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Shareware Video Tools: 
    Edit, Convert, and Process Video (10/1999)

    by Douglas Dixon

Do you want to get started experimenting with video on your PC, but don't know where to begin? Do you have some video tools, but want to try some different applications with better features or more capabilities? Do you have some video in a non-standard format, and don't know how to deal with it? Maybe the best answer for what you need can be found out on the Internet: shareware video tools you can download and try out for free.

       

You can find all kinds of video tools -- video editors, capture tools, and converters -- tools for AVI, QuickTime, MPEG, streaming formats, and even GIF animations -- tools for adding titles, transitions, and effects -- and lots of tools for audio editing, processing, and conversion. The sample tools profiled below are all for Windows, but you can also check the shareware sites listed below for your favorite platform, including Macintosh, Unix / Linux, Java, and even BeOS.

Shareware Applications

Since the earliest days of computers, programmers have distributed applications as freeware and shareware: free or inexpensive programs that they have made publicly available through informal distribution. Some do this for fun, or to contribute back to the community by solving common problems. Some programmers and companies see shareware as an alternate distribution path for selling programs; their work is spread widely by word of mouth, Internet sites, and user groups, and they ask a small return from people who try it out and decide to keep it.

Many successful commercial programs got their start this way, and some are still distributed as shareware, including Qualcomm's Eudora mail program, Jasc Software's Paint Shop Pro image editor, Nico Mak's WinZip compressor, Ipswitch's WS_FTP Internet tool, and, of course, many video games. Some companies, like Netscape, built their business by distributing their applications free for individual or educational use, while charging for commercial use.

Freeware, Shareware, and Commercial Demos

Shareware applications are distributed under a wide variety of different licensing agreements, intended to prevent others from ripping off the original authors. Most shareware is intended to be distributed freely, but can only be distributed in its original form, including the application, help files, and licensing notes. Shareware typically is distributed for non-commercial use, and cannot be redistributed in commercial form, such as in commercial CD's or with books, without the author's permission.

Actually, "shareware" is often used loosely to describe three types of program licensing: Freeware (no cost), Shareware (try & buy), and Commercial Demos (limited use). In all cases, the application is widely distributed, and you can download and try it out for a while to see if you like it.

"Freeware" is just that, absolutely free, no cost, no charge. All that the authors ask is that you do not rip them off by taking commercial advantage of their work. The authors still will be happy to hear from you about how you used their work, and some even distribute their work as "postcardware", asking that you send them a note if you like it. But don't expect much in the way of support or feedback from the authors; they contributed a labor of love to the community, and are not being reimbursed for it.

True "Shareware" is essentially a freely-distributed application, which you are welcome to try out at no cost, but which you should pay for if you decide to keep it. Since the author needs some sort of compensation in order to continue their work, your payment of the fee helps to encourage the continued flourishing of shareware in the PC industry. Payment of the shareware fee to register your application typically entitles you to support, perhaps free or reduced-cost upgrades, and, as a further inducement, sometimes provides access to a set of advanced features in the application.

However, since many people don't bother paying the shareware fee, some authors resort to more aggressive techniques to promote compliance. One approach, "Nagware", involves increasingly strident reminders to pay the fee, especially as part of the initial start-up screen. Another approach, "Crippleware", involves de-featuring the application so you can only get a taste of it, but it's not really useful. This can be done by wholesale removal of features, or by not permitting you to print or save your work, or by limiting the number or size of the objects you can work with. A less blatant reminder technique is stamping a logo or watermark on the printed or saved output. Finally, a "TimeLock" can be applied to the application so that it can only be used a limited number of times, or for a certain period of time, or until a specific date.

The third type of distribution is Commercial Demos, which are not intended to be full applications, but instead are de-featured and/or time-locked versions of commercial applications. This gives you the opportunity to try them out and get an idea of how they work, and then you can buy the full commercial application if you like it. Sometimes you actually download the entire application for trial use, with some portion disabled. When you buy the application, you are then given a key code which unlocks the whole application for full use.

Finding Shareware

So, where do you find out about shareware applications, and where do you go to download them? There are a variety of shareware / download sites that have grown up on the Web. Some are managed commercially as a part of a larger media or publishing business, and some are more volunteer efforts. Some are targeted to specific platforms such as PC / Windows or Macintosh, while others are more general. Some store the download files on their own site, or on a collection of "mirror" sites around the world, while others are "meta-indexes" of the contents of other sites.

