Video editing WTF

So once in a while, say every half a year, I have the need to do some very simple video editing. So every half a year I try various video editing software using GNOME technologies to see if any of them can actually do anything close to trivial video editing (you can already guess the conclusion at the end of this post, no they can’t). This time I had a very simple problem. I just finished making a little screencast of the new version of gitg (which will be actually quite cool, more on that later). So after I went to to find again what the shortcut was for the builtin GNOME shell screen recorder, I pressed Ctrl+Shift+Alt+R and happily recorded my desktop. So far so good, but I have a dual monitor and it recorded the full desktop. Ok that’s fine, so I will just launch the latest stable version of some video editor and crop my movie (I’m on Ubuntu precise, and that should be recent enough for any decent video editor).

You can’t argue that this is not just the simplest task to be accomplished. I thought I could do this:

  1. Launch video editor
  2. Import clip
  3. Crop movie by selecting a rectangle with the mouse
  4. Save/export/encode movie

Guess what, I was wrong! You can’t actually do that! I’ve tried Pitivi, Openshot, Kdenlive and Novacut. So lets have the verdict:


The first thing I tried was Pitivi. It’s always in my mind as the video editor that has the most potential. It uses all these cool technologies like gstreamer. Lets for a moment forget it doesn’t actually use gtk+3 and that the UI doesn’t look very polished (to me).

  1. Launch video editor
    This step when fine. I launched it and there it was, new empty project. Perfect!
  2. Import clip
    This also went perfectly fine. At this point I’m already very happy, it can import my clip. Many editors I tried before didn’t actually manage this step. Euphoria!
  3. Crop movie
    Ai! No can do mister! Of course I tried the  obvious thing. There is this Clip configuration panel, a bit weirdly located in the UI. You know, the standard size of the clip is 0.5 x 0.5, whatever that means. Then I can scale and position the movie with the mouse, but not crop it. There are actually 4 cropping controls, but you know, you have to enter the pixels to crop (and I don’t know that, I just made some random screencast). Also, very nice indeed, try to edit a number in those crop fields and press ‘Delete’ to delete a character. Oops! There goes your clip! Completely deleted. Even if I manage to crop the clip, I still need to manually resize the output size of the movie still (since I’m just modifying the clip). So no, Pitivi fail!



I’m not really sure what openshot tries to be exactly, it reminds me of shotwell (is that from the same people). So I tried it and lets see:

  1. Launch video editor
    Woo, just works!
  2. Import clip
    Oops! No can do! It failed to import my clip and it hang the whole application. Besides this, why is the UI so glossy, I feel like I’m using KDE from a few years back, yegh! Openshot fail!



I’ve used kdenlive before. It kinda worked and I did have a much better experience in terms of stability and that I could actually add some text overlay on my movie (which other editors can’t do, because that’s very difficult stuff to do). Of couse I don’t particularly enjoy using a KDE application, mostly because I’m not used to it. Lets see what I managed to do:

  1. Launch video editor
    Almost worked! The first time I launched it I got this dialog to follow some guided tour/wizard thingie. I was already quite puzzled by looking at the kdenlive logo, because it’s kind of like a film strip kite, but it casts a shadow like it’s a ball. Can’t compute that! Then I wanted just to skip the wizard, but the only buttons that were there are Next and Cancel. So since I didn’t want to do the wizard, I pressed Cancel. And of course, it quits the whole application! That seems like the right thing to do, I launched the application just to cancel it before it opens. So I launch it again and this time I click through the dialog and I’m in!
  2. Import clip
    This mostly works fine. It pops up an error dialog that my clip is somehow not compatible with any output profile, but I chose to ignore this because I can.
  3. Crop movie
    So I’m there and want to crop my movie. I added the Crop effect which was not too difficult to find, but then I got the same shit again. I have to input pixels, and it’s the weirdest thing. The entry box in kdenlive for this actually has ‘0pixels’ literally in it. So presumably I could type ‘2centimeter’ also, but who wants to do that? Never heard of a dropdown box? We are already on my 5th WTF moment of the day, and I’m only just getting started! So kdenlive, fail!



