Windows 7 does not come with Windows Movie Maker as a part of the standard software package, nor does Windows 7 come with any codecs outside of the codecs that are used in Windows Media Player and the installed DVD player by default. Those of us who have recently purchased a new computer may be stuck for an idea of where to find a free movie maker to play with our video files and pictures before recording them to a DVD that we can play on our TV. I've spent some time trying out different freeware video editors, looking specifically for ease of use coupled with extensive editing and special effects capabilities. And I have to tell you that there is no singular place on the internet that will tell you what to download to create a reasonably complete and fully functional freeware Movie Maker package for Windows 7 with the exception of the list that I have created for this article.
Video and Audio Editors:
VirtualDub 1.9.8: A freeware video capturing and editing software program that is compatible with Windows 7 as well as earlier versions of Windows. Extensive video capturing and precision editing capabilities but is mostly limited to working with AVI file types. For more information: http://www.virtualdub.org/features.html
Learning VirtualDub: The complete guide to capturing, processing, and encoding digital video by Georgios Diamantopoulos, Sohail Salehi and John Buechler (c 2005) e-book: A free and fully downloadable Adobe pdf eBook if you register your name and email address with Packt Publishing. This 200+ page eBook is a must-have in your VirtualDub tutorial collection because the help files for VirtualDub were never written.
VideoPad Video Editor: A freeware multimedia movie maker that can use some VirtualDub plug-in filters for added special effects capabilities. Works with Windows only. Limited capturing and editing capabilities but can import and export an extensive range of different multimedia file types, make title pages and subtitles, and record audio directly for adding narration to videos. A bit clumsy if you want frame by frame precision but overall an excellent freeware video editor and movie maker.
WavePad Sound Editor: A freeware audio and music editor for Windows and Mac OS X. Will let you import an entire AVI file for sound editing functions such as noise removal, then it will export just the audio file of the AVI as an .mp3 or .wav file. The edited audio .mp3 or .wav of the movie can then be imported back into VideoPad Video Editor or VirtualDub and used as the new sound track for the old AVI. An excellent freeware sound editor for quick audio clean-ups and audio special effects.
NCH Software, the maker of VideoPad and WavePad, offers a jawdropping amount of other free (for non-commercial use), high quality Video, Audio and Utility applications that are worth perusing for your multimedia software collection. They make their money off of the commercial use and sale of their Pro versions, but their freeware "Lite" versions for the non-commercial hobbyists are really quite impressive.
Understanding Video Codecs: Yes, Virginia, there is a difference between a Windows Media Player codec (WMV9/VC1), and a household DVD player codec (mpeg-2 standard or mpeg-4 blu-ray). For example, although YouTube accepts a lot of different video codecs, you may get the best uploading results to YouTube from an MPEG-4 video codec with an MP3 audio codec. MPEG-4 codecs are used for high definition videos that can be played back on HDTVs as well as HD computer screens, while MPEG-2 codecs are used for standard definition videos on older standard TVs and computer screens. Some codecs are commercially sold and must be purchased, while other codecs are commonly used freeware versions that were designed and made available by members of the Open Source community.
XviD 1.2.2 codec: A freeware mpeg-4 video codec for PC with 42:1 compression ratio. HD capable and compatible with most newer movie players. For more information: http://www.xvidmovies.com/info/
DivX 6.8.5 codec: A freeware mpeg-4 video codec for PC with 59:1 compression ratio. HD capable and compatible with most movie players. For more information: http://www.divxmovies.com/info/
VirtualDub and VideoPad both come with pre-installed editing and effects filters, but you can get even more out of these programs by downloading the plug-in filters created by programming hobbyists, or by creating a new plug-in filter of your own. For a complete list of VirtualDub optional plug-in filters, check out http://www.thedeemon.com/VirtualDubFilters/, but I've added the plug-in filters that I use the most frequently here.
FadeFX plug-in filter: Adds simple fade-in from black and fade-out to black effects to the video. Works with both VideoPad and VirtualDub.
MSU_OldCinema plug-in filter: Converts a color video into an old black and white film reel effect, including specks and lines. Does not work with VideoPad, but does work with VirtualDub.
MSU_Cartoonizer plug-in filter: Converts the video into a painting, cartoon or line drawing effect. Works with both VideoPad and VirtualDub.
Subtitler plug-in filter: A video filter that applies Sub Station Alpha (.ssa) subtitle scripts to video in VirtualDub. Not necessary if using VideoPad for making subtitles. Note: The Sub Station Alpha software that this subtitler filter was originally designed to work with will not install on 64-bit Windows 7 operating systems and is no longer being updated by the author. Use Subtitle Workshop to make the .ssa subtitle scripts for VirtualDub instead. It's a much better software program anyway.
Subtitle Workshop: A stand-alone program that lets you create multi-language subtitles for your video and can save in many different file formats, including the .ssa format that is necessary for importing the subtitle file into VirtualDub. For more information: http://www.urusoft.net/products.php?cat=sw&lang=1
VirtualDub or VideoPad?
If you want frame by frame precision and control over a wide and technical range of editing and special effects capabilities for an AVI video, then I would recommend using VirtualDub. If you want to import and blend several different media and file types together to make a movie, such as photos, videos, background music and narration, with only limited editing and special effects capabilities, then I would recommend using VideoPad. Personally, I've installed both video software programs on my computer for the ultimate freeware Movie Maker software collection for Windows 7, but I have a preference for using VirtualDub for most of my video editing work with the exception of editing the audio, which I find much easier to do with Wavepad, and making the movie titles and subtitles, which I find much easier to do with VideoPad.
Update On Mar 22, 2010: I've had a ton of fun playing with this free movie making software. Originally shot by accident and in color with a Canon Powershot 8mp digital camera, "Technology Impaired" was made using VirtualDub, VideoPad, and Wavepad in combination to achieve all of the different special effects that I used. The file was compressed with XviD in 720 HD. I found the free "movie projector" sound effect and vaudeville music on the web, as well as the filmstrip photo that I used for the title page.