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Video Editing in Linux, Part 1

Posted 03-03-2009 at 08:51 AM by arioste

I don't know what you know about video editing in linux, but I have just made the first steps, and I thought I would mention what I have discovered in case it comes up.

We have years of video recorded onto VHS-C tapes on two successive Panasonic camcorders. Once in a lucky moment at the flea market, I got a real steal on some quality video editing equipment from someone who did not know what he had, and I have edited all of it with titles, transitions, etc., onto DVDs for family distribution. But, a few weeks ago, the second camcorder would no longer recognize the battery, and the first one has a mechanical lens cap that will not open, so I thought I would upgrade. I was, of course, surprised at the evolution in equipment, which I was only barely aware of. The problem was whether I could stay all linux in the new environment. I did some sample editing of tapes from the DVDs in Kino, which went fine. The problem with Kino is that it will only open *.dv files directly. If you try to open other files, it will import them very, very slowly by converting them into *.dv files. This can be circumvented by direct commands with ffmpeg, which, if you have the commands right, and you are using one of the prominent file options (mpeg2 or avi, for example) is reasonably fast. Convert, then edit. I was actually doing that with the DVD files.

Now, one of the things I wanted to get past with a new camcorder was the transport noise associated with tape, and which is obvious in the Panasonic tapes. And so, I wanted to try a flash drive or hard disk drive camcorder. Hmmm. While the first generation of smaller camcorders were minidv or dvd recorders, many of which recorded in dv format, so that a combination of dvgrab and Kino worked like a charm, most of the new models use avchd format (hi definition) by default, and there is at this time no way to edit avchd files in linux. (Allegedly, the latest version of kdenlive with the latest version of ffmpeg can do this, but I installed both from source and could not do it with anything resembling acceptable speed.) Of course, even the low end video editors in Windows (like Premiere elements) edit avchd files, but linux isn't there yet. Some of the new avchd models will also record in mpeg2, but I could find no reliable discussions of how the low-res recordings looked in terms of quality.

To make a long story short, I was in Best Buy looking at a major clearance of camcorders, and I bought a JVC Everio GZMG330 for ~$300, which reviews had suggested was a good camcorder for standard ntsc tapes, and it is a hard disk drive model. I took some sample videos and moved to the transfer question. It was always in my mind that you could transfer by playing into a DVD recorder (I have one that does burn a DVD from A/V feeds), and I was aware that the capture programs in linux only work (apparently) with firewire, which the JVC does not support. The JVC does have a usb 2.0 connection intended for file transfers to their optional DVD recorder. I did not see this anywhere on the web, but when I hooked the camcorder into Ubuntu 8.04 with the usb cable, and looked at the lcd menu options that appeared, and I did notice the "playback" option, I moved the menu options and discovered an option for moving files to a PC. When I selected that, the camcorder showed up as a folder on my Ubuntu desktop, and I could read the file system and transfer the videos fast. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere, but it worked like a charm. That was the breakthrough. I now suspect that this might work with a lot of flash drive or hard disk drive camcorders with usb 2.0 connections. It is not mentioned in the manual for the JVC, but there it is.

Now, the video files on the JVC are *.MOD files, and these (mpginfo) are actually mpeg2 files, so they can be imported into Kino with a fast ffmpeg transcode, or directly into kdenlive. (The latest kdenlive is not easy to compile and install. I failed in Ubuntu, but I succeeded in Debian 5.0 (beta) where it seems to be stable.) Thus, video editing is eminently possible in linux. ffmpeg reads MOD files as mpeg2 files (there is some proprietary nonsense in the MOD files having to do with time stamps that ffmpeg skips over, but the editors insert the timestamps, so everything works).

One tiny note. The default in the Everio is 16:9, which results in some image degradation in kdenlive unless you massage it first with ffmpeg, or so I think after the first couple of trys. I am now recording at 4:3, which will enable all family members to play the resulting videos on their equipment.

Summary: Video editing in Linux is OK provided that you are not using a camcorder that is recording in avchd, in which case Windows or Mac is necessary until Linux catches up.

More details if you wish .... and I hope this was interesting.

Best,

Bob A
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