I’ve been trying to follow a bit the development of Novacut, meaning reading some blog posts and the occasional screencast. It seems to me like an interesting project with potential although there is the clear lack of a usable application even after some years of development now (as far as I know). In any case, lets give it a try.

  1. Launch video editor
    Fail! Oops. I should have actually added one bullet point before the launching phase, which is the Installing phase, because Novacut doesn’t actually install! I simply tried adding the Precise PPA for Novacut and installing it with apt-get. Turns out that dmedia doesn’t install correctly, failing to write into /home/.dmedia (and you know what dmedia, you can’t actually do that on my system which has /home mounted from NFS and local root does not have access to just write there). I was not very hopeful that Novacut would be able to solve my extremely difficult cropping problem, but I couldn’t even launch it…


So that’s it. None of these tools can help me to do what I want. I know there are some others out there like Blender. I actually liked blender quite well for editing videos, but it’s hard to get used to the workflow. You can also see how it’s clearly designed with the 3D movie making in mind and a bit less as a standalone non linear video editor. It suffers from the same problems as the other solutions. I have to manually specify the cropping dimensions and output resolution and it’s a mess.

Now, you might ask yourself how did I crop my movie in the end, and that’s a good question. I wanted to see what all the fuzz is about with this video editing. Is that really such a hard thing to do? So I grabbed python and gstreamer and made a quick tool (using gnonlin also) to crop my movie. And guess what, it’s not that hard! I could manage to implement what I needed in one hour! Not a few years, and still can’t do trivial things, but literally an hour! I didn’t even know gstreamer before. I really, really don’t know what everyone else is doing, but guys, just make this thing already!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Video editing WTF

  1. phrodo_00 says:

    avidemux should work, it’s not a linear editor but more of a converter. I believe cropping is a filter but it works the way you want it.

    • Jesse van den Kieboom says:

      Actually, I tried to launch avidemux but it crashes on my system when launching… I just tried it again and now it seems to work (don’t know what was the problem before). It works and it’s better than the rest, but I still can’t just select a rectangle (it’s close though). Avidemux is a usability nightmare, but indeed I’ve always fallen back on it also for converting movie formats.

  2. Sounds like you should be writing a video editor. I expect to use it by next week. Get on it!

    • Jesse van den Kieboom says:

      Again, big fail! It doesn’t allow me to easily crop the video. I don’t need all those fancy effects that lives supports.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Have you filed any bug reports? This is the only way to improve things. Please post stack traces, a minimal working example, etc. The more people that file useful bug reports the sooner we get a great video editor for Linux!

  4. Jeece says:

    @all. Avidemux could be the good one but… It’s still not able to read ogm and theora. :/

  5. Felipe Lessa says:

    Why didn’t you spend that one hour improving pitivi’s UI? That way everyone would be able to use the time you spent.

  6. Nick says:

    You can try Blender. Ok, it’s a 3D graphic tool, but in the video editing section it’s quite good. I don’t remember exactly how and where is the crop feature, but I’m pretty sure there is one :-)

    • Jesse van den Kieboom says:

      It’s at the end of my post. I didn’t try it for the cropping thingie, but I’ve tried it before. Like I said in the post, it’s not ideal as a standalone editor and has it quirks. As far as I remember, you can crop but it’s very unusable (i.e. specifying pixels or even percentages and you have to manually set also the output resolution to match your crop).

  7. Benjamin Otte says:

    I can tell you why there is no video editor out there that works. But I’ll not put that into a blog comment, that just gets people flaming me. ;)

  8. jeff says:

    Jesse, you are now expected to attend this talk at GUADEC:
    PiTiVi & GES: state of the onion

    No excuses.

    And then let me address some of your points:
    > it doesn’t actually use gtk+3

    > I can scale and position the movie with the mouse, but not crop it. There are actually 4 cropping controls, but you know, you have to enter the pixels to crop

    A clear suggestion of how you would have a UI that simultaneously allows you to resize AND crop is welcome (bug report please).
    A patch against the git version is even *more* welcome.

