Sunday, December 21, 2014

7 FREE Video Post-Production Programs You Can't Live Without!

This is a followup to my last article on getting Adobe CS2 completely free. There are plenty of free programs out there for video production. Some are helpful, some are not, and some come with the unwanted gift of adware. Today, I will provide you with some incredibly valuable tools that should help you finish creating any video project.

Why You Need Them
Like I stated above, there are plenty of free tools on the web. However, some come with risks, and others just aren't up to snuff. If you want to make a professional video and are on a budget, you will find many of the free tools I will present extremely useful. Of course you can go all out and buy the top, newest, and best, but why do so if you don't have to?

I have briefly written about this before, as you will see about a few others, but I find this tool indispensable. MediaInfo integrates into your context (right-click) menu. When you right-click on a video file it will give you the option to check its information with MediaInfo. Select it and you'll see everything from codec to bitrates, even audio information.

Why use this? Maybe you have to take a file and reconvert it to another format. MediaInfo would be a quick way to check bitrates and audio information so that you can try to attain the same quality without giving it fluff (extra size for nothing).

Download MediaInfo here.

Subtitle Workshop
This is purely for those who have to do subtitle work. The Subtitle Workshop makes it easy to sync up and add subtitles to any video. It has numerous options that make it easy to do what you want, and you can export to many formats including the standard ".srt" file. (Which is designated as "SubRip" if you do end up using Subtital Workshop.)

There are many reasons to use this. A presentation for foreign people, ways to add notes throughout a video, and even correcting subtitles for a movie. Let's say you own a movie that you want to show to some relatives that are from overseas. They don't understand English and there are no subtitles in their native language. You then hunt down some subtitles in their native tongue to find that they are off by so many seconds when played. Subtitle Workshop can then be used to sync up the subtitles to the actual movie. On a side note, this can be easier said than done if frame rates for the movie are different than what was used for the subtitles...

Download Subtitle Workshop here.

Format Factory
This is another program I have already wrote about, and in some detail. I originally started using this program as a replacement to Super. Super - unless they have changed - now incorporates adware into their installation. Format Factory does not.

Format Factory is a great converter with a great deal of options. Not only can you convert one video file to about any other codec/container, it has some other great features: You can change endpoints, mux video and audio together, and even hard code subtitles into a video (see the program above). It can even help reformat images. As with any good converter, it gives automatic options for converting to different qualities and devices. Format Factory also includes the option to use "multi-threads", which is using multiple cores from your CPU (which I do advise when possible).

The only thing bad I can say about Format Factory is that it's GUI used to seem cluttered, and the newer versions seems far too spacious. In either case, it works great so don't let that put you off.

Download Format Factory here.

Again, this is another program I have discussed in length, but for only certain purposes. This is another converter. The major differences between this and Format Factory are its GUI, ease-of-use, and its ability to convert to x265 or VP9. This is really my only reason to use it. And I really only use VP9 because YouTube already supports it.

Everything else is similar to Format Factory in that you can convert to just about anything. It cannot edit audio and video quite like Format Factory, but that's not a converter's job. The GUI is fairly basic so you need to input your own values for everything. It also has multi-threading support, which is extremely useful if trying to convert to VP9 with Opus.

Just to give a good example of why anyone could need this, I live in a country where the Internet speeds are notoriously slow. If I upload a video (in great quality) to YouTube, this can take up to 18 hours for just 3 minutes! With VP9 and Opus codecs I can drastically reduce the size of the video while maintaining its quality. It then will take only an hour or two to upload to YouTube.

While Hybrid may not have the glam of Format Factory, it becomes very useful for using newer codecs. Check out my article about it for a music video I did. I even used it to convert the same music video to VP9 and Opus in 4K [this is not in the article but it can be accessed from the same YouTube channel]. One further downside is that in order to use multi-threading support for VP9 you must have the quality reduced from "Best" to "Good". I personally found no difference in the quality, but others might. On the flip-side, converting using "Best" take hours upon hours to complete...

Download Hybrid here.

GoPro Studio
The free edition of GoPro Studio is bountiful. It provides you with editing and color correction tools. While some may want it for this alone, I have never used this side of the studio as I prefer Adobe Premiere Pro. But what GoPro Studio has that no other editing suite does is convert footage from 8-bit to 10-bit AVI files.

Originally, this software was part of CineForm's NeoScene. But GoPro bought out CineForm and put it into their studio. It used to cost $200, but now it's free! I will explain what it does from a NeoScene standpoint, as I still use that for converting files. If you have 8-bit video, that means your video was captured using 256 different colors. 10-bit video uses 1024 different colors, meaning it is four times better than 8-bit in terms of color. Converting 8-bit to 10-bit will not increase your bitrates, but it will increase the color palette, which is great when dealing with color grading. This will help ensure that you can get the best color correction possible from any 8-bit footage.

GoPro Studio's standard version is free, so there should really be no downside, but I can think of at least one... When GoPro discontinued NeoScene and used it in their GoPro Studio, they did not carry over the ability to use convert AVCHD footage. While many may not have a problem with that, people with cameras like the hackable GH2 (myself included) will not be able to use it. This is also why I continue to use NeoScene instead. You can read more about that here.

Download GoPro Studio here.

DaVinci Resolve Lite
There are many color correcting programs out there: Speedgrade, Synthetic Aperture, Scratch, Smoke, and even the discontinued Color still packs a kick! But none of those are free like DaVinci Resolve Lite. The free version of DaVinci Resolve only has a few major differences from its paid counterpart.

The Lite version has no support for anything relating to noise reduction, 3D, or networking/database abilities. It also has no support for 4K video export (but it can play 4K video), or support for "power mastering". There are a few other differences, but nothing your likely going to need to know unless if you run a post-production facility. But for a full list go to this link.

I recall my first real sighting of DaVinci Resolve in use. I was in Thailand and got to meet the head of the largest production company in the country. The company was quite interesting as they incorporated every part of pre through post production possible, not something you see in Hollywood. One of the last rooms I peered into was a colorist working in a theater, by himself, on a film project using a huge control surface. Quite amazing to see someone working on a 2K screen of that size.

I believe that the people behind DaVinci Resolve realized that while they had an outstanding product, they needed to reach a wider audience or fall risk to becoming purely a niche product. This further runs the risk of being shunned from future generations who have no familiarity with DaVinci Resolve. In a surprising decision, they started creating free versions for the public. Even more surprising was how versatile the free version is in comparison to the paid version.

This is a spectacular program to use. If you are a beginner - meaning no post-production experience at all - this will be a steep learning curve. If you are an editor trying to color correct, this will still have quite a learning curve but not to the extent of never using an NLE. My best advice is to learn how to edit fluently first in at least one program. Once you have a good grasp on your style and the program, begin using the available color grading tools in that program.

I started color correcting in Sony Vegas. After some time I understood how things did and could work, which allowed me to move onto more complicated yet more powerful software. While I can't say it is easy to jump from one color grading program to another, I have done it numerous times and needed very little time to get up-and-running. Getting to "know" a program is a different feat altogether, but having the basics down of the skills needed is what is important.

This is a professional, free, color grading program that can make a huge difference for a video project. I find it complex, but gratifying. The only issue you may run into is how to use it alongside your video editing software. There are a few main options, but you should research this on your own and determine what workflow works best for you.

Download DaVinci Resolve Lite here

I am sure there are plenty of other tools that are useful, but I find myself always coming back to these time-and-time again. I enjoy free products, but I always prefer the free products that surpass my expectations and supplant themselves as my favorites among paid software with similar capabilities. The tools here, and those in my last article, should give you enough for an entire professional post-production setup.

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