Ulead Video Studio
Windows Movie Maker
Adobe After Effects
Adobe Premiere Pro
Ulead Video Studio
Ulead Video Studio is fairly simple to use, although not very intuitive, and even after using it many times it is often hard to find the import facility. Exporting is not so hard, and this software can export as wmv and import avi's that Bryce produces - something that Adobe's Premiere Pro cannot do. There are other features in this software like a really amazing choice of effects for transitioning from one clip to another, and all fairly simply sorted into categories making them easy to find.
You can also add clips as overlays, and there are 2 video tracks - video and overlay - and 2 sound tracks - voice and music, plus a track for titles, and if you export with sound attached you can then import that video with sound and the soundtrack appears with the images/clips on the first video track, leaving you still with 2 sound tracks, so that you can keep on adding more and more sounds.
This is an advantage over Windows Media Maker which only has the single audio track. Plus Windows Media Maker crashes more often than Ulead Video Studio does - on my PC at least.
Windows Media Maker
However Windows Media Maker does also have some interesting effects, like sepia, adding film grain, turning the video upside down, sideways, mirroring it vertically and horizontally, pixelating it, adding a watercolour effect, fading in and out to black or white, various pans and zooms and even an effect to cycle through a spectrum of colour changes.
For the amateur or hobbyist or for quick operations both of these are excellent and Windows Media Maker is free.
Ulead Video Studio's main disadvantage for me is that when attempting to play back video to check the sound syncing, the video plays as a dark and dirty red - almost black - making it very hard to see, but this may be a fault with my hardware, and not Ulead.
Moving on to more complex programs:
Adobe After Effects - CS4
I bought the Adobe Production Suite just last year and if I'd known just how buggy it would turn out to be I would have asked for CS2, which I know from using the University one - works. CS4 crashes - it seems - at the slightest opportunity, usually while you are desperately trying to render. I recently tried to render an 11 second clip, but the new (and never to be sufficiently vilified) media encoder that you are now forced to use when rendering would not allow me to render more than 6 seconds on one occasion but more often 2 to 3 seconds or less. This made that particular project a total nightmare. I have thus avoided using it since. I have heard around the net that people with CS3 have many similar crashing problems, so this sounds as if the last stable release was CS2.
If it could be made to work, there are any number of amazing things that you could do with After Effects, but as it is, they are pointless. Or at least, hard to use.
Before discovering the crashing ability, I was quite pleased with the mesh warp feature. After Effects also has a particle system but this needs in depth study to find out how to use it, so when attempting to create a fog effect I found that the use of photos of cottonwool balls artfully teased apart and arranged on matt black board, imported into After Effects, then manipulated with the mesh warp tool - worked fairly well. I would have preferred a more responsive and random effect but for what it was, it was fun to do.
It is also possible to add lights and different cameras to After Effects, and the space can be treated as a 3D space - but 3D with cardboard cut-outs in the form of 2D planes, a sort of 2D in 3D space. You can also still use the program for purely 2D effects, such as masking with colours and shapes that can be distorted over time and synced with sound. But sound is hard to sync in After Effects as you cannot scrub back and forth in the timeline and hear the sound so as to thus match it to the video. For that I usually switch to Premiere Pro...
Adobe Premiere Pro - CS4
Adobe Premiere Pro is easy to use if you stick to standard sequence settings - however I recently had a project requiring non standard pixel widths, and Premiere consistently persisted in squishing the image. There must be a way around this but I have not found it yet.
However it is very simple to use this software to sync sound to video as you can hear the sounds as you scrub back and forth, making placement of specific sounds at precise places fairly simple. Rendering from Premiere does not crash as often as After Effects does, so if you can avoid the squishing, you're fine. There are also a number of Audio transition effects as well as Video transition effects which are quite useful if used sparingly. A rather nice video transition that I remember from when I used CS2 is the ripple effect, this works particularly well with music videos.
More to come on Premiere and After Effects as I delve deeper over the summer.