What is the Difference Between Consumer Video Editing Software and 'Real' NLEs (Non Linear Editing)?

What is the difference between consumer video editing software and 'real' NLEs (Non Linear Editing)?

Inexpensive Consumer Video Editing programs like Pinnacle Studio, Adobe Premiere Elements, Sony Vegas Movie Studio, Apple iMovie, Windows MovieMaker are easy and fun to use. In fact, I think they are pretty amazing. While these products can be purchased for less then one hundred dollars they deliver a level of performance and features that would have cost 10 times as much just 5 years ago! While these products allow you to edit your video, create slideshows, author DVDs and export them to the web, the actual features are limited and if you want to do some serious vide editing, you will find you can outgrow them pretty quickly.

Consumer video editing products have trouble with long format productions. One of the biggest complaints we hear from consumer video editing software is that after 15 or 30 minutes the video editing become sluggish and the software can become erratic. Go even longer and more issues come up - the audio starts to become out of sync; the playback jitters; or worst of all the video and then the app just freezes up.

Advanced NLE'sAdvanced NLEs will all deliver perfect playback, regardless of the length and complexity of your production. If you are editing HD footage some formats and settings may require rendering before they will playback in full speed, but you will be able to adjust your playback settings in order to achieve a level of real-time that meets your needs. Most importantly they are extremely stable and reliable.

If you are running into any playback issues with an advanced NLE it is probably caused by data throughput bottlenecks in your computer. We have several articles on our website which can help you tweak and optimize your computer for NLE. If you take the time to optimize your computer for editing, you will find that you can edit for hours and hours without any crashes or performance issues.

Why do I want to invest in a "real" NLE for Video Editing?

Buying an advanced NLE like Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas, Grass Valley Edius, or Avid Media Composer will not give you better video quality or make editing easier; what they will give you is a far more powerful set of tools that will allow you to be more creative and produce video content that is better and more entertaining to watch. The reason to buy one of these more expensive advanced editing programs is simple: to be able to tell your story better. That's what the heart of video editing is, taking a collection of media – video clips, audio, images and graphics - then putting them together to tell a story. The longer the story you want to tell, the more important it is to use more sophisticated tools to keep your audiences attention.

Once you decide to graduate from point and shoot productions and simple slide shows into storytelling you will want the right tools for the job. In this article we will go into some of the most important tools found in our advanced NLEs and their superior workflow.

Apple Final Cut Pro 6 Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 Grass Valley EDIUS v5 Avid Media Composer 3.5 Sony Vegas Pro 9

What exactly is workflow?

It's the steps and processes you must go through to create your video. From capture, to organizing and selecting your clips, to trimming & editing them, then adding your titles, transitions and effects and finally outputting your finished timeline. Consumer video editing software products are designed to be simple and easy to use, often limiting what you can do, or forcing you do things the way they want you to. This limits your creativity and ultimately results in videos that simply are not as good as those you can produce with a 'real' NLE. Advanced NLEs are far more powerful and feature rich. They are also more flexible and allow you to be more creative. (Note: You'll have to spend a little time learning how to use these NLEs, but we have excellent training DVDs available and, in the end, you will find it was well worth it.)

What is real-time workflow?

Real-Time workflow means that you can play your video directly from the timeline and watch it. You don't have to wait for transitions, FX, filters or other stuff to render. When you change something on the timeline you can immediately play it back and watch the results.

There are different types of real-time performance with different quality levels. While you will get some level of real-time results with consumer level video editing packages, you will also find that when you want more complex productions with more layers of video and sophisticated effects, you need more advanced video editing solution. Our 'real' NLEs deliver fantastic workflows even when you go crazy with filters and effects.

With HD footage you will find that consumer video editors real-time capabilities breakdown and their performance can become so sluggish you can't effectively edit anymore. Even a little change brings your workflow to a standstill. 'Real" NLEs don't just allow you to edit HD footage, they deliver HD workflows that make working with HD easier and better.

What are the various "flavors" of Real-Time?

  1. Real-Time VGA Preview
    Real Time VGA previews are nice, it allows you to watch your video while you are editing on your computer screen. You can playback your timeline on the computer screen, but when it comes time to output, you have to render. With DV footage and today's incredibly powerful computers and graphics cards even consumer video editing software can deliver full speed, full resolution previews on your computer monitor.

