Lightworks 14.0 beta review: New UI for cross-platform professional-level video NLE

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • New user interface provides task-focused views for a more organised workflow
  • Expanded range of audio effects
  • Auto save and history allow undo to any level
  • Cross platform (Windows, macOS and Linux)
  • Free or Pro fee payment versions (Pro includes a range of codecs and advanced features)
  • Supports video editing at a professional level
  • Built in titler
  • Resolution independent

Cons

  • No help and only basic tooltip hints
  • Audio mixing and effects are still fairly limited
  • Promised open-sourcing of Lightworks still hasn't happened

Having inherited the software as part of its 2009 acquisition of Gee Broadcast, EditShare started a beta programme in 2011 to develop Lightworks cross platform on Windows, macOS and Linux, beginning with the Windows-based version 11.0 in 2012.

Lightworks has been promoted as designed by and for video editors -- and in a way, that has always been its problem. Professional movie editors tend to work in a highly specialised and well-supported environment, with jobs such as designing and creating titles, or recording and mixing the sound, often taken care of by other professionals.

Lightworks certainly reflected this in its early incarnations, as the software was originally sold as part of a turnkey system, complete with all the hardware -- including a specialised keyboard and a controller that emulated a KEM or Steenbeck film editor control system. It didn't really compete with the Swiss-army-knife approach of NLEs such as Adobe Premiere or Apple's Final Cut Pro, which offer a wealth of features to cover everything from title creation to comprehensive audio mixing. Over time, Premiere and Final Cut Pro have gradually moved towards the professional market, while Lightworks has slowly added features -- such as the expanded range of audio effects in version 14.0 -- that make it more usable for the small movie maker.

The new user interface

The big change in Lightworks 14.0, which is currently available in beta, is an advance on the previous 'professional' user interface. While retaining the pallette and general graphical style used in version 12, Lightworks 14.0 introduces a new and more accessible task-focused user interface. To facilitate a smooth transition, users can switch between the old and the new interface as desired.

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Lightworks 14.0's new projects launch desktop with larger project thumbnails.

Image: ZDNet/Terry Relph-Knight

As in all previous versions, Lightworks only runs full screen. On launching Lightworks the Project display on the opening desktop now occupies a much larger area, with larger thumbnails for each project, arranged in a four-by-three tiled grid, with a scroll bar along the right hand edge to allow access to further projects. The Lightworks logo appears at the top left, with gear wheel, underscore and X icons grouped at the top right for settings, minimise and close.

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The Settings menu from the projects desktop, which drops down when the gear wheel icon at the top right corner of the desktop is clicked.

Image: ZDNet/Terry Relph-Knight

The Settings menu is subdivided into Project spaces, User interface, Hardware, Licensing and Information. Lightworks 14.0's new look is designated 'Fixed' for fixed tiles, and by selecting 'Settings/User Interface/Project layout' and choosing either Fixed or 'Flexible', users can switch between the new tiled interface and the old floating-windows interface.

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The new UI is designed to be more intuitive and to make controls and options easier to find. This is expedited by four tabs at the top of the desktop, labelled LOG, EDIT, VFX and AUDIO. Clicking on a tab opens a view that's specific to the labelled task. Windows or tiles are fixed in that they are neatly tiled with no overlaps and the tiling fills the desktop, but it's still possible to click on the borders and drag to proportionally resize the tiles

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The LOG tab of the new Lightworks 14.0 UI.

Image: ZDNet/Terry Relph-Knight

LOG opens a view suited to managing project assets, with four tiles. An expanded version of the project assets tile from the EDIT view fills the left portion of the desktop. In both of these views, tabs at the top of this tile are labelled Project Contents (bins containing assets included in a project), Local Files (for access to your local filing system), Audio Network and Pond5. These last two are new to Lightworks and offer access to the Audio Network and Pond5 libraries of audio tracks and video clips. These may be previewed and purchased for royalty-free use in a project.

