Video has become an incredibly common part of everyday life. People take videos on smartphones, upload them via YouTube, and share them on Facebook.
You’d think, then, that free video editors would be common, but it turns out the selection is limited for anyone not blessed with Mac OS X (and, as a result, access to iMovie). Here are the five top choices for Windows users.
Introduced originally in 2000, Windows Movie Maker’s peak popularity came with its release as Windows Live Movie Maker in the Windows Live Essentials software suite. Movie Maker’s development has been slow as of late, with the latest full release still carrying the name “Movie Maker 2012″, but it’s still an excellent choice.
WMM’s best feature is its ease-of-use. Video editing can be a bit confusing by nature, but WMM at least doesn’t force the user to download new codecs or browse open-source libraries. It’s a complete package from the moment it’s installed, and its linear editing interface is nearly as straightforward as iMovie.
There’s also a fair selection of features. You can add titles, introduce transition effects, add audio and adjust the volume and fade of audio, both in your video clip and in the attached audio track. File support is very broad and videos can be saved in resolutions up to 1080p.
You can download Movie Maker directly from Microsoft’s website.
If you’re looking for a more serious editor, give Lightworks a look. This tool has been around since 1989 (that’s 25 years) and has been used to edit many professional movies you’ve probably watched and enjoyed, like Pulp Fiction and Braveheart.
As you might expect, this professional-grade editor comes with a professional-grade learning curve. This is a non-linear editor, which means it is not based on a simple A-to-B video timeline. That makes advanced edits easier, but thoroughly confuses newbies. Add tons of effects and multi-cam editing and you’ve got one heck of a nut to crack. If you manage it, though, you’ll be able to create videos of higher quality than most other free editors.
The free version, unfortunately, comes with a few caveats, the most problematic being a lack of 1080p output. Free users can only output at 720p, which could be a major turn-off. If that doesn’t bother you, though, Lightworks is a solid choice.
Avidemux is a free, open source video editor also available for Linux and Mac OS X. The software was originally released several years ago and has been updated consistently, with the latest coming about six months prior to this article’s publication.
This program represents a half-step between very serious software, like Lightworks, and a basic video editor like Movie Maker. Non-linear editing is supported, subtitles can be added, and the software’s file format lets users save all the settings associated with a project, which can be re-applied to another project. Scripting is available through the GUI or directly through a command line. Virtually all major video and audio formats are supported for input and most are supported for output, though WMV and QuickTime are absent.
You can grab Avidemux from the developer’s website, which includes a link to a wiki and forums that will help you become familiar with the software.
You don’t have to download software to make basic edits to a video. YouTube has its own web-based editor that is simple but handy – if you’re intending to upload to YouTube, of course.
Any video you upload can be edited regardless of format and resolution. The editing process is linear, so it’s similar to iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, and the video and audio tracks can be edited individually.
One of the most useful features this editor offers is access to YouTube’s library of Creative Commons videos and music. You can put them right into your video without downloading them. There’s a small selection of transitions and text options, though not enough for anything close to professional editing.
The biggest downside, of course, is the fact you can only edit YouTube videos. Theoretically you could then re-download them for use elsewhere with a YouTube video ripping tool, but at that point you’d likely be better served by Movie Maker.
This appropriately titled editor is another solid choice for people who want a semi-professional option without having to pay a professional price tag. A non-linear editor, VSDC allows for advanced editing techniques. The software also supports a very broad range of video and audio effects like color correction, blur reduction and volume correction.
Though still confusing for the novice, the basic interface of VSDC is a bit easier to grasp than that of Lightworks, thanks to a front-end that mimics the Microsoft ribbon interface and has a more conventional workflow.
One nice extra that may elevate VSDC above the free version of Lightworks is video output support for 1080p at 30 FPS, which is much better than its competitor’s 720p limitation. The installer is also a rather compact 26 megabytes, about three times smaller than Lightworks. On the downside, though, the installation process (which include’s CNET’s downloader) prompts the user several times to install adware - be wary of these requests!
These five video editors represent the best Windows users can download today. Of them Movie Maker probably has the widest appeal, but Avidemux and VSDC Free Video Editor may also please amateurs looking for something a bit more capable.
What’s your favorite free Windows video editor? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credits: video editing Via Shutterstock