There’s no question about it: Video is ubiquitous. Today, anyone can document their vida loca via smartphone, DSLR or compact camera. But most people these days don’t just want to record the joys of life’s moments; they also want their movies to look great and share them with others.
We tested nine programs — paid and free — on consumer Mac and Windows laptops for more than 100 hours, to see which are the best for editing, as well as sharing your videos with friends and family.
Among the paid software, only one — Adobe Photoshop Elements 15 — is truly cross-platform, and it emerged as our top pick. Despite its lack of emerging popular technologies, like 360-degree video handling and multicam editing features, it's the easiest video editor to learn and use, and offers plenty of advanced functions.
CyberLink PowerDirector 15 Ultra is the best video editing software for Windows, featuring a dazzling array of tricks and treats. Corel VideoStudio Ultimate X10’s ease of use and power earned it the top slot for beginners.
Apple’s iMovie, which competes only with cross-platform free apps and Adobe Elements, is the obvious choice for the best Mac video editing software, thanks to its outstanding output, themes and trailers, macOS integration, and features that encourage good moviemaking skills. For the best free software, HitFilm 4 Express gets the nod for its abundant cinematic capabilities and stylish interface. If you often share your videos on YouTube and other social media platforms, the free, cross-platform VideoPad is your best option.
Free or Fee?
There’s no reason for the occasional video jockey to fork over any cash, as there are plenty of free apps available for both Windows and Mac. But while the deciding factors for free and paid software may appear to be based on cold hard cash, that’s not the whole story.
People who are looking for a more powerful editor with a variety of built-in resources, responsive technical support and more would be better off dropping some cash on a video editing program.
However, there’s a third option: You can download software such as VideoPad or HitFilm (which offer all of the basics) for free, and then purchase additional features à la carte as your experience and needs grow.
For our speed comparison, we tested all of the Windows and cross-platform video editing software on an HP Spectre x360 convertible laptop running Windows 10 Home. The laptop's 64-bit Intel Core i5 processor, with a 5200U CPU, runs at 2.2 GHz on an Intel HD Graphics 5500 system and has 8GB of RAM. We tested iMovie on a MacBook Air (late 2013) with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i7 processor, Intel HD Graphics 5000 and 8GB of RAM, and running macOS Sierra v. 10.12.1.
We combined a text opener with five clips linked by a cross-fade-type transition into a 2.5-minute video shot at 60 frames per second, and rendered the projects to the MPEG-4 format at 720p. We timed rendering at both 60 fps and 30 fps. We adjusted settings to take advantage of hardware acceleration for all tests whenever possible, setting them in either the preferences or the rendering controls for the best speeds. Apple’s iMovie, the lone Mac-only app, is not included in the timed comparisons.
Performance results are important, but they’re not critical components of software evaluations, because depending on your hardware setup, your mileage will vary. By comparison, ease of use, interface and features carry more weight than export clock speed. Nonetheless, as a single measure among many, speed testing provides valuable comparative information.
At 30 fps, Corel VideoStudio beat out all competitors at a swift 1:11, followed closely by CyberLink PowerDirector, which finished rendering at 1:58. The free VideoPad turned in a respectable third-place performance, at 2:57. HitFilm 4 Express brought up the rear, at 5:59.
Rendering at 60 fps, not surprisingly, took a bit longer for most apps. This time, CyberLink PowerDirector finished in 3:07, VideoPad took 3:15 and Corel VideoStudio came in third place, with 3:30. HitFilm 4 Express took a much longer 5:37.
Our Top Picks
How We Tested
We evaluated all of the software based on functionality, ease of use, performance, sharing options and new features in the latest versions. We also judged the packages based on real-life uses for a number of categories, including best overall, best free app, best for beginners, best for YouTube maestros, best for Mac users and best for Windows platforms.