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How can I edit MPEG video?
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Why MPEG Editing is Hard

Before you buy an MPEG editor, you must realize that MPEG was not designed to be edited. MPEG is a high-powered compression algorithm made for pre-edited video that is simply played back as-is and never changed.

The main thing that makes it difficult to edit MPEG video is that an MPEG encoder only puts out one full "reference" frame for every 14 or so "difference" frames. These difference frames only encode what changed since the reference frame. This is where MPEG's high compression comes from: difference frames are much smaller than reference frames. (This is an oversimplified explanation, but it suffices.)

Since difference frames depend on a previous reference frame in order to be decoded, the only place in an MPEG stream that you can do simple cuts is right before a reference frame. If you were to cut the video before a difference frame, that difference frame and all subsequent difference frames would refer to a preceding reference frame that doesn't exist any more. That stream would then fail to decode properly.

Types of MPEG Editors

The simplest type of MPEG editor doesn't try to work around this problem. So-called "GOP-accurate editors" only do cuts on a "group of pictures" boundary. A GOP is a self-contained set of frames that starts with a reference frame. The problem with GOP-accurate editors is that GOPs are typically 12-18 frames long, meaning that you may be forced to make a cut up to 11-17 frames before or after the most optimal cut point; that's means your clips can be about half a second too long or too short. This is adequate for cutting commercials out of a television program you recorded, but not accurate enough for serious video editing.

The more powerful MPEG editor type is one that can re-encode the stream as necessary. This allows the editor to do frame-accurate cuts, because it can re-encode split GOPs. This type of MPEG editor can also offer tools that change the frames themselves (e.g., titling and transitions) because it can re-encode all the GOPs that contain changed frames. You may wish to read my re-DCTing article to learn what you can expect from an editor that re-encodes MPEGs.

Where to Get MPEG Editors

There are two main types of MPEG editors these days: standalone editors, and traditional video editing software (NLEs).

The standalone software is mostly a throwback to the days when few NLE packages would read MPEG files, but they still have some value. Being dedicated programs, they may sometimes work better than generic NLE software. For example, Apple's highly-regarded Final Cut Pro will let you edit MPEG files, but it will re-encode the entire stream. A dedicated MPEG editor will either give you GOP-level cuts or GOP re-encoding, so the entire stream isn't re-encoded. In the past I've used Womble's MPEG2VCR, TMPGEnc's editing features, VideoRedo, HT Video Editor and Vitec Multimedia's MPEG editors.

Here are some I have not used:

  • Blaze Media Pro     
    Powerful all-in-one audio/video converter, burner, editor, ripper, and much more 
    Size: 14091KB License: Shareware Price: $50.00 By: Mystik Media  
  • MedianSoft Joiner-Converter 3.4     
    Powerful, easy-to-use tool for editing video and audio clips with transitions 
    Size: 1699K License: Shareware Price: $39.95 By: MedianSoft  
  • CDH Media Wizard 11.0    
    All-in-one audio and video converter, editor, recorder, burner, and much more! 
    Size: 9842KB License: Shareware Price: $39.95 By: CDH Productions 
  • Full Motion Video 5.98    
    Real-Time editing, 100s of special effects, transitions and a Multiformat viewer 
    Size: 22003KB License: Shareware Price: $19.99 By: Slipstream Systems Limited  
  • EMX Movie Converter 1.2     
    Best tool to convert media files between popular formats! 
    Size: 12988 KB License: Shareware Price: $34.99 By: eMatrixSoft 
  • Ultra Video Splitter 3.6.0     
    Split, trim a large AVI, MPEG I/II, RM, VOB, DAT, WMV file into smaller clips. 
    Size: 5504 KB License: Shareware Price: $25.00 By: Aone Software 
  • Video Edit Guru    
    Video Edit Guru is one of the most powerfull video files editing tool realeased. 
    Size: 17790K License: Shareware Price: $29.99 By: Malware Remover 
  • JFuse AVI, MPEG Joiner / Mpeg Splitter 3    
    Joins or splits media files. 
    Size: 8000KB License: Shareware Price: $20 By: MediaByte Inc.
  • Quick MPEG Splitter 2.0         
    Split mpeg file into smaller mpeg video clips, extract part of mpeg video. 
    Size: 4976KB License: Shareware Price: $19.95 By: Goldzsoft Inc. 
  • AVI Splitter & MPEG Splitter 1.22     
    split, cut or trim a large AVI or MPEG file into smaller video clips 
    Size: 667KB License: Shareware Price: $19.95 By: boilsoft  
  • Mpeg Splitter 1.0    
    Mpeg Splitter is a tool for splitting an MPEG(MPG) file into smaller MPEG files 
    Size: 438KB License: Shareware Price: $19.99 By: KakSoft Studio

  • Ordix Mpack Professional 5.01    
    The Only True MPEG Joiner with no glitches. Join and Split MPEG files with ease. 
    Size: 2496KB License: Shareware Price: $19.99 By: Ordix Interactive

Most NLE software these days offers some form of MPEG editing. You will need to investigate it to see how capable it is. As with the anecdote about Final Cut, you may find that it will edit the MPEG stream, but there will be some serious limitation that might send you looking for a dedicated MPEG editor.


The "high road" of MPEG editing is to not do it at all. When making MPEG files from AVIs, always keep the AVI until you're sure you are happy with the final MPEG. Editing the MPEG is much harder than editing the AVI, and you won't be able to use all the video editing tools you're accustomed to. If you absolutely must edit an MPEG file, don't expect miracles. Always remember that by editing MPEGs, you're swimming upstream.

Last update: 09:12 PM Friday, August 4, 2006


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