Many of these sites not only let you search for software by keywords, but also organize them in various ways: by operating system (DOS, Windows, Macintosh, Unix, etc.), and by type of application (utilities, audio, video, etc.). They also often highlight interesting applications, with categories such as New Releases and Most Popular (most often downloaded). Many sites also have brief summaries or reviews of the applications, with ratings by reviewers selected by the site, and/or user ratings voted on by the site's users.

One way to find out about shareware applications is to read the general PC magazines, and PC video magazines, which review video tools and have special issues with the "Best Free Stuff Online". Also check out your favorite magazine's Web site, which may be a part of a "mega" Web site for the publisher, and include other magazines and download areas. For example, PC Magazine, PC Computing, and Computer Shopper are all published by Ziff-Davis, and are part of the overall ZDNet Web site. The ZDNet site includes both original material and content from the magazines, with reviews, opinion pieces, software and hardware product pricing, and a Software Library download area which includes reviews and ratings for shareware applications.

       

You can also search the "mega" shareware archive sites. TUCOWS has shareware for a huge variety of plaforms, from various flavors of Windows, to Macintosh, Linux, Java, BeOS, and PDA's. It has a global network of over 500 mirror sites around the Internet that can provide faster download speeds by using a server closer to yours. Simtel is a major site for DOS and Windows applications, and Info-Mac is a long-established site for Macintosh applications. These sites often have an associated e-mail newsletter that with updates on new additions to their collections, and also make their collections available on CD-ROM.

           

Finally, you can use "meta-index" sites like CNET's Shareware.Com to search the contents of the major shareware archive sites. Shareware.Com claims to index 250,000 files, for Windows, Macintosh, Unix, and more. These kinds of sites are especially useful if you're looking for a specific application, since they will tell you which versions are available from which sites. However, they do not provide their own descriptions or ratings, you need to go to the individual archive sites to find out more about the applications.

Video Processing

The authors of shareware video tools like VirtualDub and Fast Movie Processor are interested in video processing and not multi-track video and audio editing. These tools are designed to read in a file, apply some video processing and effects to it, and then write out the resulting file. They are especially useful for clipping, resizing, and converting video formats.

VirtualDub is a fast and powerful video processor from Avery Lee at UCSB. reads AVI and MPEG files, applies a wide variety of video effects, and writes the resulting file in AVI format. It supports many traditional image processing filters, such as smooth, sharpen, filtered resize, and brightness/contrast adjustment. You can set up multiple filters in a chain, and apply them all in a single pass. You can also extract or insert the audio track in Wave (.WAV) format. VirtualDub can clip an AVI file without modifying (recompressing) any of the frames in the file, which allows you to edit files without introducing visible noise from decompressing and then recompressing the data. It also includes a fully-featured video capture interface.

VirtualDub is straightforward and powerful, without fancy interface gimmicks, although it would be nice, for example, to see a visual sample of the result of each video effect. 

VirtualDub (version 1.0 alpha, April 1999) is distributed for free under the GNU General Public License.

Fast Movie Processor by Zeljko Nikolic and Robert Tibljas is a straightforward video processor and converter. You make a list of one or more input files (or clips within the files), and a second list of the effects to be applied to them, and then Fast Movie Processor creates the resulting output file.

Fast Movie Processor works with both AVI files and sequences of image files in over ten different formats. 

Fast Movie Processor (version 1.41, October 1998) is distributed as shareware, with a $19 registration fee for non-commercial use and $45 for commercial use.

Format-Specific Video Editors

Other shareware video tools like iFilmEdit and QuickEditor are focused on specific video formats like MPEG and Apple QuickTime. These can be quite fully-featured video editing tools, with extra features designed to support the special requirements or capabilities of the specific video format. Both these tools are distributed as somewhat limited trail versions, with extensive nagging to pay the shareware fee.

iFilmEdit from Cinax Designs, Inc. is a simple video editor for MPEG-1 files. It provides an editing suite for standard 30 fps and low frame-rate/low bit-rate MPEG-1 files, including combined audio/video streams as well as video-only and audio-only streams. It can be used to splice together two or more MPEG-1 files or to delete unwanted frames.

iFilmEdit (Trial version 1.4.5, March 1999) is distributed as a trial version of the $99.95 full product, with a 20-day timeout and five-minute limitation on the length of the output movie.

