Kdenlive: A Video Editor in the Spotlight

Linux distributions strive to include all the useful applications that users will need, but a quality video editor has been lacking for quite some time. Now with KDE4 getting better and better, could an application like Kdenlive fill that gap?

One of the great things about Linux is that a single twenty minute install will not only give you a powerful operating system with all your hardware working out of the box, but also a great set of applications. As the quality of free/libre software gets better and better, the desktop as a whole becomes much more attractive.

However, one major piece of software which has been missing for many years is a powerful video editing program. You know, the type of program that a user wants to use to create home movies from their digital video camera and the like. There are numerous projects out there, such as Kino and Cinelerra, but nothing to really rival the offerings available on other operating systems. It’s not that these Linux programs are not high quality, they are, they just lack the polish and ease of use that Apple’s commercial iMovie program does, for example. So while everyone ponders when the year of Linux desktop will be, others are busy working on another missing piece of the puzzle.

Just in the last few months there appears to have been an explosion on the scene of various new applications reaching maturity and gaining in popularity. Recently Linux Magazine wrote about the KDE4 desktop, which is coming along nicely but missing several key pieces of software, including a video editor.

Enter Kdenlive

The Kdenlive project was started in 2002, but only recently gathered support with a dedicated development team. It is a Qt4 based non-linear video editor which holds a lot of promise. In fact, development is happening at a record pace with a new release happening about every month. It now has a great set of features and is at a point where it is a highly competitive video editing product. At the time of writing the latest stable version is 0.7.5, released on 1st July 2009. Although Kdenlive is designed for Linux, it also works on FreeBSD and OS X.


Under Ubuntu, installation was very easy. Although a stable version is included in the default package repositories, the latest version can be installed from the personal package archives. This will also keep your system up-to-date with the latest versions as they become available. Simply add the repository to the sources list and install the software.

Other distros are supported such as Debian, Gentoo, Mandriva and openSUSE, however they are contributed by the community and not always the most recent version. Of course it can also be built from source. Most distributions however will have at least a slightly older version in their default repositories.

The Interface

In true KDE style, Kdenlive offers the user hundreds of configuration options. It does however also provide very useful set of defaults. When the program is first loaded, it asks what the default profile should be, offering almost fifty pre-sets ranging from VCD to High Definition 1080p. It also supports over forty audio codecs, almost fifty for video and well over seventy file formats.

The interface is quite well laid out, but there are lots of buttons and tabs which does make it a little intimidating. For a program with so many features built in, settling on a decent interface design must be a challenge. After looking closely at each section it should become quite clear and easy to follow. The section at the bottom is the time-line work area. Above it are four sections, the first of which contains three sub-sections.

Kdenlive Interface
Kdenlive Interface

The first is the Project Tree and is where all source files for the project are listed. It also allows the user to import new media into the project from external sources. Next sub-section is the Effect Stack which lists all effects currently applied to a particular section of video or audio in the time-line. Users can add, remove, order effects. Similarly the Transition work panel allows users to work on transitions.

The second main section is the Effect List, which actually works in conjunction with the Effect Stack. Here Kdenlive lists around one hundred effects for video and audio. Simply selecting a clip on the time-line and clicking on an item from the Effect List will apply it automatically. Some effects are customisable and a tool appears in the Effect Stack section next to the list for users to configure.

The third section is the Project Monitor. This actually serves two purposes, the first is as the name suggests, for monitoring (or viewing) the project. Effects are all rendered in real time and made viewable either on a per clip level, or for the entire project. The second is for actually recording from an external source, such as a digital video camera.

The time line area has three video tracks by default and two for audio. This provides plenty of space for layering images and video as well as splitting and mixing audio. It’s worth noting that users can add as many tracks as they like, simply by right clicking and inserting (or deleting) them.

