The camcorder is an endangered species. With smartphones, point-and-shoot digital cameras, and DSLRs all sporting video-recording—often in HD—and even tablets getting into the game, you just don’t see people with camcorders at every tourist spot the way you once did. But while the video-taking hardware may be changing, there’s still a real need for consumer video editing software. Aside from the those who need the raw power of Adobe Premier or Apple Final Cut, anyone who wants to make decent video needs one of these apps. That includes small businesses that want to make a good impression with a promotional video.

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The good news, there are a lot of strong choices out there. Consumer video editing software is generally mature, polished, and highly capable, as you’ll see from the mostly high ratings. Anyone who wants to delve into the wooly new world of 3D video now has a choice, too—Magix Movie Edit Pro 17 Plus HD. For stop-motion and time-lapse effects, too, these applications are indispensible: Avid Studio includes tools just for creating stop motion movies, while Corel VideoStudio Pro X4 adds to that a better one a time-lapse tool. Importing Video

Most video editors include three main stages—import, edit, and output—and separate modes for each activity are common. Not only can these apps import video stored in a vast array of formats—MPEG-1, -2, -4, AVCHD, QuickTime, and WMV, just to name a few, but they can often record directly from a connected camera—such as a webcam (many of which are HD nowadays). Surprisingly few of the apps, including Adobe Premiere Elements 9 and Avid Studio, let you apply tags to imported movie clips, just as you could with any photo organizer/editor app. Tags seems like a no-brainer, and anyone to whom organization and easy retrieval from a large collection of assets is of paramount importance should consider one of those two apps. Apple iMovie and Premiere Elements go even farther, with basic face recognition and auto-tagging.

Editing Video

After import comes the meat of editing your video clips—trimming and splitting clips to just get the best parts, joining them together with beautiful transitions, fixing lighting and color, applying titles and other text overlays, and superimposing multiple simultaneous clips, and maybe throwing in some special effects. A couple, like PowerDirector and Corel, excel at making the most needed function—trimming clips—a far more painless task, by including a multi-trim tool that lets you specify multiple in and out points on a clip so that just the best parts show up in your movie. The better programs also let you specify exact frames for effects to start and stop, and smoothly transition the two, in a process called key-framing.

Outputting Video

Output is also a key component. The apps create files in as many different formats, sizes, and bitrates as they import. This process, called “rendering” is where a program really shows its speed performance or lack of it. PowerDirector 9, our Editors’ Choice, was, not surprisingly, the clear winner in this important measure, as well as being the most responsive at previewing multi-track movies.
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Adobe Premiere Elements 9 : Timeline View
Premiere Elements 9 Cartoon Effect
Adobe Premiere Elements 9 : Video Effect
Avid Studio 1.0 : Montage

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Most of the apps can also create customizable and complex DVD or Blu-ray disc menus, titles, and chapter selections if you’re burning to one of those disc formats. And maybe of most interest to those wanting to share their motion picture creations with the world is the ability to directly upload to services like YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, and Facebook. Better ones will format the video to the service’s specifications so you don’t have to wait a long time for the site to process it before you can view it.

Those are some of the factors you need to think about before purchasing a consumer video editing software package, but it’s hardly the full list. You can expect to pay from $60 to $170, depending on whether the app includes features like Blu-ray disc burning, support for a large number of simultaneous tracks, and a large number of professional-quality effects and themes.

Adobe Premiere Elements 9Adobe Premiere Elements 9
$99.99 list

You could certainly do worse than Premiere Elements for your video editing needs, but its speed and usability have fallen behind that of competitors like CyberLink PowerDirector and Corel VideoStudio Pro X4.

Avid logoAvid Studio
$169 list

Avid Studio is a well-designed, highly capable (and expensive) prosumer video-editing program. It’s tons of effects and fluid user interface recommend it, but it shows some signs of being a first version and some operations are slower than in PowerDirector.

Corel VideoStudio Pro X4Corel VideoStudio Pro X4
$99.99 list

VideoStudio eases the transition from using a basic product like Windows Live Movie Maker to using more-professional digital movie creation software. It only trails others in limiting you to seven video tracks, and it also trails PowerDirector in some operations.

CyberLink PowerDirector 9CyberLink PowerDirector 9
$99.95 list
Editors
PowerDirector offers the best response and rendering speed of consumer video editing software we’ve tested. The app includes nearly every video effect and output option you could ask for. And this latest version also adds a capable sound editor.

Apple iMovie iMovie ’11
$49 as part of iLife ’11 suite, $14.99 in Mac App Store
Editors
iMovie ’11 improves on the already-impressive ease and power of Apple’s iconic video production software. The new audio editing and amazing Hollywood-style trailer features are enough to make the upgrade both worth your time and the reasonable price.

MAGIX Movie Edit Pro 17 Plus HD : Disc MenusMagix Movie Edit Pro 17 Plus HD
$99.99 list

The only consumer video editor to handle 3D content, Magix Movie Edit Pro 17 Plus HD has lots to offer, but some basic tools are wanting, especially a good clip trimmer. The interface has some quirks, and uses some nonstandard terminology.

Nero Video Premium HD : Vision Xtra Start ScreenNero Video Premium HD
$69.99 List

Though it offers fairly advanced video editing effects, including an excellent picture-in-picture too, Nero Video Premium HD suffers from slow startup and movie rendering and a lack of integration between its two components. It’s priced to sell, though.

Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD PlatinumSony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum
$99.95 list

While Vegas Movie Studio offers lots of control, it comes with a steeper learning curve than consumer video editing software competitors like PowerDirector or Premiere Elements.