A viewer tile occupies the upper right, with tiles for Metadata and Cue Markers below it.

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The EDIT view of the new Lightworks 14.0 UI. The white square brackets of the new edit point indicators are visible on the timeline.

Image: ZDNet/Terry Relph-Knight

The EDIT view shows the project assets in an upper left tile, a viewer for the selected video on the right and an edit timeline along the bottom of the desktop. In this view, video assets can be double-clicked to open them in the viewer and then portions marked and inserted to the timeline using the controls along the bottom of the viewer. Alternatively, thumbnails can be dragged directly to the timeline to insert an entire clip.

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The VFX tab of the new Lightworks 14.0 UI. Controls for three effects -- Titles, Colour Correction and Blend appear in the left tile. For illustration purposes, an alternate title created with Lightworks titler has been overlaid on an original title frame.

Image: ZDNet/Terry Relph-Knight

The VFX view increases the size of the viewer so the action of video effects can be more clearly seen, and opens a large control panel for effects settings on the left of the desktop. The built-in titles editor is now found under effects on the VFX view (right-click Effects/Auto Effects/Title). Our screenshot shows an alternate title created with Lightworks' built-in titler. The original titles and subtitles for this video project were created as still frames using Inkscape and imported into the project bin.

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The AUDIO view of the new Lightworks 14.0 UI.

Image: ZDNet/Terry Relph-Knight

The AUDIO view shows a vertically expanded tile of the audio track waveforms along the bottom of the desktop, a tile for audio effects on the left and a viewer with pan controls and track level metering bars along its right-hand edge.

Other changes

The cartoon shark that lurked at the bottom left corner of the desktop, and showed grey for the free Lightworks and red for a paid-up Lightworks Pro, is gone from the new interface, although 'tooltips' do still appear in pop-up bubbles. Also absent is the sticky toolbar that appeared at the left edge of the desktop. The functions offered by this toolbar are now all contained in the various views and context-sensitive menus that are opened by a right mouse click over their tiles.

The audio effects have been expanded to include; 50Hz or 60Hz hum removal, treble boost, bass boost, presence increase, presence reduction, LoFi EQ, low volume loudness compensation, wind noise compensation, plosive (pop) and sibilance reduction (male or female). There's still no reverberation -- an effect that's often useful for music tracks that have been close mic'd, or for adding ambience to background sound and dialogue.

Editing directly on the Lightworks timeline was never as intuitive as with other NLEs as it featured some rather oddly-behaved 3D shading indicators to show which editing mode was selected. The new interface adopts the small square brackets from the previous interface and shows large white square brackets. These appear around the end of the cut points as you mouse over to the left, centre or right of the cut. When the left mouse button is clicked to drag, these brackets turn yellow. A left-facing bracket indicates that a drag will move the end point of the clip to the left, and a right-facing bracket indicates that a drag will move the start point of the clip to the right. When both brackets are visible a click and drag will move the cut point itself to left or right. Edits affect all selected tracks.

Lightworks has only context tips rather than a help button, but there are various help pages and video tuition resources available online, although these tend to lag behind the latest version. An official quick-start video guide for Lightworks 14.0 is available on YouTube.

All in all, Lightworks 14.0 sees the removal of the last cartoon-like elements of the interface design; this, along with the new workflows and additional new features, results in a UI that reflects the underlying power and professionalism of this NLE.

Getting Lightworks

At the time of writing (December 2016) Lightworks is at release version 12.6.0 for Microsoft Windows, macOS or Linux, and can be downloaded free of charge from the Lightworks website. Licenses for Lightworks Pro as well as custom keyboards, custom controllers and Lightworks training can be purchased from the website shop page. A one-month licence costs £17.99, an annual licence £119.99 and an outright licence £299.99 (all prices including VAT). The download buttons for version 14.0 beta are located below the download buttons for the release version. Version 14.0 is likely to go to full release some time in January 2017.

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