Tuesday, August 7, 2007

5 Free Online Video Editing Sites Reviewed

Some people would be surprised that you can edit photos online without locally installed software, but surely video editing is too resource-intensive to be done over the web, right? Wrong! We review five online services that let you do things like scene transitions, cuts, splices, loops, audio overlays—and they're all free. We tested the following:

* Cuts
* Eyespot
* JumpCut
* Motionbox
* One True Media

None of these free services is going to put installed video editors like Pinnacle Studio or the $800 Adobe Premier out of business. If you're willing to spend about $50, you can go with Pinnacle Studio or Ulead VideoStudio. But these free online services offer a way for regular Joes to have fun manipulating their multimedia digital content and also give them an easy way to share them with friends and the world at large.
Online Video Editors

Let's begin with our first video editing site in this roundup: Cuts.


Cuts, the most recent entry in the online video editing game, states its mission as enabling "easy control of the video experience." This is contrasted with what networks and cable offer you. As the name implies, the web app, still in beta, lets you edit out the boring parts, add captions, insert sound effects, and produce loops. It also lets you share your creation via email or by embedding the video into your blog. The service doesn't actually perform the edits on the original video, but creates sort of an overlay that presents your edits.

Cuts works on online video, not directly on your home camcorder creations. Of course, you can upload your video to YouTube, MySpace, or Google Videos and then use Cuts on it. They plan to regularly add video hosting/sharing sites to this list, but that's it, at time of review.

Working with Cuts involves three major steps:

* Bring a video—enter the URL of the video
* Make the edits—cut scenes, add captions, add sounds
* Share it.

In addition to entering a URL from one of the three sites mentioned above, you can also edit a video for which you have the direct FLV (Flash Video) URL, such as those provided by blip.tv. FLV is the format used by YouTube, Google Videos, Yahoo! Videos, and MySpace.

Once you've entered your video URL, the service loads it (the time it takes, of course, depends on the length and quality of the video), and then you're taken to the Cutter:

You create all effects by dragging their buttons onto the timeline at the bottom. A feature that will let you zoom in on the timeline is labeled "coming soon." When you move the time indicator along the timeline, the video window doesn't show what will appear at that moment, but the first frame of the next scene. Note you can't use your own sounds, but must choose from the 28 prerecorded ones on the grid of buttons. We find the choices rather juvenile (think fart) and wish we could use sounds we created or found. We'd think it's very likely that people would want to add some music track to their video, as other sites reviewed here can do.

Adding captions is also simple: You go to the Captions table, drag the one button there to the timeline, enter some text, and you're done. Captions can be up to 50 letters long. You can control how long the caption appears by dragging the edge of its bar on the timeline.

The skipping and looping tools require the web app to analyze your video, which only took six seconds on a video that was 1.5 minutes long, but the time varied, probably depending on how busy the server was. This analysis finds and marks "scene changes" with a vertical rule on the timeline. You click the Skip/Loop tab again, and then you can drag buttons for either of those functions to one of these vertical lines on the timeline.

When you choose Loop, a dropdown list gives you a choice of how many times you want the scene to loop, up to five times.

We were surprised that Cuts doesn't offer scene transitions, especially since it has a tool that determines scene changes in the video you're editing.

When you go to save your edited video, you're required to enter a title and description, and given the option to add tags and make the video visible to the world. After the cut is saved, it is added to your My Cuts page (which, of course, requires you to have signed up).

When you click on a video in My Cuts, it loads all your captions, sound effects, cuts and loops for it, and then you can re-edit it or share it via an HTML snippet for your blog, a URL to cut and paste, an email button that opens your default email client. There are also buttons to send your Cut to social sites Digg, del.icio.us, furl, BlinkList, and reddit.

If there's a YouTube video you like, but think it just goes on too long or needs captions to illustrate or comment on what's going on, you'll have fun with Cuts. All the effects worked for us without a hitch. We think it's pretty limited compared with other services, however. We think the site's claim that it's easy is true, but as is often the case, that ease comes at the expense of capability.

Cuts' developers have plans in the works to offer similar editing for DVDs and longer downloaded videos such as TV shows. We have to wonder what people will want to cut out of those? The company also wants to work with cable and satellite providers to enable them to air edited versions of show. We thought they already had that capability, but maybe Cuts plans to make it easier and give them a way to keep the original content intact while displaying the edited versions.


Eyespot's tagline is "Movie Making for All of Us." It's pretty much a YouTube with editing: It hosts your uploaded videos and makes them available (optionally) for all to see. Eyespot goes beyond Cuts in allowing you to add music of your own choice and to apply scene transitions, though there are only two of these—fade and dissolve.

A simple signup asking for your email, a username and password is required before you can do anything.

