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Testing free video editing tools (and techniques)

by Kelly Walsh on January 24, 2010


The 3rd post in a series focused on free tools for recording, editing, and publishing video tutorials.

I’ve been working this month to find a set of free tools that can enable me to produce and distribute video tutorials. Picking up where I left off last week, this weekend I pursued the idea of using Windows Movie Maker as a free editing tool to pair with a free video capture tool like Debut Lite.

There’s so many good free apps available on the web these days (that’s the right price for me as a blogger, and a great price for many cash-strapped Ed Tech budgets too!). I started out on a good track with this effort by trialing tools like Jing and Debut Lite, that make it easy to capture screen video and audio to create video content. The next step is to get the video editing capabilities I need for effective and efficient production.

Why do I need editing software?
If I’m going to try to create a number of tutorials, I’ll really need to be able to do some simple editing, like combining clips, trimming them, adjusting audio, maybe use some fade-out and fade-in effects. Otherwise, the tutorials I can create will be limited to the one best continuous video clip I can record, and I will often have to record repeatedly in order to get a complete, acceptable quality “performance”. It’s just so much easier to produce an audio and video recording if you can create smaller clips and assemble them, and have some control over flow from one video clip to the next.

My goal in this example scenario was to append a brief clip that I created, to show what a Google Alert email looks like, to last week’s tutorial video (which shows how to create a Google Alert, which sends automated Google search results to your email), to create a more complete tutorial presentation.

Video Editing with Windows Movie Maker
I used Windows Movie Maker a lot last year to create my own amateur music videos, so I know it works, and I know how to use it. I combined pictures and audio in this musical montage (recorded over a song I wrote many years ago, inspired by the beauty of the island of Antigua). I combined video clips in the song video I’ve embedded below. I got a bit more sophisticated, combining pics and video and using a variety of effects in the Christmas song video I had posted on the site here last month, so I know WMM does this stuff well, and for free. Unfortunately, it didn’t go so smooth with my efforts to do similar editing with clips I recorded with Debut and Jing.


The mysterious loss of video quality
The main issue I had trying to use Windows Movie Maker (WMM) was that as soon as I pulled the source video into it, the resolution of the clips (as they appeared in WMM) were diminished, and you could no longer read the text on the menu screens in the video. I never noticed any similar loss of quality when creating the other videos I’ve made with WMM, but they did not include text in screen images like these. I’m a bit baffled though, as the original video files were clearly better, so why wouldn’t a .wmv file come into Movie Maker at the same resolution it was created with?

I tried a number of things to work around this. I normally work with the Windows Movie Maker app (Ver. 6) that came with my Windows Vista operating system, but I know that Microsoft recently added a Windows Movie Maker Live app to it’s expanding suite of Windows Live tools. I fired this up, and pulled in the MP4 versions of the files I had, but still ended up with the same loss of quality. 

To illustrate, if you look at this original video clip (created in Debut as one continuous ‘performance’) in full screen mode, you can make out the text in the menu options (especially if you enhance the resolution to 720P). In the new video I made (embedded below) by combining two clips in WMM, you simply cannot read the menu text (and it only lets me slide resolution up to 480p).

I have to mention that the WMM Live version drove me a little nuts because they’ve changed it quite a bit from the Op System included version that I’ve been used to, but I did like the “Auto Movie” feature and the easy upload to YouTube. Nevertheless, the loss of video quality in contrast to the original clip is unacceptable (I also lost the audio along the way, as I struggled with the Movie Maker Live interface). Am I just doing something wrong, or is this video resolution problem inherent in the application?

What Next?
I did some searching for information about this type of problem on the Internet, poked around in various help screens from NCH Software and Microsoft, and tried a few different things but got nowhere fast. If any readers know of any tips or techniques that will allow me to use Debut and/or Movie Maker without suffering this loss of quality, please comment and pass them on.

The next logical step was to search for some alternative free video editing software. This lead me to the Aiseesoft MP4 Video Converter, which promised to let me trim and combine video clips, which it did. I still ended up with the same resolution issue though! I have a list of other free video editing apps to check out as well, starting with the many tools listed in this great post I found, so it looks like that’s the next step in this process. I sure hope I don’t keep hitting up against the same resolution issue. If anyone wants to suggest their favorite free video editing tool, that hopefully won’t result in this kind of loss of resolution, I’d love to hear about it (as long as resulting presentations can be saved as stand alone files, as opposed to only being publishable on a proprietary web site).

I do realize that I might have to just cough up the cash and go with Camtasia or a Pro version of one of these other apps to get the functionality I need. If that is the case I can live with it, but first I will spend a little more time taking a shot at what can be done from the frugal perspective (and learn plenty along the way).

Related post(s) (if the above topic is of interest, you might wish to check out …):
Screencasting with Debut’s Lite Version
Comparing 12 Free Screencasting Tools
Creating brief instructional videos (and more) with Jing

Using Internet story telling tools in education


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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