Linux Media Creation: Top Apps

Monday Aug 8th 2016 by Matt Hartley
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Linux media creation has no lack of highly functional apps, as this survey of Linux media apps demonstrates.

Historically, Linux media creation has gotten a bad rap. The reasons why vary, but usually it's due to legacy applications from powerful media companies that sell expensive software. In this article, I’ll dive into the truth about Linux media creation. I’ll also focus on what software usually holds folks back and how they compare to their open source alternatives.

Photography media creation with Linux

When you take photos with your smart phone or a camera, those images are then available to be downloaded onto your computer. The trick here, however, is then which software will you use to organize, edit and tweak those photos? For proprietary operating systems, the goto programs include Adobe software titles. Applications like Photoshop, Lightroom, and the corresponding photo management tools built into the operating system by default.

With modern Linux distributions, the software titles most commonly used include GIMP, Darktable, and the corresponding photo management tools built into the operating system. Where things differ is less with Darktable vs Lightroom, more with Photoshop vs GIMP. Ask anyone who uses Photoshop if they'd consider using GIMP, usually you'll be told no. There are exceptions, but most die-hard Photoshop users don't love the idea of switching to a program with a different work flow.

When it comes to GIMP, professional photographer Riley Brandt offers great GIMP tips that might give other photographers something to think about. Working with RAW images means less time with Photoshop and more time with RAW compatible editors. This means a photographer could spend most of their time with a Linux compatible RAW editor like Darktable or Lightzone and the other 10% of their time in GIMP.

To make this process even easier, Riley Brandt even offers step by step advice on how to better acclimate to GIMP when coming from a Photoshop work flow. Keyboard shortcuts, layer handling, snap to canvas, even "correcting" the move tool's behavior to make folks feel right at home.

And yes, he also provides solutions to ICC color profiles and CMYK handling. He even goes so far as to correctly recommend using Krita for CMYK work/exporting. And while he didn't touch too much on using RAW editors in Linux on this page, he does offer help in this video. Needless to say, he proves that you can indeed use Linux software to make dramatic, compelling edits to your photography.

Question: Can a professional photographer use Linux software for their photography? Yes, however it's not for everyone. Much of it depends on your expectations and work flow.

Audio & Music media creation with Linux

When you think of audio media creation, most of us think of using Macs...sometimes Windows. Regardless of which platform one prefers, one of the top software tools called "Pro Tools" from Avid is now available for both proprietary platforms. By contrast, "Fruity Loop" (FL Studio) remains largely in the Windows realm. Despite all the marketing lingo, these applications (among countless others) are at their core a DAW (digital audio workstation). The overall purpose of a DAW is too allow its user to mix/manage recorded audio such as music or voice.

linux media creation, Audacity

Audacity audio editing tool

Sadly, most people do not think about using Linux when it comes to creating professional audio. Despite this, there are a number of useful videos available on YouTube demonstrating first hand how to use Linux DAW software such as Ardour. Bundled with software like LMMS, Ardour is capable of professional grade audio results at the hands of someone who is familiar with the controls. For example, you might use LMMS to create "synths" and for the creation of music. Then you can export the results to Ardour to overdub vocals, add cool effects and so forth.

For those who need more "color" in their DAW experience, there is a proprietary solution that happens to offer a Linux version. It's called Bitwig Studio and it's priced substantially less than some of its competitors. This provides folks interested in mixing audio with an advanced DAW, a second option without resorting to using Windows or OS X only.

Question: Can a musician/vocal artist use Linux software for their music and audio? Yes, however finding the right DAW can be tricky. Also, expect there to be a substantial learning curve.

Honorable mention goes to Audacity. Akin to a less attractive "GarageBand" application, new DAW users might find that Audacity is easier on the senses. In my experience, Audacity is best suited to folks mixing limited tracks or recording voice to computer for podcasts. There are even applications for writing sheet music, radio station automation, along with drum machines and Music Scoring.

Video media creation with Linux

Video, whether it be TV, movies or podcasts...are an ever-growing part of our world. Here in the States for example, much of this kind of production is done with Windows and OS X. Sure, there are Linux servers at work rendering movies for big studios or in TV production. But where are the applications for managing video content, hands on? Yet as it turns out, most functionality is available for the Linux desktop – despite what you may have heard otherwise.

Let's start off with video editing. In the open source arena, Linux users have access to software like OpenShot, Pitivi, Flowblade and my goto application – Kdenlive.

Based on current features and overall direction, I think the winner in this space will be Kdenlive. At one time, I was happy with OpenShot...but these days I've found that Kdenlive is more in-line with my personal needs for video creation, due to the way Kdenlive handles compositing. That and I can jog my video edits without crashing the software.

What about for the person looking to produce cinema quality video on par with say, whatever the big studios are using for general editing these days? If you need the best of the best and are willing to pay for it, then Lightworks may be a better option for you. Why Lightworks? This "Vs" match videobetween the two editors provides you with a general idea.

Basically, Lightworks has advanced features you might not find in other editors. That said, its UI is not going to be intuitive if you come from other Linux video editors. Another issue I have is that even after you pay the subscription fee to get "more functionality," features like Boris FX are not compatible with Linux (despite initial hopes).

When it comes to creating cool effects, thankfully both Blender and Maya are available for Linux users. From a price perspective, you may wish to stick with Blender as Maya isn't for the faint of heart. Another issue to consider with Maya is that you must run RedHat or CentOS as the target destination for the software installation. By contrast, Blender runs on any distro with enough horsepower to produce the desired 3D model or effect.

Despite the issues I take with video editing on Linux, I am happy to report you can essentially manage a TV station using these software titles on your favorite distro! The one application that made me do a double-take was the news desk software called Superdesk. Bundle it, with Snowmix and next thing you know you're producing the news!

For those of us who are still using software like OpenShot or Kdenlive, these solutions may be a bit intense for our needs. For casual desktop capture, I'm a huge fan of SimpleScreenRecorder. There are other similar applications, but this is my personal favorite for capturing your desktop with audio. Should you decide you need to stream your desktop "happenings" with a camera in tow, it's tough to say no to OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). OBS is perfect for anyone wishing to stream their desktop/webcam to Twitch or YouTube Live.

Question: Is it practical to create, edit and stream/broadcast video content using Linux? Yes, but finding the right software combination can be tricky. I also wish Linux users had access to software comparable to Adobe After Effects. Yes, Blender is awesome...however the learning curve is substantial.

Next steps in Linux media creation

Now that we've talked about the applications for creating media on the Linux desktop, the next step is choosing the right distro. If you're merely doing minor video/audio editing, then any distro of Linux is fine. However if you are working with producing pro-level audio using JACK, there's something to be said about having a customized media Linux disto.

At this time, there are three different distributions that are designed to allow a creative person to install Linux and get back to creating. These distributions are Ubuntu Studio, KXStudio and AVLinux. These distributions all come with the best video and audio software preinstalled. If you're looking to try creating professional audio in Linux, these are the distributions I'd recommend trying first.

As for video and photography, honestly, you don't really need a special distribution setup. You don't need a special kernel configuration, or even JACK for that matter. All you need are the software titles suggested above and the willingness to try something new. Agree or disagree? What say you? Hit the Comments below and tell me about your own Linux media creations.

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