I followed the hype: Reddit, Slashdot’s front page, months of thumbs up on my blog and various video forums by Linux users for OpenShot. Given that I’m longing for a usable Linux video editor since 2003, and given that OpenShot version 1.0 had just been released, I naturally gave it a go, by also downloading its provided dependencies on my Ubuntu Linux 9.10.
The provided .deb files installed without a hitch. When I loaded the app, I was provided with a pretty traditional and easy to understand video editing playground: files, transitions, effects on one side, a preview window on the right, and the timeline on the bottom with tools such as “cutting”. Easy to gasp, and very easy to use.
Right-clicking on the clips in the timeline will load a dialog where you can control speed, plugins, and more. Transitions are working properly if you put the clips on different tracks, but they didn’t do what I needed when I overlapped two clips and placed a transition on top. Additionally, the “Video Preview” tab, the preview and timeline toolbar icons, and the “Timeline – Sequence 1” tabs take way too much space. On an XGA monitor, the preview screen gets reduced to a stamp-size video, while PiTiVi fairs way better in that department. The developer of OpenShot must optimize his interface to not take unnecessary space.
Another gripe is the fact that you can’t set the aspect ratio of your footage and de-interlacing project-wide. There are a number of templates, but the project properties and exporting dialog don’t offer enough flexibility. There’s also a bug in the AppleTV exporting dialog where it exports at 720/30p, while the AppleTV can’t do more than 720/24p.
Except “blur”, “brightness”, “deinterlace”, “gamma”, and “white balance”, most of the rest of the effects are not very useful. Just like any other Linux video editor out there it’s using the frei0r third party plugin system, which are basic, and buggy. Additionally, speaking for me, the real value of post-processing footage is in color grading, not in these silly and super-cliche spiral transitions that are so ’80s. Where are the 3-way color correctors, contrast, color isolation, etc?
Additionally, some more advanced features, like keyframes, are architected in a non-useful way. Instead of being able to use keyframes within a clip, we can only use them at beginning or end, and they won’t work with plugins, but only with position of the clip in the preview plane. Similarly, the “slicing” options, which automatically cuts into pieces a clip in the timeline, is missing the point: it doesn’t scale, usability-wise.
I tried every possible format out there: XViD, MKV, h.264 in MP4/MOV/MTS, .m2ts, m2t, mjpeg AVI/MOV, OGV etc. The application and its custom ffmpeg it used was able to load all file formats I threw at it, but it was super slow. Previewing speed while on the media bin was as expected, but when dragged in the timeline I couldn’t find a single instance where the video would preview smoothly. Even a 320×176 OGV file was bleeding framerate. In addition, I was able to reproducibly crash the application using a WMV VGA video, and a 720/30p MJPEG AVI from the latest Olympus dSLR.
In addition to terrible video performance, there was the audio that was misbehaving: there was audio crackling during ALL videos. And when I imported just a single mp3 file, there was still major crackling.
I’m afraid that doing actual work with that editor is out of the question: I’d get about one lockup every minute! Application freeze after freeze. Previewing videos either in the timeline or not it would lock up the app quite easily, and in some case it locked up my whole X11 (had to kill X). At one instance I even locked up the app by trying to open my Desktop folder to load a .mov file (a file that earlier did work with the app). Previewing, adding clips, adding plugins or transitions, all eventually resulted in either freezing or crashing (and no, there’s nothing wrong with my PC or Ubuntu installation). Freezing in particular was so common, that I’m unable to write a more traditional review where the process follows a specific editing workflow — simply because editing anything serious was not really feasible. And when I tried to just export a small clip, it exported out the file (Vimeo HD template), but the app crashed right on the last step so the produced file was not really playable.
Overall, I have to say that this is the most problematic application I have encountered in the last 3-4 years. This is not an 1.0 application. It’s not even beta. It’s alpha quality — at best. It is infinitely more unstable than either KDEnLive or PiTiVi (editors that don’t fair well either, but they’re like bright stars compared to OpenShot).
I’m not trying to trash 1.5 years of work for the main developer. I’m sure it was hard work, and I know he’s a cool guy in the few times we have corresponded during the past year. Plus, I know very well how hard it is to write a video editor that actually works as expected (hint: more complex than developing something like Firefox). But calling this 1.0 is such an unimaginable stretch that makes me want to pull my hair out. Sure, you can argue all you want that “1.0” is just an arbitrary number, but when this release is so over-hyped and drives consumers to use this application, then I have a problem with the situation. As for those who will say “well, try it on another Linux distro”, my answer is “no”. Ubuntu 9.10 is very popular, and these packages should have been tested thoroughly before they were released for general consumption.
I hope the developer can find the mental strength to download A LOT of footage from many different cameras and formats, and start testing, testing, testing. Forget about new features for a YEAR. Just test and optimize the darn thing like there’s no tomorrow. And then call it 1.0.1.