Product Review and Tutorial: Simple Editing With VideoPad
by Sharona Ginsberg
Part of my role as the State University of New York–Oswego’s (SUNY–Oswego) learning technologies librarian is to familiarize students with the technology tools needed to complete their assigned projects, many of which involve audio and video editing. Since I am usually only given one class period to cover the material, I try to teach these skills in a way that is accessible to the most people. In other words, I teach tools that are free and easy for amateurs and beginners to pick up. It’s my goal to help students learn software they can continue using past a particular class assignment—and even past graduation—without needing special licenses or subscription access.
Until recently, my go-to for amateur video editing was Windows Movie Maker. With an interface bearing marked similarities to other Microsoft Office software, it was easy for most students to adapt to, and the program was fairly intuitive. While some of the video effects and transitions might have been a bit cheesy, they were easy to apply and worked for the simple digital essay and digital narrative assignments students were creating. Movie Maker made no real demands on users to have a solid grasp on video editing and would let them learn as they went. Unfortunately, Microsoft discontinued Movie Maker in January 2017, removing all official downloads and ending any support for the product.
(As a note: I choose not to teach Apple’s iMovie for a few reasons. The most important is that the computer labs available to me on campus are Windows-only, making it difficult to demo for students. Additionally, there can be significant differences between versions of iMovie, making it challenging to teach to a group of people with different installations.)
After Movie Maker became unavailable, I spent some time trying out various options as possible replacements. I encountered free software that was too advanced for my needs, software that was promising but not free, software lacking the types of features I needed, and free software full of bugs and unresolved issues. Finally, after an extensive search, I settled on NCH Software’s VideoPad Video Editor. While not perfect—I’ll outline some challenges and how I have approached them—VideoPad is the best and closest replacement I have found for Windows Movie Maker and the best option for the type of amateur video editing I teach to students.
General Info and Versions
VideoPad is available to download from NCH Software’s website (nchsoftware.com/videopad). There are versions for Windows, Mac, Android, and Kindle. I have not tested the Kindle version, so I won’t review that. The Windows and Mac versions are largely the same, while the Android version is an app available in the Google Play store.
One important thing to be aware of regarding the Windows/Mac VideoPad is that there is a free version offered for non-commercial use and a version that will give you a free trial, then ask you to purchase it when the trial expires. The prominent red download button on the website leads to the free-trial-then-paid version, while the truly free version is offered in small text beneath that (or alternately at nchsoftware.com/software/free-downloads.html).
As far as I have been able to test, the free version asks you to certify that you are using it non-commercially, then it will leave you alone to use its more limited features. This version will eventually expire and begin asking you to pay to open the software. On Windows, however, there is an easy way to downgrade to the non-commercial free version: Simply begin the process of uninstalling it as you normally would with any software. You will be presented with a number of options, one of which is to downgrade to the free version.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a similar downgrade option on Mac, so users who accidentally install the free trial/paid version will need to remove it and install the free version. As long as no project files are deleted, users shouldn’t lose their work when doing this.
Due to the hassle of this process, the easiest course of action is to have people download the free version to begin with, so I recommend sending users to nchsoftware.com/software/free-downloads.html, rather than the main VideoPad webpage. Keep the abovementioned instructions in mind in case users search out the software on their own and download the wrong version.
I mainly teach and rely on the Windows/Mac version of VideoPad, but have done some exploring with the Android app (on my Google Pixel running Android 8.1), which is offered for free with in-app ads and purchases. As I write this, the app has 3.8 stars on Google Play, so it’s apparently useful to some people. However, I was not impressed and would not recommend it. The interface is crowded and difficult to navigate; I often found myself stuck on subscreens with no clear way back to the main editing interface. In many cases, the app lacked definitive selection indicators. I encountered an issue that made the app entirely unusable. After closing and reopening, I was presented with the option to load a project. My attempt to load my previous project failed repeatedly, and there were no other ways to proceed (for example, creating a new project). I would recommend sticking with the desktop versions of VideoPad.
Assembling a video and carrying out basic edits is easy in VideoPad due to its drag-and-drop interface. Imported images, videos, and audio files are stored in separate tabs and can be put together on the video and audio track timelines in a process similar to that of most other video-editing software. One feature that may initially confuse users is the appearance of image files on the timeline: The image is repeated for the duration of the clip, and images smaller than the maximum dimensions will display a checkered gray background, which will simply appear as a black background in the finished video. If students are not familiar with other programs’ use of this checkered pattern to mean transparency, they may need this explained to them.