    When you try to edit HD footage this isn't always the case with consumer video editing software. While these products will work with some HD formats, you can expect clunky playback and sluggish performance. They simply don't have the power needed to handle HD footage efficiently. So you end up compromising and stifling your creativity. The final video output will be HD, but you may end up pulling your hair out in the process.
  2. Real-Time DV/FireWire Output
    This means that you can go directly from the timeline via FireWire back to your camcorder or to an inexpensive converter box, then to your TV. Most consumer video editing packages give you some level of real-time output, but it will scale down and some frames will be dropped during playback. You have to render your timeline before you can record out to DV.

    If you are editing HD you will not get real-time HD output from the timeline via the DV/FireWire port.
  3. Real-Time HD Playback
    NLEs allow you to playback your HD footage full screen on your computer screen. Depending on the complexity of your HD production and the power of your computer this may be full resolution and full speed, or it may not. You can control the playback settings or allow the NLE to do it for you. If you use two screens you can select to have the video play on one monitor while you work on the other.

    Advanced NLE'sFor real-time output from the timeline to an HDTV you need additional hardware. Consumer level NLEs do not have the ability to tie in with hardware and deliver HD output from the timeline. This hardware can be expensive, depending on the kind of output you require and if the hardware is providing any additional acceleration. Videoguys offers NLE hardware from Matrox, Aja, Grass Valley and others. Whenever possible Videoguys will offer you extra value by bundling the NLE software with the hardware. With the introduction of the Matrox MXO2 Mini at under $500, HD preview is now more affordable then ever!.

Multiple layers of video

Consumer video editing packages allow you to have at most 2 tracks of video and a graphic. While this may seem like a lot, they also limit how you can use them. This can become very frustrating and severely limits your creativity.

We use the term layers as a way of measuring the overall power of an NLE. Each track of video, audio, graphics and titles is considered a layer. So as an example - if you have a base video image with a Picture-In-Picture (PIP) video in the corner we call it 2 video layers. Add in a rolling title and a semi-transparent graphic in the lower right hand corner (we call this a bug) and you have 2 video layers and 2 graphic layers for 4 total layers.

With a 'real' NLE you can work with multiple layers of footage and take full control of every layer. Here are just a few of the tools that advanced NLEs have to add multiple layers of video to your production:

  • Picture-In-Picture effects are when you take one video image and have it appear over a background video. On your local news this is when the picture of the ball game appears in a box over the shoulder of the sportscaster. With advanced NLEs you'll be able to have multiple PIPs flying on and off the screen.
  • chroma_big.jpgChromakey is when you use a green or blue screen to superimpose one video over another. If you watch the news, then you have seen the weatherman effect. Years ago this effect was very expensive and tricky to do. Not anymore! All of our advanced have Chromakey capability.
  • 3D transitions with 2 or more video tracks bending and blending into each other. You can also use these tools for creating complex title sequences that mix video, graphics and text together.

Multiple layers of HD

Even more important our advanced NLEs can handle multiple layers of HD footage very efficiently. We call this efficiency your workflow. Consumer video editing programs have a very limited workflow. Our advanced video editing programs deliver outstanding HD workflows. Not every NLE works as well with every flavor of HD, but if you are shooting HD footage and you want to deliver videos that deliver a story as great as the video images, you ned to step up to one of our 'real' NLEs.

Lets talk more about some of the tools that our advanced NLEs deliver that allow you to set your creativity free. Page peels, Picture-in-picture FX that fly all over the screen and animated transitions that have one layer of video folding over/into another are just a few examples of 3D FX. While having access to these FX is very cool, it is very important to have the proper tools to control them. The tool that allows you to control the speed, position and motion path of your 3D effect over time is called a key framer. If you have ever worked with a 3D or compositing program like Boris FX or Adobe After Effects then you already know what a key framer is. While I think most digital videographers have heard of key framing, you may not be quite sure what exactly it is or how it works.

What is Key framing?