    > try to edit a number in those crop fields and press ‘Delete’ to delete a character. Oops! There goes your clip! Completely deleted.

    That’s a bug I only noticed recently. Because, you know, nobody reported it. Again, patch welcome, but it is on my list of annoyances to fix in the git version anyway, and with my refactoring I suspect it should be easy.

    > text overlay on my movie (which other editors can’t do, because that’s very difficult stuff to do)

    No. Because there’s facking nobody to implement that feature (I’ve had maybe 3-4 people over the years say they would do it, and they would all flake out). I have a UI for it, in need of someone to connect it to GES and the rest of the pitivi UI. You, sir, can be that hero.

    I hope you’ll be at GUADEC. I’d love to get some feedback (and maybe patches!) from you.

  9. Ben Foote says:

    I know the state of video editing in Linux isn’t perfect, and I’ve certainly been annoyed like this as well…but the tone of this blog post could certainly lead to a lot of negativity in the comments.

    Maybe report some bugs to the mentioned projects to help out?

    Video editing under Linux wasn’t even possible in any sense of the word a few years ago, so I just thank my lucky stars that we can even do any of it to day, and I certainly try to support all of the the current crop of video editors out there.

    Best of luck cropping your video!

  10. Frederik says:

    You know, I think you were just using the wrong tools. A complete non-linear video editor is not the ideal tool to edit video source material. It simply is based on different design goals. In a NLVE, you usually have a stage, and then position your clips on it. This means that you set a size for the output, and then the input clips could have a different size, or a different size each, or you could scale them at will.

    What you are searching for is a simple linear video converter. You do not need a stage, nor multiple clips, nor do you want to set a different output size, you just want to transform your video file. Command line tools like ffmpeg or GUI tools like Avidemux are simply much more a fit for this kind of task.

  11. Damien says:

    Actually, in the end kdenlive works, I just tried it. Still, the UI is sometimes weird.
    Here, there is a kind of slider besides the “Xpixels” label (guys! just why? use standard widgets!) that can be used to change the value. (Looks like an easy patch if someone is interested).

    In addition, you can see the result in real time on the preview widget (but sometimes it doesn’t work… whatever!).

    The other tool is mencoder, with -vf crop it should be easy enough (it’s still in pixels with no UI, but at least it just works). I would first use mplayer -vo png to output the image, open the image in gimp to know the w/h/x/y values and then use mencoder. At least it doesn’t involve installing a bunch of apps and in the end it will be done faster.

  12. eric-yorba says:

    For the record, Yorba has nothing to do with Openshot. (In fact I’d never heard of it until I read your post.)

    Seems to me that for balance you should have performed the same test in one or more of the top commercial video editing apps (Final Cut Pro, Avid, iMovie etc. etc.) Even the big boys don’t get cropping right, IMO.

  13. simeon says:

    I just tried what you did in Pitivi 0.15.2, and cropping just worked with dragging borders. I cannot reproduce your problems.

  14. Elliott says:

    I don’t really understand this post. First you complain that you can’t just select a crop window with the mouse and have to enter the number of pixels manually. But then you go and write a Python script to do it anyway with a library you claim never to have used before. Surely you must have read some documentation to use gstreamer, so why is it you didn’t seem to be able to read the first screen of the kdenlive wizard?

    Anyway, I tried what you said in both pitivi and kdenlive on Fedora 16 (which was released before precise) and was able to do it in both. Now, admittedly, I didn’t use the mouse to select a crop rectangle, but I’m still unsure why that’s a requirement (yes, it’s good polish once everything’s working, but it’s not *necessary*).

  15. Anonymous says:

    Personally, I’d love to see a Linux equivalent of avisynth: write a simple script describing what you want from the videos, run the tool on it, and end up with a finished video, with no UI.

