understandable linux tips, tricks and tutorials

Yesterday, my kids were making a home movie to send to my mother in law. They’d made up some songs, which I’d recorded and were shooting the video to go with them. I suggested that they should edit the video in iMovie on my macbook pro. I figured that they should be able to cope fine with it – they’ve used macs at school to edit video and together with the “legendary” ease of use and “just works” approach of Apple software, it should be no problem. Sadly, they never got to try.

The camera I use is a Canon HG20. It has an inbuilt hard drive and records video in the AVCHD format. This is an HD video format for consumer grade cameras and is used widely in mainstream cameras by the main camera makers. I have the latest version of iMovie ’11, which claims to have support for the AVCHD format. However, apparently, this support is limited and selective. Unfortunately, I have a camera that produces unsupported files. After trying to import the files into iMovie, iMovie simply says there has been an error importing the files, and would I like to make an archive of the files – very helpful. According to the Apple site, the HG20 is supported by iMovie – they refer to a few limitations with this camera, but these relate to playback, not import.

tux vs imovieSo linux to the rescue. I do all my video editing in kdenlive, so the attempt at using iMovie was a bit of an experiment. With linux, I just connect my camera, and add the .MTS files to the project. From there, they can be dragged on to the time line and away you go. No fuss, no convoluted import process which does a conversion of the file to an intermediate codec causing a loss of quality.

What this demonstrates to me is the benefit that Linux has derived from using a modular software stack where it can. kdenlive can read and edit AVCHD files because ffmpeg can read them and the MLT framework integrates with ffmpeg to decode and encode video files. This allows kdenlive to simply use the raw .MTS files direct from the camera as a USB mass storage device. This simplicity means it is reliable and robust. There is no proprietary import process, resulting in the kind of frustration I suffered with iMovie.

17 Comments
  1. Yes, one example certainly proves which is better. You got the Apple people there. That one case is a perfect example for the whole world, yessiree!

    I retired a few years ago, at 45, from my own software company, based on my custom software, written entirely by me. That I was able to do so at 45 I think makes the point that I know a little something about software. The entire system was based on Debian Linux.

    Before that, I was a professional videographer, which included editing and I am now starting a new film production company based on digital video that will be producing dramatic productions based on my scripts. In short, I know quite a bit about video as well.

    I deeply wanted to ru my entire video business on FOSS, but the more I looked into it, the more I realized that if my intent was to foster creativity in video work, to make it easy for me and others I worked with to do our jobs, and to make the focus for the paid employees to create video instead of fscking around with setting up batch scripts to import this codec or convert to that codec with as little loss of quality as possible, there was just no way I could do that on Linux.

    I watched the progress of video and DV editing on Linux for a decade, while I was working on my software business, just hoping that by the time I was ready to produce video, there would be enough solid video software that included extras like a variety of transitions and even the standard video effects (lumina or chroma, or even a good character generator) that would work on Linux.

    There are a number of points wrong with your comparison:

    1) You’re basing a comparison on why one system is better than the other based on your experience with ONE camera and only that camera.

    2) As a consumer, you may have heard of “caveat emptor.” You either know it or should Google it and study the meaning. That means CHECK THE REVIEWS of cameras before you buy. I use a Canon HD camcorder for non-professional work, like recording my ballroom dance showcase routines. I’ve never had a problem with it and iMovie (which I use for quick and dirty editing when all I have to do is lop of the messy stuff at the start and end).

    3) Any system will meet with exceptions. That’s part of life. Sometimes this camera may have a few quirks and may not work with a particular system for a while, other times another camera may not work. So no system will work every time.

    4) I have a friend, another ballroom dancer, and we exchange cameras sometimes when he wants me to take his routines and put them on DVD. He has an HG20 and I have no problem with it on iMovie. I don’t know why you do.

    5) While Linux has made advancements in video, and in HD video, there are still a lot of compatibility issues with it. True, ONE camera worked for you, on Linux and didn’t work on iMovie, but one data point does not set any pattern.

    6) My experience is that iMovie has no issue with me popping a SDRAM card out of one of my camcorders and putting it in my el-cheapo card reader and immediately recognizing the files as representing a camcorder and importing all the files. So what you describe as a benefit in Linux for how ffmpeg works is not that different than how an iMac and read camcorders and movies as well.

