Review: Lightworks

A video channel may or may not be a part of the typical writer’s social media offering. The most important challenge with video is creating a quality message that is relevant for your target audience. Assuming you have such a message, there are technical hurdles to overcome as well. For example, a good camera capable of rendering moving images in a format compatible with YouTube is a must, as is a decent microphone. The ability to edit the message and add graphics is also a necessity, unless of course one is talented enough to get it right in one take.

Computer based, non-linear editing is the preferred method for making just about any kind of video production these days. Digital camera capture, 7200+ rpm hard disk drives, USB/Firewire data ports and multi-core computer processors make non-linear editing a breeze, regardless of OS choice. Editing video requires a specialized software program. High end programs cost hundreds of dollars for a single user license, which could be prohibitively expensive for someone just starting out with making basic videos. There are a number of free video editing programs out there; some are bundled with cameras or other hardware, others can be found via a Google search.

I first spotted the Lightworks NLE suite (www.lwks.com) while looking for a good audio production suite alternative to ProTools. Being the cheap SOB that I am, I was immediately taken in by its low price tag – free so long as you only wanted YouTube quality video – and was surprised at the number of features offered with this free program. With three teens in my house, I needed to respect the budget, and so gave this program a try. Lightworks is only available via download, and requires that users create an account with a legitimate email address for software activation. I experienced no problems activating my software in the free mode, allowing me to get down to test driving it right away.

Lightworks is not a light weight when it comes to computer resource use. Anyone who wishes to try the software had best pay attention to the recommended system specifications. I made the mistake of running the software on a laptop that was just within striking distance of the minimal system specs. (AMD dual core 1.8GHz processor, 4GB RAM, Radeon HD 6350 chipset with shared RAM.) The program worked, but just barely. Effects were not playable in real time, and simple dissolves just weren’t happening when the timeline was exported. The problem was my built in video chip; it just didn’t have the RAM and processing horsepower for video editing.

When I loaded Lightworks onto my built for multimedia editing PC the program was able to strut its stuff. My rig has an AMD quad-core CPU, 8GB RAM, a Radeon HD 5450 1GB graphics card, Windows 7 Pro 64-bit OS and an external 7200 rpm hard drive with an Oxford 924 chip set. Once the program was installed, video effects such as fades, dissolves and wipes were playable in real time, and exporting the timeline was a snap. Everything I tried was accomplished instantly, and I began to feel slightly spoiled, which is always desirable in a software program. Lightworks supports dual video monitors; I just wish I had room on my corner desktop for two.

If the reader has had any training/experience with non-linear editing, then the Lightworks program is pretty simple to learn. My most recent NLE video experience came on the Avid Media Composer, which we use at Lansing Community College, so my transition to Lightworks was straightforward. Like other NLE programs, video in Lightworks is organized by project. Once a project is created, video clips and other program elements may be imported from tape or directly from data sources. Clip media are organized in bins and may be searched from within the project once imported. Users may also have multiple timelines within the same project, which is very handy.

The NLE interface includes a timeline with overwrite and insert editing controls, trim controls, audio controls and multiple effects layers. Available effects include dissolves/fades, wipes/masks, luminance keys and chroma keys. I was able to put together a 2-minute YouTube video for a client using basic timeline functions: 

I did have to refer to the online manuals on occasion, which is par for the course when using a new software program. I would recommend that anyone who is completely new to video editing spend time with the online training materials, which are organized by topic and written in a clear manner. Lightworks also has an active user forum online; from what I saw of the forums, users are very open to helping each other and conduct themselves in a professional manner while doing so.

Lightworks is available for PC, Mac and Linux users. The free version is more than sufficient for budding YouTube producers. The Pro version is available on a subscription basis for $80 USD annually, and “going pro” allows the user to export multiple resolutions and file formats. The annual fee covers all upgrades and patches so long as the subscription remains current. Better than all the free editors that I have tried, and a lot less expensive than Media Composer or Final Cut, Lightworks truly offers the multimedia producer/editor an excellent value for the dollar. Five stars out of five.

The reviewer received no compensation for their review of this product.

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