After you finish this simple signup, your choices are

* Upload files
* Get free videos and music
* Start mixing
* Watch movies
* Manage your account

The service accepts lots of video file formats, including ASF, AVI, DivX, DV, FLV, MOV, MPEG, MPG, MP4, RM, WMV, 3GP, and 3G2—most everything you'd probably use. It also lets you upload picture files in the usual formats, including BMP, GIF, JPEG, JPG, PNG, and TIFF. Finally, for your soundtracks, you can upload audio in AAC, MP3, MP4, RM, WAV, and WMA file formats. One WMA file we tried uploading didn't appear in our Eyespot media; we suspect DRM was to blame. A progress bar appears when you choose a file to upload, which can take several minutes for video. The maximum file size is 100MB, and you can actually upload 10 at a time, though that does slow things down.

One very slight oddity was that after you choose the file from a standard File>Open dialog, you have to hit a green Download button, which on our test system appeared below the bottom of the browser window; since the progress bar is already showing, this at first led us to think something was broken. If you don't have any media of your own, you can use clips from Eyespot's partner sites, accessible from the Saved Media link on the Media page. For example, Paramount makes some clips available for your mixing pleasure.

Once you've uploaded your videos and photos, it's time for the Mixer:

The "timeline" in this service is just a row of rectangles for your videos and images, which you drag onto the rectangles in the order you want them played. You can have up to 100 of these rectangles. There are a bunch of effects, as you can see in the screen above: In addition to monochrome colorizing, there are slow and fast motion, and video distortion options. The latter include fun things like 1970s, 1940s, and 1890s looks, as well as effects called mosaic, trance, and Warhol—all in all there are 32 choices. Clicking Transition on the left menu gives you just three choices: Fade In, Fade Out, and Dissolve. These you drag into their own rectangles between the clips you've entered. The same goes for titles: You type your text in, you get a title rectangle, and then drag it where you want it in the mixing rectangles.

If one of your video clips is going on too long or has some boring parts you want to cut out, you can choose Trim/Play, right under its thumbnail, which brings up a popup that lets you do just that:

Soundtracks get their own bar below the rectangle, onto which you drop your tracks. We could only get one song to play per mix, and the sound in the video clip plays as well as the audio file you've overlaid.

After you've got all you clips, effects, dissolves, and music in the mixer, it's time to hit "Mix and Play" if you've entered anything in the rectangles that don't make sense, you'll get a message box telling you to fix it. An example would be a dissolve without a clip before and after. When all is correct and you've hit mix, the display will look something like this:

The Mix Time is how long it takes to create your mix, not the play time of the resulting mix. If Eyespot's servers are busy, you'll get a message like "There are five mixes ahead of yours." But we didn't experience much delay. We could only apply one effect at a time. For example, we weren't able to get slow motion and "Warhol" on the same clip.

After you're happy with your multimedia creation, it's time to share it with the world. On your Media page, you can choose to have your video Public or Private; it's Public by default, so be sure to choose Private when you upload or change it on the media item's page. Eyespot lets you share content in several ways: You can publish it on your blog via a button (we're not sure how Eyespot knew about our LiveJournal blog, but there it was in the choices), add it to groups you belong to in Eyespot. Joining these is as simple as going to the Groups link, clicking on a group (or starting a new one) and clicking Join. Thereafter, your joined groups with appear among your Publish choices. Finally, you can one-click upload the video to video sharing sites Veoh and blip.tv.

Alternatively, EyeSpot lets you download your creation in Mac, PC, iPod, PSP, and DivX formats.

For any type of editing, an Undo feature is nice, but Eyespot unfortunately doesn't have it. In place of a specifically named "Help" feature, there's a FAQ link, which effectively serves the same purpose. A very minor complaint is that the anchor links on this page didn't take us to the chosen topic in Firefox. Otherwise everything worked fine in that browser.

We found the AJAX and Flash-powered Eyespot to be a fun piece of webware to fool around with. The collection of special effects can keep media junkies happily creating and remixing for hours. It's quite easy to figure out.


The beta Jumpcut, a 2007 Webby Award nominee and Yahoo acquisition, is another YouTube-type site with the added capability of letting you mix and mash up your media. After a simple signup, you get started by either uploading your video files (they can be in .MPG, .MP4, .MOV, .FLV, .AVI, or .WMV format), remixing a video already hosted on the site, or play with a demo clip. Like Eyespot, the maximum accepted file size is 100MB. You can upload pictures in .JPG, .BMP, .PNG, .GIF, or .TIFF formats, while audio file uploads are limited to .MP3 and .WAV files. Choosing the Public or Private option for you uploads is clearer in JumpCut than in Eyespot, and you can assign tags at upload time. There's no progress bar during the uploading, just a spinning wheel, so you're in the dark as to how much long the upload will take. An alternative is to upload via an email address, which the service assigns you when you sign up.