    I’ll admit, while I can use the built-in drive on my Canon, I never do. I can’t imagine putting video on a device where I can’t pop out the media and use it somewhere else. I have friends that do, but I’ve seen cameras go bad and have yet to lose video from RAM media. (And I can easily keep different cards separate for different projects.)

    As I said, I watched DV on Linux for a decade or more, and watched it go from non-existant to horrid to almost passable, but for professional work, as much as I love Linux, I still would not dream of doing any DV work on there.

    The sole reason I purchased any Mac devices at all was because I can do so much more with video on them than I can on Linux. And that’s not a judgement based on one data point, it’s based on a professional background in both video editing and programming, as well as years of watching and experimenting with DV on Linux and finally having to spend months and months making a tough decision for a new business.

    Some of these issues are not as simple as whether this or that camera works properly.

    • Thanks for your comment. Given I was making a comparison with iMovie, I thought it would be obvious that I was focussing on consumer level video editing rather than professional video production. I understand your point about one data point. However, if your read around the internet (as I have looking for a solution to my issue) there is a litany of problems with importing AVCHD into iMovie. My data point may be only one, and the only one I can talk about, but there are many many more data points out there.

      As suggested by you, I did research my camera, and it is supported. I also moved the files onto separate media without luck. But again, that is my point. Why does it have to treat it as a camera? Why can’t it see files and use them. Why does it have to go through this “import” process based on a particular camera type? A file is a file is a file, isn’t it?

  2. Sooooooooo, with Apple you have to look around and make sure the things you want to work together DO work together?

    I thought that was the perennial problem for Linux users.

    To be generous to Hal, he is talking about making money out of something and wanting particular features regardless of the politics of the issue because of that.

    That’s okay.

    For those who want to make a home movie (me!) and do it with ease (me!) I’d have to say that I’m not willing to spend a considerable amount of money buying a particular piece of locked down hardware (Apple) from a company that is really only providing a licence (Apple) so that I can buy MORE software (Apple) to run on the hardware (I don’t accept the ‘it comes with it’ argument – you had to buy BOTH the hardware and software).

    I would say that the implicit elements of your article are good ones: you can edit video very well in Linux. I do. You can make fantastic videos with effects etc in Linux – I do. You don’t have to be locked-in to Apple or MS to do these things – I’m not.


  3. Hal Vaughan:

    Yes, one example certainly proves which is better. You got the Apple people there.

    @Hal – seems to me you spend as much time trying to convince yourself of how professional you are at video production and of how correct you are for buying Macs as you would writing those bash scripts that you hate so much.

    You probably don’t even realize it, but you just wrote a research paper on what it’s like to be an Apple fanboy.

  4. Interestingly for professional video there are a nu,ber of products on Linux which are used solely by studios to do video work in their preferred platform (Linux).

    Granted there has been a gap in the consumer video editing range in Linux up until a couple of years ago but there are many capable video editors now.

    Above that range the best tools in the industry are Linux based so I found the comments above a little laughable.

  5. @Hal
    It is fine that you are happy with your Mac but don’t try to make out that Linux isn’t professional enough as Weta Studios make extensive use of it.and you must have seen some of their work.

  6. Linux is the dominant software technology in feature film animation and visual effects, used in practically every blockbuster movie in theaters today.
    http://links.vfxy.com/detail/11006/linuxmovies-org.html

    here is another Links proving the point Linux runs the movie industry
    http://public.kitware.com/OpenSourceSoftwarePractice/index.php/Open_Source_in_Use/Film_Industry

  7. Actually, all, I wasn’t so much doing the Apple fanboy thing as countering the Linux fanboy thing here. But I know how it goes — when you’re a fanboy, you follow the doctrine of insufficient adulation — whether it’s Apple, Linux, Windows, or anything else.

    As for Weta, yes, that’s what they use, but that’s also highly customized and out of the ballpark for almost any individual user, pro or amateur and more for large corporate users.

  8. Two high-end non-linear video editors are mad by IFX for Linux:
    Piranha ( http://ifxsoftware.com/products/piranha );
    and Ant ( http://ifxsoftware.com/ant ).

    Piranha pretty much blows out of the water anything that you can run on Mac or Windows. Ant is still high-end and better than Final Cut Pro and Avid, but more affordable for smaller production companies.

  9. Of course, it only takes one broken example such as this to show that imovie’s ‘legendary ease of use’ is simply a façade. It doesn’t matter how many people find it otherwise.

