Lightworks NLE Free Version – A Review: Part 1

by Jeremiah Hall (doddleNEWS)

One of the more exciting things in post-production is trying something new. Lightworks NLE is not new, though it is new to thousands of editors – me included.  It has been around since the 1990s, and has been used on a wide variety of Hollywood movies, including Phantom of the Opera, The DepartedHugo, and Pulp Fiction.  It’s an NLE I’ve been looking forward to trying, and the version I’m reviewing is the free one. It is currently owned by U.S. and U.K.-based EditShare. The Lightworks beta was available for 18 months for editors to try, with a Windows-based non-beta released to the public in May, with Mac and Linux ports coming soon.

There are a couple of things to know about Lightworks before you go into it.  There are two versions; the first one is free, the second one costs $60.00 for a one-year license. The free version has some limitations when it comes to codecs, while the pay version has a long list of supported codecs.

I decided for the purposes of this review to only work with the free version of Lightworks for two reasons. First, most independent filmmakers are notoriously broke. Second, I decided to hold off on spending any money until I had tried it out for myself.  I don’t necessarily need a new NLE, but I always advocate broadening my horizons when I can.  Just to give you a frame of reference, I currently cut with Adobe Premiere Pro.  Previously I spent eight years working between Avid and Final Cut Pro.

I went to the Lightworks website.  The first thing I had to do was create an account, which consisted of the standard name, email, password, etc.  Then I had to go to my email account and open their email to me and click the verification link.  Once verified, I logged into my Lightworks account and got my software activation code for Lightworks, which is required before you can use it.  Then I downloaded the install, as well as the quickstart guide and the manual, and got to work.

Creating an account is required to receive an activation code.

I opened it, put in my activation code, and went back to the Lightworks website to watch the tutorials.  The tutorials are very short, basic, and gave me enough information to dive in without reading the manual first.

Then I turned back to Lightworks.

I shot a short film last month, which I intend to post in Adobe CS6.  I decided to work with some of those clips to play around in Lightworks with, so I chose 20 at random.  Which led to my first problem.  I shot my video with a Canon DSLR, whose files are encoded in H.264, which is not supported by the free version of Lightworks.

The free version of Lightworks is codec limited to DVCAM, DVCPRO 25, DVCPRO 50, DVCPRO HD, MPEG 4.2.2 SD/HD, and Avid DNxHD.  According to Lightworks an extra Avid DNxHD license is required.  A link is on their website, and the license is $65.  Lightworks can also export MOV files, and MPEG-4.  It can work with still images, the file formats being BMP, JPEG, PNG, PSD, TGA, compressed TGA, and TIFF, both import and export.  The free version also supports Steroscopic imports.

The $60.00 version works with a long list:

Uncompressed SD 8 bit and 10 bit
Uncompressed HD 8 bit and 10 bit
MPEG-2 I-Frame SD
MPEG-2 I-Frame HD
IMX 30, 40, 50
Avid DNxHD – all variants, including Thin Raster (extra license required)
AVC-Intra 50
AVC-Intra 100
XDCAM EX (native MP4 support)
XDCAM HD 50 422
Apple Pro Res (import only)
RED R3D (import only)
DPX 8 bit, 10 bit, 16 bit
Image Sequence (BMP, DPX, JPEG, PNG, PSD, TGA, Compressed TGA, TIFF)
BluRay (VC1, H.264 and MPEG-2 HD 422)
Broadcast Wave Format with drop and non-drop frame timecode options
MDA for Edit While Capture with Geevs

So I had to backtrack.  I opened my trusty copy of Adobe Media Encoder, and encoded my 20 clips into DVCPro HD 720p 30fps files for Lightworks.  I know many novice editors out there may not have Adobe Media Encoder.  There are several free and shareware encoders available on the web for download.

Creating a new project requires a name and a frame rate.

Upon opening Lightworks, you are presented with a Project browser.  Every project already created is listed there, as well as the ability to create a new project.  I created a new project with a 30fps frame rate called “Test.”  After I hit the CREATE button, the Project Manager vanished, replaced by the Import Window.

Before I imported anything, I went up to the tab at the top of the screen, which lists the settings for Project Test.  You can see Details, including current frame rate, creation date, and the project location.  You can also add your own notes about the project there.  Next to that are Video settings.  You can choose between formats here.  It defaults to NTSC 4:3.  I switched it to 720p 29.97 fps.  You can pick between NTSC, 720p, 1080i, or 1080p in various frame rates.  There are decisions to make about 8-bit or 10-bit precision, letterboxing, and steroscopic 3D.  There are also four blacked out options, Output, Display optimisation, FX update interval, and RED decode quality.  I assume those four are for the $60.00 version.  Next up was Audio.  You can choose your sample rate, Audio monitor delay, Soft Cut Duration, Normalisation, and Track Grouping.  Next to Audio is Film, with selections for In-camera film speed, Sync film-set choices, and choosing a frame rate for viewers.  Finally there is Misc., with options for password, wallpaper, Project database, hardware output tests and GPU tests.

The Import Window

I went back to my import window.  The tab at the top says Places.  You have a choice of Shortcuts, Removable drives, Local Drives, or Network.  Shortcuts are common places such as My Documents and Desktop.   I chose my E: drive, and navigated to the folder where I had my raw clips.  It showed a P2 project, two other folders, and two other shots.  One of those shots has red type instead of white underneath it’s format.  Lightworks uses red type to show that format listed in red is not usable by the free version.

Transcode settings.

Lightworks handles import in one of three ways.  You can Create a Link, which allows you to use the files in their current location natively.  You can Copy Local, which copies the files from where they currently are to a Material drive.  Your final choice is to Transcode, which allows you to transcode to a different format for editing.  THe choices for that are split between SD and HD.  The free version allows MXF, AVI or MOV.  SD media compression choices are DV/DVCAM, DVCPRo 25 and DVCPro 50 if using MXF;  DV/DVCAM, DVCPro 25, DVCPro 50, YUYV, UYVU, Matrox SD 8-bit, and MPEG 422 SD with a choice of bit rate if using AVI; and DV/DVCAM, DVCPro 25, DVCPro 50, and UYVY if using MOV.  HD compression is set for DVCPro 100 for MXF;  DVCPRo 100, YUYV, UYVY, Matrox YUYV HD 8-bit, and MPEG 422 HD with adjustable bit rate if using AVI; DVCPro 100 or UYVY if using MOV.

I wanted to see how long it took Lightworks to transcode my clips.  I chose AVI with the DVCPro 100 setting.  I highlighted P2 Project, and clicked the Import button.  It took about ten minutes for Lightworks to analyze my 5 gb worth of clips and transcode them to separate files.  That left me with 60 files – one each of video, and two each of audio.

The Import Window turns into a Bin.

I highlighted where it said Import on the upper-left of the import screen.  By giving the Import window a name, Lightworks transforms it from import window to bin.  The bin saves upon exiting Lightworks.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the rack / bin file structure, linking audio and video tracks, and editing.

Happy cutting.

About Jeremiah Hall

I am a videographer living in the Cincinnati, OH area. I have over fifteen years experience, with my name on a couple of Emmys and a Murrow or two. When I'm not in front of After Effects or teaching editing techniques, I like to play with camera equipment and as much tech as I can find the time for.

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