Key framing allows you to customize a transition or effect over time. You can go to any single frame in the transition and change some of the settings. As an example, let's say we have a Picture In Picture (PIP) effect. Video 1 flies in from the upper left hand corner of the screen then fills the entire screen. With the key framer I could make the PIP fly in & bounce on the screen, or stop in the upper left hand corner at ¼ size, stay there for a while, then simply shrink away. By being able to manipulate how the FX will happen over time, I get complete and total control of my FX and transitions. The best key framers allow you to add and control drop shadows, outlines and the edge softness of your FX.

Key frame

By now, I'm sure you would agree with me that key framing is very cool. Most consumer video editing programs have very limited key framing capabilities, if at all. When you use the key framing capabilities of an NLE to customize your FX you can preview and tweak the effect to make sure it looks perfect, without having to wait for previews to render and then having to make changes and render again.

Now that we understand basic key framing, lets push it a little further. I love 3D FX and transitions. To me, this is the kind of stuff that makes my viewers go "WOW!" and leaves really lasting impressions. Note: 3D FX don't belong in every type of video and you can easily go too far with these FX and have them become a distraction. Whenever you use 3D FX, try to make them "fit" in with the content and video content and the flow of the production.

OK, now that we've cleared that up, back to the subject at hand. Let's talk about key framing a 3D transition like a page curl. Say you want the page to not only curl, but to shrink and then flutter off the screen like a sheet of paper caught in a strong breeze. With the Real-Time 3D key framing capabilities of an NLE not only is this simple and easy to do, but you get complete control over the entire effect without ever having to render it. Even more important the key framing interface allows you to grab the 3D FX with your mouse and move it, resize it or twist it around for each key frame point. The key frame is then set and the 3D FX engine automatically displays the entire full motion 3D effect INSTANTLY! Real-Time key framing of 3D FX is the most important productivity tool I have ever used for NLE. Once you get your hands on an NLE with Real-Time key framing you'll never be able to go back to the limited 3D FX in consumer video editing programs.

Color Correction'Real' Color Correction?

You may own and shot with a fantastic new HD camcorder, but lets face it, you're not a professional videographer. I know I'm not. I'm constantly running into improper lighting and color shifts in my videos. How many times do you catch the greatest moment on video, only to find out that the white balance was off and the faces look red or even worse – green!?! Or you pan by an open window or bright light and then discover that the next 5 or 10 minutes of video is too dark to use? Don't feel bad, it happens to the best videographers. Ideally we would always be able to shoot with perfect lighting. In reality you have little or no control over the lighting on most of your shoots.

Unfortunately I can't go back and re-shoot my baby's first steps, my son hitting a homerun or my daughter's dance recital. Same thing goes for my vacation videos and event videos. I had one chance to catch them and all too often, I didn't do a great job.

NLE color correction saves the day!!

Today, just like the Hollywood studios, you can "Fix it in post". This means I can use my video editing software to color correct the shots and take what was once bad footage and make it look OK. Actually sometimes you can even make it look great!

Today all of our NLEs have sophisticated color correction capabilities. More then you will ever think you need or want. NLEs include professional color correction tools like vector scopes, histograms and color wheels. When you use the color correction tools you can see the results instantly. Even more important you can fine tune and adjust it as you go. And you don't have to waste any time waiting for it to render.

Most color problems are caused by improper white balance. Many NLEs include auto white balancing which is simple to use and delivers outstanding results. You select a small section of the video image that you feel should be white. The software analyzes it and applies the proper correction settings to make it pure white. These settings are now applied automatically to the entire clip – all in real-time. You can then go in and tweak it if necessary. I use this tool all the time and I LOVE IT!!

Not only can you use color correction to fix bad footage, you can use it to enhance the mood and look of your production. Make a scene you shot outside during the day look like dusk or dawn; adjust the colors to make a scene feel warm and romantic; or enhance the colors to make your action footage pop. NLEs allow you to do this but as you can imagine it can get pretty complicated. Fortunately NLEs allow you to add plug-ins like Magic Bullet that make this much easier and even more powerful.

Advanced Speed Controls?

One of the tools I find that videographers on all levels like to use is the speed control. Consumer Video Editors now include this capability, but they only allow you to choose from a small list of preset speeds. You'll also find that while they allow you to adjust the speed of the video, it doesn't always result in footage you can use. This is OK for adding slow motion to your kid's game winning soccer goal, but what if it doesn't look right and you want more control?