Otherwise, students appear to adapt fairly quickly to the process of assembling their media on the timelines. Splitting media is easily accomplished with the small scissors icon that pops up each time a user drags the playhead to a specific location. Unlinking and deleting audio from a video is equally simple.
There are plenty of other useful interface features, such as the ability to lock tracks, adjust audio volume, and create custom tabs and folders to store and organize your imported media. VideoPad works well in this regard and feels similar to Windows Movie Maker, with more features and potential.
Animations, Transitions, and Other Effects
Like Windows Movie Maker, VideoPad comes with a number of premade animations and transitions users can apply to images and clips. This was essential to me, considering the needs and general knowledge level of my students.
Effects are accessed through a Video Effects button on the menu or a small FX button that appears on everything added to the timeline. There are options such as Motion Blur, Pan & Zoom, Saturation, Black and White, Night Vision, Old Film, and Waves. Some effects have presets to make applying them even easier. For example, selecting Rotate will present you with preset options such as Rotate 180 degrees, Spin Clockwise, and Spin Up. Other effects can be altered to change over time by adding keyframes as adjustments are made. This is particularly useful for effects such as Censor, with which you can blur people’s faces as they move around in a video (a task one of my students used VideoPad for). Transitions are similar, accessed either from the Transition button on the top toolbar or from an icon on the timeline wherever clips meet, and include options such as Cross Fade, Dissolve, Reveal, Wipe, Checkerboard, and Roll.
Decent text options are also a must for my students’ needs. VideoPad’s menu options are a little confusing and redundant, but otherwise, adding text works well. As of this writing, with version 6, the Home tab of the toolbar has two options: Add Text and Add Title. Both produce drop-down menus that appear to present the same options in a slightly different order; perhaps this will change in a future update.
Choosing to add text (listed under the category Text) pops up a window with a large input box, as well as font and color choice options. Declining to select a Full Background color leaves the text as an overlay that can be placed on top of images and video clips, rather than a separate clip. Users can also choose to apply a simple scroll effect, which is handy for creating a credits roll. This is the option I most commonly teach students, as I encourage them to use Creative Commons-licensed media in their projects, and I guide them in adding proper attribution in the form of video credits.
Other text options include animations such as Typewriter, Clock, Digital Timer, and Horizontal Line. They are interesting, but seem fairly specific and not very versatile. Video effects and transitions can be applied to any added text, much as users can add it to images and video clips.
Once any text is added, it shows up as an asset, stored either under the Images or Video tabs, and immediately appears in a separate video track above existing video tracks, regardless of whether it’s set up as an overlay or not. This might initially be confusing to some users, so it’s a good thing to explain it when teaching.
I don’t spend much time on VideoPad’s audio features when I teach, as I like to introduce Audacity for audio editing, but VideoPad does have some useful features in this area. You can record within the software, as well as download and add music and sound effects from its free library, accessible by clicking the Add Stock Sound button under the Audio tab of the menu. There’s also a text-to-speech feature, which will create an audio file of the computer speaking any text input by the user.
Any added audio—music, recording, sound effects, etc.—can be modified with audio effects in much the same way video effects work for visual content. There are not quite as many audio effects as video effects, but there is a good selection for basic editing; options include Amplify, Distortion, Echo, Noise Removal, and Reverb.
Saving and Transferring
Saving and exporting videos works much the same as in other video-editing software, but I often need to spend time on this with students who are new to the process, explaining the difference between the options Save Project and Export Video. Saving a project will create a VideoPad file (.vpj). When transferring the project to a different machine, users will need to bring not only this file, but also all the media added so that VideoPad can continue to find it. I generally recommend that students create a folder to store all their clips, images, and audio and then save their .vpj file in the same folder to make things easy.
There are many options for exporting the project when finished, but the only one that will work in the free version of VideoPad is to export as an .avi file. This limitation would not be ideal for a more advanced project, but for amateur video editing and simple digital essay assignments, students just need to be made aware of this (and occasionally reminded near to when their projects are due).
VideoPad is useful software. While I wouldn’t recommend it (especially the free version) for advanced users, it serves my needs well when I teach video editing to undergraduates without prior experience. It works well as a replacement for the discontinued Windows Movie Maker. I certainly think VideoPad has potential past what I have explored as well, as it ties in directly with NCH Software’s suite of other tools, such as a dedicated photo editor and a sound editor, which are capable of moving files among them.
There are a number of quirks to be aware of in advance, but I make sure I cover these aspects with the students I teach. Additionally, I also have created supplementary documentation they can access online while working on their projects. Overall, VideoPad is a solid option.