  16. jeff says:

    There, fixed it for you:

    It took fifteen minutes. Less than what it’s going to take to write this comment about the points you mentioned the cropping UI being confusing.
    – The units there are not pixels. They go from 0.00 to 1.00. Would it help at all if they went from 0 to 100? I’m not sure. In any case, the UI previews in realtime whatever changes you do, including cropping.
    – The default “width” and “height” properties being 0.50 makes little sense indeed… but that’s how the frei0r scale0tilt plugin does it, go figure. The use of the “scale0tilt” filter to accomplish this stuff felt a bit like a makeshift solution. Patches to replace this by a proper combined use of gst good/base plugins are very welcome.

    I tried and used many professional video editors.
    At the end of the day, I dare you to find a nonlinear multitrack video editor (not a transcoding tool) that crops the way you ask without having to set it both on the clip and on the project/render settings. If you do find one, show it to me, I’ll be quite curious to see how they solved that problem.

  17. Jason DeRose says:

    Thanks for (trying) to give Novacut a try, apologies for the trouble with the installation! Nothing worse than a broken postinst script.

    I believe I have a correct fix in the daily builds now (~bzr427):

    If you’re up for trying the install again, please let me know if this fixes it for you. This will be included in the Dmedia 12.07 stable release, due out 26 July.

    BTW, we don’t support cropping yet. Not quite sure when we’ll get to this, but it wont be till after we finish our multicam workflow.


  18. salsaman says:

    Why do you say that LiVES does not support cropping video ? Did you somehow miss the “Trim Frames/Add Border” tool ?

  19. skierpage says:

    The comments from Anonymous, @Felipe, @Ben Foote, and others are depressing.

    I’m immensely grateful for all the open source I use, and I’m well aware project contributors don’t owe me anything. But understand: potential users likewise don’t owe you anything! I’ve had similar problems as jessevdk trying to use packages for the first time: failures to install, crashes on start, bizarre alerts on first run, and then inability to do the task for which I installed them. You are living in a fantasy world if you think a first-time user is going to spend an hour to Google to see if it’s a known issue (only to find confusing forum posts dating from 2009), locate your bug tracker, register, wait for the confirmation e-mail, attempt to reproduce, and then write a coherent bug report for a project he or she wasn’t using 30 minutes ago. Users just move on to try another program in their limited time.

    This informative post from jessevdk *IS* his contribution to your project. Deal with it, or not; e.g. be clear about what your project is, what it does, and (more importantly) what it doesn’t do. And again, thanks for your efforts. Now I’ll return to filing bugs against the projects I actually use regularly.

  20. Herb says:

    I’m not sure about most of these, but Novacut is still considered alpha, I think. I’ve cut two short films on kdenlive, and there is a bit of learning curve, but it’s quite powerful already. I don’t think it’s really aimed at the person who wants to edit vacation video, or jump in and start cutting right away.

  21. Jesse van den Kieboom says:

    From Felipe Almeida Lessa:

    @skierpage Don’t get me wrong, I understand everything you’re saying and I agree with you. However, he didn’t simply move on, he spent some time building a new tool just for this job. His time would (probably) be better spent for everyone, including himself, if it was directed into an existing open source project. That’s what I’m trying to say here.

    Cheers, (and sorry if I offended you)

  22. Hmmm.. I’m a pretty big fan of Blender. I like to drop dead honest reviews.

  23. home-video-editing says:

    I do like this blog entry because the author expresses also my frustration with video tools for Linux that I do share. I moved from Windows to Ubuntu about 2 years ago and ever since could not edit my home video anymore :-(.
    All the before mentioned tools seem to work for DV format, but whenever I try to edit video coming from my Panasonic SD90 camcorder in AVCHD format those tools simply just crash at me (error message here, stack dump there, not able to load some streams) … it is just frustrating painful. Stubbornly, every 6 months or so I also see if there is any improvement of some sort but no, so far I am waiting …
    PS If available and affordable I would purchase commercial software (for Linux).

Leave a Reply to Bill Toulas Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *