Windows Movie Maker
If you're running a modern Windows computer, you're on a serious budget, and you don't need much control over your final product, you can always lean on Windows Movie Maker. WMM is bundled with Windows Vista and some versions of XP, interfaces easily with most cameras, is non-destructive, and provides final output to a variety of file formats. For many short video projects--a reel of testimonials, a series of shots of a product, or a quick demonstration of product features--it can be a good stopgap solution.
But for more elaborate projects, WMM falls seriously short. The "storyboard" style editor is a drag-and-drop solution, yes, but it doesn't allow you to manipulate the actual video "track" directly. The best you can do is assemble "scenes" in a specific order, add some audio information, export it and call it a wrap. There's no possibility for color-correction, for tight cropping at the beginning and end of individual scenes, or advanced effects like chroma-keying or transparency. If you've got a simple project, try this. If you want to really stand out, though, try something else.
(For a hostile but probably honest review of this program by a CNET editor, go here:
Or You Might Consider Sony Vegas
Sony Vegas (currently at version 8) is the gold standard by which video editing solutions are measured. It fits most of the criteria on the list which started this chapter: it's intuitive, it's drag-and-drop, it features a high-end audio mixer, and it gives no end of options for optimizing video quality. You've even got a comprehensive package of effects, transitions, and software for creating titles, credits, or flyover graphics.
All of this saves you both money and time by letting you do all the work you need to do to achieve your design concept within a single software package (rather than editing your video in one suite, then transferring it to another suite in order to add in effects or animations.) Add to all of this a good variety of export formats and some extra compatibility features with Sony camcorder products and you've got yourself a reliable, powerful, and ultimately simple solution.
What's the drawback? It's a professional piece of software with a professional price of around $500-600, depending on where you go. If you plan on creating plenty of audio-visual content for your current direct sales project and for direct sales projects in the future, that initial investment will probably pay for itself in a reasonably short time. But if you don't have grand ambitions and you don't plan to do much video or audio editing in the future, you can probably use something else.
(For a glowing review of Vegas Pro 8 and the probably cheaper Vegas Pro 7, take a look at
http://www.geek.com/review-sony-vegas-pro-8/. Some of the information here won't be useful to you--it's not likely that you need good DVD authoring tools, for example--but this is a very in-depth third-party account of how it feels to use this program with some good screen shots and other information.)
A good "happy medium" between the super high-end Vegas Pro and the bare-bones Movie Maker is CyberLink's PowerDirector 7 Ultra, voted most popular at video editing sites around the web (including an Editor's Choice award at PCMag), and a bargain at only around $100 for a license. PowerDirector is largely used for DVD authoring, but still gives you export options for web video, good compression algorithms, a comfortable work environment, and lots of extras.
There are a few blind spots--most notably the lack of good support for chroma-keying processes--but in a pinch you can use free, third-party editing software to get quick chroma-key effects, plug the footage back into PowerDirector, and use it to control your edits and splices and finish your project. In other words, you may have to spend time learning to use an additional program in order to finish your project, depending on how complicated your original concept is. But for the majority of projects with a quick turnaround time, PowerDirector provides an adequate solution and a good place to begin on a budget without relying on much sketchier freeware editing solutions.
(For a good, extremely in-depth review of PowerDirector, check
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2319839,00.asp. This is a multi-page article with solid, first-hand information about connecting cameras, options for splicing clips and selecting aspect ratios, and integrating overlay effects into your projects.)
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