other programmers who have created this tool. These programmers have given voice to many who otherwise would not have a voice. This tool can be put to use by the 53 million K-12 students in Brazil, where Linux has been adopted throughout the country. It can be put to use by Peace Corps volunteers and relief workers around the world. It can be used by musicians, drama teachers, artists, dancers, makers, satirists, literacy activists, community activists, digital storytellers, and filmmakers. Many interesting stories will see the light of day because of OpenShot. I can't wait to see those stories.

Tips for Downloading and Installing OpenShot

As I was finishing this blog post, I came across this excellent instructional video by Robbie Ferguson and Christa Wells, of Category5.tv, that explains how to download and install OpenShot; it also explains a lot more about the program.

Neil Chappell, quoted above, also made a quick blog post about downloading and installing Blender 3D, the separate program for creating 3D titles within Openshot.

If you're coming to OpenShot from iMovie HD (on the Mac), you might be surprised to find that OpenShot does not have a feature to capture video from a Firewire cable. The quick workaround for this is to do your video capturing using another Linux video editing program, such as Kino, and then dragging your video clips into OpenShot. Many video cameras these days capture video directly to solid-state media, in which case getting that video into OpenShot is as easy as dragging the video files off the storage card in your camcorder, as if the camcorder were a USB flash drive. Jonathan Thomas tells me that adding DV capture is not in the plans for OpenShot, but that other programmers are welcome to work on that.

You can also do your video captures from within iMovie HD and then use a USB flash drive to copy over the video clips onto your Linux box. To view the video clips within your iMovie HD project, right-click on the file name for the project. Your video clips are found within the Media folder.

And a friendly tip for iMovie HD users: Most of OpenShot's power is unlocked by use of the right mouse button. If you have a single-button mouse on your Mac, hold down the Control key while mouse clicking; this performs a right-mouse-button click.

International Uses of OpenShot

Help manuals for OpenShot are available in several languages – and each includes a simple "Learn OpenShot in 5 Minutes" section.

English:
Spanish:
French:
Portuguese:
Dutch:

OpenShot install – Brazilian Portuguese

Introduction to OpenShot (French)

OpenShot Forum (French)

Cenwen's blog (excellent information about OpenShot in French)

Interesting fact: OpenShot was added to the 2011-2012 Information Technology curriculum across the school districts in Kerala, India. Around one million students in Kerala will be learning OpenShot. (Source: Jonathan Thomas, June, 2011)

To view all the languages for which OpenShot has been translated, click the View all languages link at the right middle side of this website.

Using OpenShot with a Webcam

You don't even need a camcorder to create videos using OpenShot. A simple webcam and the free Cheese program (equivalent to Apple's PhotoBooth) does the trick. Bach would smile down on seeing this YouTube video created using OpenShot by Daniel Neel.

Video as the New Communications Medium

Ever since the very first schools and universities were formed, students have been handing in their school work in written form. Today, more and more teachers are expecting, and sometimes requiring, school work to be completed in video form. This recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, by Jeffrey R. Young, explains more about this trend.

When video production is required of all students, it makes sense to steer students towards an easy-to-use, yet powerful free video editor. OpenShot is that video editor.

--Phil Shapiro

In the past few years Phil has taught videoblogging to Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, Save Darfur, Bread for the City, The Whisteblower's Project and a number of other nonprofit organizations. He works at a public library in the Washington, D.C., area and teaches an occasional graduate educational technology class at American University, in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at philshapiroblogger@gmail.com and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philshapiro

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