QuickEditor by Mathias Tschopp from Geneva, Switzerland, is a QuickTime movie editor with extensive editing capabilities, including support for titling, transitions, video effects and video/audio sequence grabbing. It can also read (some) AVI files. All this functionality is available from a somewhat crowded user interface.

QuickEditor (version 6.0, January 1999), is distributed as trial shareware, with a fee of $35 for the full version (removing limitations on the number and length of tracks), and $75 for the even fuller CD-ROM version with 100 levels of undo and full documentation.

 QuickEditor is available in both Macintosh and Windows versions.

Video Editors

The shareware ranks also include a variety of simple and fully-featured multi-track video editors which compete with commercially-distributed tools. These can include timelines with multiple video and audio tracks, transitions, effects, and format conversions.

TZ-VideoCutStudio is a simple video cut and paste tool which is part of a collection of tools and games from Thomas Zeh, distributed through ISD Juergen Schroeder, Berlin, Germany. VideoCutStudio allows you to combine clips from a collection of AVI, QuickTime Movie, and MPEG files into an output AVI file. 

VideoCutStudio does not provide much in the way of fancy graphics or extensive Help files, but instead focuses on pasting together video clips as directly as possible.

VideoCutStudio (version 1.0, September 1998) has a $50 registration fee.

VideoCutStudio avoids the need for a more sophisticated timeline-style interface by having you simply open one or more input files, select clips from them, and then "record" them into position in the output file. The advantage of this approach is that you can just do the job without worrying about all the details in a full video editor, like managing a library of clips or dragging and positioning clips in a timeline. The disadvantage is that it's a one-time operation to accumulate the output clip, without the ability to save the context as a "project" that you can return to and modify later. 

DDClip from SoftLab-NSK Ltd., Novosibirsk, Russia, is a professional non-linear non-destructive multitrack real-time audio and video editor. It is particularly designed for audio scoring and synchronizing, with support for up to 16 audio tracks (in the full version), one track with Midi sound, and one or two video tracks. The main Project window has a very effective view of the overall project timeline, with the ability to zoom in on an area of the timeline and still see the overall context, and options to view in frames, milliseconds, or SMPTE timecode. The second Clip Collection is a wonderful viewer and organizer of video and audio clips, with options to display with varying amounts of information about each clip, and to sort the collection in different ways.

DDClip is not a file format converter; it outputs files in the same format as the input, which also means it objects if all the input files are not in the same format. 

DDClip (version 2.23) is distributed in several versions: Free, Lite, and Full. The Lite version supports 8 audio tracks, and has a registration fee of $48.

MainActor from MainConcept in Germany is a modular multimedia processing package. It includes a powerful timeline-based video sequencer, MainActor Sequencer, and an animation processor, MainActor Video Editor (MainActor VE). MainActor Video Editor is used to create, edit, view, and convert video and animations in a variety of formats, including MPEG. It also uses the REXX language for automated scripting of video operations. 

MainActor Sequencer supports 99 video and 99 audio tracks, extensive transitions, video effects including 3D paths, and 2D / 3D text tools. It includes explicit support for import / export using Video for Windows, DirectShow, and RealVideo. 

MainActor (version 3.02, May 1999) has a shareware fee of $85.

Conclusion

Whether you're just getting stated with PC video, or have a specific need or capability you're looking for, there's a good chance you can find a shareware tool which can help. There's lots of shareware out there, for video processing, video conversion, simple video editing, editing in special formats, and even professional-level timeline editing and effects.

When you are looking for a shareware application, use the search functions at the shareware Web sites to narrow in on your specific interest. Before taking the time and effort to download and install an application, however, review the available information to make sure it's right for you. Read the descriptions and reviews (when available) to find out if the application seems to do what you want. Check the ratings, and the number of times the application has been downloaded, for a sense of how useful others have found it. You can also check the version number and file date to get an idea whether the author has been continually refining and updating the application. Finally, make sure you review the licensing terms so you understand if it's free, or shareware that requires a fee, or a reduced-functionality limited-use demonstration.

Once you find an application that works for you, please take the time to register your application and pay the shareware fee. It helps you directly by providing access to support, upgrades, and additional features, and also helps the developer keep on working to improve what is often their labor of love. It also helps keep the whole Internet shareware culture alive and well, as new developers see that shareware is a viable path for creating and distributing exciting new applications.

References

Software Archives

Shareware Tools