    Not that kdenlive looks like magic I have to say, it has one of those ‘functional but flairless’ GUI’s that seems reminiscent of microsoft windows software of the 90′s.

    But I guess the most important point: In the imovie case, where is the bugzilla you can send the bug report to? The biggest problem with proprietary software in general is that even as a paying customer you have no support at all from the vendor and no avenue for addressing it yourself.

  10. Well linux is cool and Apple sucks in so many ways I couldn’t list them here. Apple products are just too constraining in general and anytime linux shines–let it shine!

    Got me to install Kdenlive! I’ll try it.

  11. I am an avid Linux user but I do concede that movie editing in Linux is not nearly as good as it is on Windows or OS X. I understand that any extreme fanboi will only see things one way.

    I’ve used Kdenlive since it was at a 0.4 beta release. iMovie really has the ease of use down pat compared to Kdenlive, though it is catching up. I mean ease of use when it comes to quickly getting a video put together without a lot of the mucking about with transitions. It is just drag and drop, Kdenlive is not as smooth. Also, the transitions on iMovie are far more elegant than what is provided with Kdenlive. i

    Movie is also much more simple while Kdenlive exposes more of the technical data. I’ve shown Kdenlive to my less than tech savvy family and they completely ignored it. Then they used iMovie and loved it. There is something about making simple assumptions that the average person seems to enjoy.

    There is also a lack of quality content in the Linux video editing world. The stock iMovie themes can be fun to use and really fit into some situations. Yes, they are cheesy but they are also present, more than can be said for Kdenlive.

    I understand the issues of trying to use unsupported files on OS X, it is really difficult. As michael said, it is really unfortunate that Apple won’t listen to you, even if you “provide feedback”, which is their version of bugzilla. It is like a complaint filed into a large black hole, kind of like the Ubuntu bugs.

    I really do like Kdenlive. Of all the open source video editors on Linux I think it has the most potential to be something great with a small learning curve.

  12. ***I am an avid Linux user but I do concede that movie editing in Linux is not nearly as good as it is on Windows or OS X.***

    Not true.

    Please follow the links in post #9 above. Piranha runs only on Linux, and it is used by the big studios and high-end post houses. It’s far more advanced than anything offered on OSX or Windows. It costs about $250,000, and, when you buy it, a team of technicians comes to your bay to install it, along with a special hardware console.

    Ant has many of the advanced features of Piranha, but it is just software and is more affordable.

  13. Hal here is spot on. I am a native linux fanboy since 1998 and also monitored this issue for a decade (remember “crow” ?).
    The pros in the upper league do have their super expensive linux apps, but the enthusiast has no other choice than NextSt… um i mean Mac OS X if he wants a unixy editing environment.
    The problem is: Linux hackers and video professionals are two very different kinds of people. And the problem with most linux NLEs is that the devs try to implement all kinds of cheesy transistions before they even have proper media handling or fluid playback. Forget transitions – ever seen as “transition” in a movie you liked?
    BTW, the future is red. And there is a linux SDK for redcode. It’s not open, which is a pity, but would be very possible to do. Who knows. I would gladly sell my mac and return to purity.

  14. Topic’s title ‘Linux vs imovie’ is very narrowminded.
    Kdenlive runs on BSD’s, Open{Solaris,Indiana} none of which are Linux obviously.

  15. @xyz

    Have you used Piranha? Did you pay the money for it? Would a home user really need to shell out a quarter million just to edit videos?

    I’m not saying there isn’t great video software for Linux out there. Autodesk Smoke is also a very high end video manipulation software available for Linux.

    What I was saying is that for the average home user, OS X has Linux beat. I would rather shell out a few thousand for an overpriced, highly marketed, piece of hardware that happens to come with some decent video editing software than a quarter million just to edit home videos on Linux.

  16. @ Frank

    ‘What I was saying is that for the average home user, OS X has Linux beat. I would rather shell out a few thousand for an overpriced, highly marketed, piece of hardware that happens to come with some decent video editing software than a quarter million just to edit home videos on Linux.’

    or

    Use the Open Source version which will get the job done and then contribute what you can to improve it based on your experiences, be it bug hunting, programming, document writing etc.

    Personally, as a programmer I know that user interfaces, interaction and documentation are the last thing that gets considered in most cases.
    That’s somebody else’s problem ;)

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