Katherine Boehret

Video Editing Made Easier

Have you ever watched someone editing photos and videos on a Mac and wondered why they seem much more talented and tech savvy than you are with your Windows PC? These Mac users have a leg up thanks to Apple’s iLife software, a suite of programs that comes loaded on every Mac, making it a cinch for consumers to work with videos, photos and music. Just last week, Apple announced the 9th version of iLife with a new edition of iMovie for editing and sharing home videos.

But what’s a Windows user to do with home videos? Many resort to Web-based services for editing and storage, but these require uploading media from camera to PC and then from PC to website. Some use a Microsoft program called Windows Live Movie Maker or editing software that comes with their video camera. But many people will assume there aren’t any good options and give up on editing.

This week, I tested Adobe’s $99 (before $20 mail-in rebate) Premiere Elements 9 video editing software program. This installs on the computer via DVD or by downloading and aims to help mainstream consumers edit, organize and share videos. All past iterations of this product were only available for Windows PCs, but Premiere Elements 9 is also available for the Mac, giving Apple users an iMovie alternative.

Other new features of Premiere Elements 9 include the ability to simply import and edit video clips from Cisco’s popular Flip hand-held camcorder, as well as built-in ways to store and share videos via the Web using Adobe’s Photoshop.com site. Several editing features have been improved and some are new, like one tool that removes irksome humming in the background of your video and another that converts your footage into a cartoon in one step.

I tested Premiere Elements using videos I captured with my Nikon Coolpix P90 digital camera and Flip minoHD camcorder on a recent vacation to Argentina and Uruguay. I installed the video-editing software on both my Windows 7 PC and on my MacBook Pro, and used it to edit out the noisy background noises of an airplane in one video captured from 30,000 feet, and the sounds of a bottle-labeling machine in another video I took during a vineyard tour.

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Adobe’s $99 Premiere Elements 9 video editing software program

But I found myself spending more time trying to figure out how to edit videos rather than simply editing. Editing tools are buried in several layers of menus and are poorly named. The option that turns a video clip into a cartoon is called “NewBlue Cartoonr Plus,” found in the Edit tab under Effects at the bottom of a long, scrolling list of other options.

The tool that eliminates background din is called “NewBlue Hum Remover” and is only discovered by opening Edit, Effects and an almost unnoticeable drop-down menu called Audio Effects. A spokesman for Adobe said these new features aren’t exposed differently than existing effects because that would have been confusing. But I found it aggravating to frequently hunt for features and tools.

Adobe separates Premiere Elements from an Organizer application, where all photos and videos are held. This is confusing because a Share tab in Premiere Elements offers to help you upload videos to Photoshop.com, YouTube, or Podbean (for podcast hosting), but Organizer offers additional sharing options like Facebook, SmugMug, and Flickr. If you didn’t dig around in Organizer, you’d never know these options were available.

Adobe signed me up for a Plus account, which costs $50 to renew each year or can be bought with Premiere Elements for $139 (before rebate). Adobe also sells its digital photo organizing software, Photoshop Elements 9, with Premiere Elements 9 in a $149 bundle (before rebate). The extra cost of a Plus account includes 20 gigabytes of online backup and storage—roughly four hours of DVD-quality video or 15,000 photos—versus the 2 gigabytes allotted to regular accounts.

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The cartoon function is hard to find in Premiere Elements 9.

I worked on my Mac and PC, dragging video clips down into what Adobe calls a Sceneline (a timeline is also viewable), which shows still clips of each video and lets you drag effects on to those clips to put them into action. For example, I dragged the Old Film effect on to a video clip of tango dancers at a Buenos Aires street market and the footage suddenly looked like an old black and white movie.

I often used Smart Trim Mode, a feature that was added in the last version of Premiere Elements and automatically analyzes footage to suggest what could be trimmed due to blurriness, shaky footage, low contrast or brightness.

Another helpful feature called Smart Tags automatically sorted my still photos and videos into several categories like One Face, Two Faces, Small Group, High Quality, Low Volume, Dialog and Shaky. I selected Dialog and High Quality and instantly found two video clips that I wanted, without scrolling through my library.

Adobe Premiere Elements produces good-looking stuff, even without the extra upgrade cost for a Plus account. But new users should expect to take some time to learn the system and read through directions. If Adobe cleaned up its long, scrolling lists and gave its editing tools more mainstream names, people would feel more comfortable using it.

Email Katherine Boehret at mossbergsolution@wsj.com


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