The Tools

Kdenlive comes with many of the usual tools one would expect to have in a video editing program. Kdenlive easily imports video from a digital camera or other source such as a web cam or even the desktop itself! When recording from a digital camera, it will save the video streams as individual raw digital video files in the user’s home directory. From here they can be imported into the project and then dragged on the time-line to be manipulated. It allows users to work on the project as they please including the ability to split, merge, cut, apply effects and transitions and many other tasks. Whilst doing this the program never skips a beat and the project monitor works a treat.

It performed all required tasks with simple ease and most impressive of all, provides the ability to export the video in a large range of formats. Helpfully, Kdenlive breaks these down in to seven major groups; file rendering, DVD, audio only, websites, media players, lossless, and mobile devices. Numerous formats are then made available under each section with a large range of encoding options. If that’s not enough, the tool allows users to create their own by adding a new one by editing an existing one. This is extremely powerful and one of the most fascinating advantages of using free software. Many commercial products limit what formats you can and can’t render a project in, which are more often than not proprietary formats. Should users wish to store their data in open formats such as Ogg Vorbis Theora, they then add extra burdens and hassles with transcoding. It’s great to see a project which doesn’t restrict what users can and can’t do with their data!

Kdenlive Rendering Options
Kdenlive Rendering Options

Kdenlive also comes with a handy DVD wizard. That’s right, not only can you export your project into a variety of formats, you can also export it to DVD. The system is currently a little basic, but it works very well. The DVD wizard lets you add the source video(s), specify chapters, create a DVD menu with a movie or image background and then it composes all that into an image. The ISO image is then ready to burn directly to a DVD. The wizard even adds the option in the same interface to burn it directly with detected DVD burning tools on the system. Kdenlive is perhaps the simplest and quickest way to create a DVD from scratch under Linux.

Kdenlive DVD Wizard
Kdenlive DVD Wizard

Final Thoughts

Overall, Kdenlive is one impressive program. As KDE4 matures, so does this brilliant and powerful video editor. It does fill a hole in one of the world’s most popular desktop environments, and it would be great to see it picked up and included as part of the desktop project itself. The software itself is simple enough to use that it’s a worthwhile replacement for many commercial products out there, including iMovie and Adobe Premiere. One of the benefits of free software is that it generally only comes in one fully featured version, which allows projects like Kdenlive to also satisfy users on the other end of the spectrum. The great news is that it’s ready to use right now and it’s only going to get better with time.

Of course if you’re not using a KDE desktop, but something like GNOME or Xfce, there are a few new GTK+ based applications if you’d prefer to not have to install all those Qt4 and KDE libraries. One such application built on Gstreamer multimedia framework is PiTiVi. The latest version is 0.13.1, released on 27th May 2009 which already has a great set of features. The project holds a lot of promise also.

Another new project is called OpenShot, an ambitious project undertaken by a developer with a vision. He writes: “I have a simple mission: To create an open-source, non-linear video editor for Linux. Many have tried and fallen before me, but for some reason I feel compelled to try myself. I am documenting my journey in this blog for all to read. It will be a dangerous journey, and I might not make it back alive. Hold on tight, and enjoy the ride!” There is no official release yet, but the program can be built from source and has been tested on Ubuntu.

No doubt there are numerous bugs buried in the Kdenlive, but the software in its current state works very, very well indeed. It’s not yet an iMovie killer and it might not yet surpass commercial applications but it has done a fine job so far and is constantly being improved. If the current pace of development is any indication, it won’t be too long before it might become the number one video editor on any platform!

With new versions of KDE4 getting better and better, it would be great to see the project added as the official video editor for the desktop environment and garner even more support. It’s great to see the free software community working on these applications. It is just so very important to have high quality alternatives to the software users have under other operating systems. Often users are required to keep their old operating systems around in order to accomplish certain tasks the way they expect to be able to. It can also be a barrier to others who might otherwise make the move to Linux and free software. Congratulations to these projects and what they have achieved so far! Very impressive.

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