There's also a Multiple Upload option that boasts another award; it is nice looking, but we're not sure why it's not just the default, as it doesn't offer drag and drop. This method actually does show a live percent uploaded for each file. If you upload multiple still images, this method will create a little slideshow movie of them. Some of the transition styles are amusingly titled: None, Smooth, Ken Burns, Slide Across, Diagonal Wipes, Net Love, Quiet. We couldn't actually tell the difference between Quiet and None.

Right off the bat, we got an error uploading a 500KB .WMV file that we had no trouble uploading to Eyespot. We then tried uploading a smaller file, with the same result. Switching from Firefox to Internet Explorer fared no better, and finally, we decided to go over to a Mac and try it in Safari. Same result, with the download stalling at the same exact percent completion—58%. We figured that maybe our wireless Internet connection had something to do with it, and so we plugged directly into the Ethernet connection. Same result.

We were sorry to experience this problem in this beta product, because it's one of the nicer looking and full-featured services. We hope it was just a beta hiccup. So we continued testing its capabilities with videos already on the site, successfully uploaded by others.

A wizard can walk you through the process of creating your movie, or you can go directly to the editor. Mashups with Flickr and Facebook get you started, but the one with Flickr didn't find our pictures after we allowed access.

In the JumpCut editor, you add videos to the mix by dragging them to the bottom of this window:

You can drag them around to get the order you want.

When you add a clip, a progress bar shows it loading into your movie; doesn't take long. You get a choice of 13 transitions—wipes, fades, dissolves, circles, L Cut, and Ken Burns among them. And Jumpcut gives you 31 effects to apply—things like messing with colors, many overlays of shapes and figures, rain. Titles for you movie come in many fonts and presentations such as zooming, scrolling across the screen, and more.

You upload audio files to use in your movies. We had no problem doing this, and we could add music to play in the background of over movie, and we could adjust the volume of the song and the clip audio individually for a good mix of levels.

Help is in the form of a searchable blog, a Tips page, and a Quick Guide. We didn't find an entry for the Slice choice. There's also a Tips button, which brings up a panel of the editors basic operation.

Since Jumpcut doubles as a video sharing site รก la YouTube, it's easy to give your work of art some exposure. At the bottom right-hand side of the Create page, you can press Publish, to bring up this page:

The place anyone visiting Jumpcut can find published videos is called the Wall:

As you can see from the left-hand sidebar, there are lots of ways to select the videos you want to see: by popularity, newness, and so on. One sweet option is Most Loved. Each movie's page has a heart below the video, which you can click to show that you love it; the number of people who love the movie appears next to the heart:

Jumpcut offered the most effects of the tools we looked at, a clean, clear interface, and community features. We only hope they'll work out the upload problems (we noticed other users having problems uploading on the site's help blog, so we're not alone in experiencing this). Yahoo! doesn't seem to have changed Jumpcut or integrated it into the main Yahoo set of sites yet, but the movie editing site will add some slick tools to the personal portal giant's arsenal.


Motionbox's tagline is "Personal video sharing made easy," and the implication is that it's more like aYahoo! Photos or Picasa Online for videos—a way to make your videos available to friends and loved ones without sending huge files. It's about taking those little movielets from your digital still camera with a bit of movie capability or from your cell phone that can do the same. We're not talking about major feature-length productions, here.

One nice difference with Motionbox is that when you sign up, you can designate a default of Private for your media. The supported file formats for your uploaded videos are AVI, MOV, DV, MPG, MP4, WMV, ASF, and QT. It also assigns you an upload e-mail address to send videos from you phone or other mobile device.

The uploader lets you choose multiple files for simultaneous uploading:

During uploading, it displays a progress bar for each individual file as well as for the overall upload status. Unlike some other online video editing services, Motionbox is not about mixing still pictures with video and sound, so there's no uploading photos or audio.

After you've uploaded some video, you can move over to your My Videos page:

Note the nice use of tooltips on the right that augment the menu choices. Note also the "video e-card" choice, showing Motionbox's goal of getting your vids to family and friends. A number of cutesy formats can be applied to the background in your cards:

On the page for an individual video clip, you'll see text boxes with code that you can use on your blog and a direct URL link to the video.

The service has the simple goals of letting you combine, trim, and reorder your video clips into one movie, so, for example, you could send a friend one video instead of three of the same event. The mixer has a nice timeline that shows an exact moment in the video (note the triangle and pointer in the thumbnail below the video window):

The slider on the right just above the "timeline" lets you choose how many seconds each thumbnail represents. So you order and trim the videos in a mix, and that's it. It would be nice if you could add more video clips from this mixing page; you have to have selected them ahead of time, though you can remove one.

Your options after this editing process are the same as for videos you've merely uploaded: Share (via email ), video e-card, mixer (again), group (which lets you add the video edit to any Motionbox group you've joined), Favorites, Playlists, and Delete. At the time of review, there were 56 groups, with diverse names like Activism and Social Justice, Critters!, and Toilets of the World.