Unfortunately what you will find when you experiment with the speed of your video is that sometimes the speed setting you like doesn't result in the best video quality. Most consumer video editing speed control features are frame based and as a result the video quality can become degraded. This resulted in less than smooth slow motion playback and forces you into the "Rule of Thirds" - Speed settings of 33% or 66% looked much better then any other choices. This can be really frustrating when you just can't get the look you want to look good.

Advanced NLEs offer several different algorithms to ensure that your footage always looks great! You can use frame based speed controls that will allow you to playback your footage instantly at the new speed. They also have field based real-time speed controls, which deliver far superior video quality.

Advanced NLEs allow you to choose any speed you want and even more important you can key frame the speed to adjust it over the duration of your clip. You see variable speeds applied to action shots on TV all the time – especially X-game sports like motor cross, snow/skate boarding etc. I know many event videographers who use the speed control to give a dreamy quality to weddings. It is one of the easiest things to add to your video and it can have a BIG impact. In the past, each time you changed the speed of your video, you had to render. This could put a serious dent in your creativity, especially if you wanted to experiment with different speed settings.


If you shoot with multiple camcorders then the multicam feature integrated into all our advanced NLEs will save you countless hours editing. Multicam allows you to sync and then roll all your cameras together. You preview them all in real-time, selecting which camera you want as you go. The clips are added to the timeline automatically as you cut from camera to camera. When you are done you can then go back and make any changes you want, add transitions between your shots and start editing.

Superior encoding

One of the biggest complaints we hear about low cost consumer video editors is that the video looks great while you are editing, but the DVDs you created don't look good or the video you encoded for the web just won't cut it. The problem isn't that the encoders in them are bad, it's that you don't have enough options to tweak them for the best possible output. Advanced NLEs come with very sophisticated encoding engines that let you dive in and tweak their settings for optimized output. This is especially important when you are using HD footage and need to create a finished video in multiple formats and resolutions.

Videoguys DIY7 Intel Core i7What kind of computer do I really need for a 'Real' NLE?

This is a great question. With today's NLE solutions the more power you give them, the better the results. Unfortunately many of our vendors will list a minimum system spec that we feel is not adequate. While you will have enough horse power to make them run, you may not get the full advertised performance and you will end up disappointed. This is why we have chosen to post our own minimum recommended system for the latest new NLEs. We are confident that if you follow our guidelines you will be very happy with your new NLE purchase.

Why is editing with a 'real' NLE so important?

  1. Real-Time Productivity
    The reason you want a 'real' NLE is for productivity. If you do not have to spend any time rendering, then you can get more work done in a given amount of time. This is the obvious advantage of real-time editing. What is not so obvious is how this increased productivity can make you a better, more creative editor.
  2. Over the shoulder
    Over the shoulder editing is a term used by professional editors to describe the situation when the producer / client is in the room. When the guy who writes the checks is looking over your shoulder while you make changes or add some new stuff, the last thing you both want to do is stare at the hourglass on the VGA screen. What is less obvious is how many times even a home videographer is in an over the shoulder situation. Once you get into this, you are going to be showing off your work all the time. Many times the people you are showing your stuff to will have a good idea or suggestion. With an NLE you can implement these ideas instantly. You can also take advantage of asking someone which way they like a certain sequence better. This is very important if you plan on doing any wedding or event videos. You need to make sure you give your customer what he wants quickly and easily. With an NLE, you can create and edit on the fly, so if anyone is watching, he is seeing you in action, not killing time while the computer renders.
  3. Just messing' around
    Another creativity bonus of using an NLE is actually a combination of the first two. With a "real" NLE, if you or an associate or a client can come up with a clever idea for a video, you can sit down and play with the concept in real-time. Tweaking here, adjusting there, playing with settings, etc. You can immediately view the results of your 'messin' around' in full screen on your computer monitor. You don't have to waste time rendering, you can fully use the time you have for your creativity. If it's just 15 minutes or half the night, it doesn't matter because every second was spent editing and being creative!!


Cs4EdiusFcs3Final cut proHdHdvMc4Media composerNlePremiere proVegas

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published