Help consists of a small FAQ and some nicely presented How To guides.

Motionbox is a nice looking service, but it just doesn't do very much. A few special effects—even just transitions and loops—would make it more appealing.

One True Media

Like Motionbox, the free One True Media is primarily about creating montages by splicing your uploaded video clips. But it turns out to offer a lot more than Motionbox: transitions, music backgrounds, and text frames among them. The site also offers a premium version for $39.99 annually or $3.99 a month, and some options you'll see in the free service are labeled "Premium" and are only available if you pony up. Premium does more transitions, special effects, fonts, themes. It also enables DVD burning, gives you 20GB storage for your media, and lets you download your edited video to iPod or QuickTime file formats. We're looking at free here, so look for an in-depth review of that paid service at a later date.

The site accepts the following file formats: MPEG (.MPEG, .MPG, .MP4), QuickTime (.MOV), Audio Video Interleave (.AVI), Windows Media Video (.WMV), 3G Mobile Phone Video (.3GP), and JPEG (.JPG or .JPEG). When you create a video montage with the free version of One True Media, you get the option of having the work's title display at the beginning. This is even before you upload video clips. By default, the uploader supports multiple files, which we think makes sense. When you start uploading, you see a small, spinning, circular arrow and the percent complete, one file at a time. Uploading was fast compared with the other services.

When you've got some files uploaded, you click Done, and you're taken to your video's page:

Note the options to burn a DVD or photo book on the right. When you click on the DVD option, you get this page, showing a choice of case art for your DVD:

But it turns out to be a bit of a come-on, since you have to pay for the Premium service to actually burn a CD. Still, for 40 bucks it's not exorbitant for DVD burning software.

Back to stuff you can do with the free version. Here's the editor, which lets you crop your video, change the background song and its length, add more video clips, text slides, and remove stuff:

You can drag and drop each clip to the position you want. To make cuts, you click "clip this video" and you get a screen showing a frame for each second of the video, each of which can be designated as the new start or end of the clip. There are six free transitions—random, dissolve, reveal, push, and fade through black or white (Premium adds 12 more, such as Swirl and Pixelate).

Back on the video's main page, you can also change the music, choose a thumbnail, and choose one of seven "Themes" to apply. These offer cute intro scenes and different music, such as one appropriate for Valentines Day, friendship, or Offbeat.

For sharing your creations, you can click on Post next to a video in your My Studio page to get a URL link, code for your blog, an email option, and direct posting to YouTube, TypePad, or your TiVo channel. You can also add it to the One True Media gallery from here, or try out the beta Share to Mobile to send it to someone's phone. The site's Gallery can be sifted into 15 categories, with names like Birthday/Anniversary, Funny, and Vacation/Travel. This service seems less aggressive about getting you to put your videos into its own community.

You can also download your movie to iPod or QuickTime format, and the service offers to send you a DVD of it if you get the Premium account; the first one is free with a Premium upgrade, after that they cost from $10 to $20 based on the number you order.

Finally, One True Media offers a Collections feature, which lets you group together related videos and photos for easy, organized access. Oddly, it seemed that you had to upload directly into a collection rather than being able to move your content from My Studio.

Help is in the form of a fairly thorough FAQ, but the ability to search it would be nice.

We found One True Media to be one of the more capable and well-working web services in this review roundup. You can do quite a lot without spending any money on the Premium version.

Final Thoughts: Roll 'Em!

Among the free services we tested for this review roundup, JumpCut offered the most editing tools and effects. Unfortunately, this site gave us uploading headaches on both a Windows PC and a Mac, so it's hard to recommend unconditionally, unless you're just interested in editing videos you find on the site. Jumpcut also has one of the nicest interfaces, though all the services we tested were pretty slick looking. One True Media was another relatively full featured service, with several transitions, simple text frames, and the ability to download your movies, and even burn a DVD if you pay for it. Eyespot offered a good number of fun effects though only two transition styles, plus the ability to download your creations.

Most of these sites weren't just concerned with letting you edit video, but also were heavily about getting your creations shared in the larger world. They all gave your URLs and emailing capability for your edit, but varied in the strength of their own community or group features. We thought that Jumpcut, with its Wall and nice-looking Groups page with many ways to slice and dice public videos did the best job making videos findable and accessible to the world.

Pointer Graphic for FingerlinksRead our roundup of Free Online Photo Editors.

Online video editing is just getting started. In fact, we've read that several more video sharing sites—The N, Grouper, and VMIX—are about to add the capability, and there are technology companies out there ready to offer them the tools they need, Videoegg and Movie Masher among them. We definitely haven't finished coverage of online video editors, as more and more video sharing sites with this capability keep popping up.

To conclude our roundup, here we present a comparison table of each service reviewed today: