Vertical video: a video editing solution for smartphone users

What started as a syndrome, the popular VVS or Vertical Video Syndrome, is now a trend, fuelled by smartphones. Software for editing was urgently needed: PowerDirector 15 offers a 9:16 format.

Vertical video: a video editing solution for smartphone users

Vertical Video Syndrome was something people laughed at when the first videos appeared in YouTube, but even YouTube had to bow to the power of portrait mode video. The future is – also – 9:16.

When, in 2015, the app YouTube for Android allowed users to view portrait mode videos properly with their smartphones, it made it easier and better to watch the millions of videos shot vertically. Until then, viewers had to see the video in landscape mode with black vertical bars on the side. While it became easier to see vertical videos, it took some time for NLEs – Non Linear Editors to offer a solution for the “new format”. In a world where we moved from 4:3 to 16:9 keeping everything horizontal, having a vertical format like 9:16 seemed illogical, and that’s the reason why the first vertical videos became associated with signs of a “new disease”: VVS or Vertical Video Syndrome. Everybody had a laugh then.

The video above, from 2012, marks a moment in time. Vertical videos published on YouTube left many people concerned. Comments like the following were common at the time: “Smartphone developers could easily solve this issue by forcing the video into horizontal mode even when the phone is held vertically. To shoot video vertically would require the user to change a setting buried deep in the interface, and have a confirmation screen pop up that says “Really? You’re sure you want to shoot videos vertically? Think long and hard about this.” We’ve come a long way since then.

Vertical ads win in Snapchat

Apparently, the first “pacients” of VVS were, after all, the pioneers of a new way to see the world. Yes, from televisions that were forced to use videos shot in portrait mode because the “citizen journalists” introduced that need, to YouTube or Vimeo, vertical video is everywhere. We’re yet to see a blockbuster completely shot in the format – I imagine how a drive-in for that kind of movie will be – but advertising is one area where vertical is appearing regularly. Slowly, but steadily.

The format – 9:16 – has been in – good – use since 2015, thanks to apps like Meerkat, Periscope, FiftyThree or Snapchat. According to data from Snapchat published in 2015 by the Daily Mail, vertical video ads have up to nine times more completed views than horizontal video ads. It’s logical, as Snapchat is a smartphone app and smartphone users hold their phones vertically… and do not bother to turn them on the side to see one ad. Although we’re not, any time soon, going to see vertical TVs in our living-rooms, it makes sense to adapt content to the platform it is seen on, so vertical videos are the logical choice for smartphones.

PowerDirector 15 has 9:16 on the menu

More and more content shot vertically is available online, meaning that people creating those videos have to think outside the box as they are working with what many will still consider a non-standard format. I am not familiar with the different video editors available in the market, but from what I read, most Non-Linear Editors do not offer, directly, the option to work in 9:16, meaning it is not clear to most people how to edit videos captured in portrait mode.

Although it is possible to create a preset for portrait mode video, NLEs are not prepared, as far as I know, to let you preview video shot vertically, and the whole process can be a nightmare. That’s where Cyberlink’s Power Director 15, launched in 2016, shines, as it offers the two standard aspect ratios, 4:3 (standard) and 16:9 (widescreen) and 9:16, besides a 360 mode for Virtual Reality and 360 video.

With so much video now being shot vertically on mobiles, PowerDirector has added a new design mode that lets you upload mobile video for YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo by getting rid of those empty black bars. The feature is available in all versions of Power Director, starting with the entry level Ultra, which costs, now, $ 59.99.

The 9:16 portrait mode, which can be accessed from the opening screen or while in the full editor – which has to be chosen to edit the format -, comes ready to be used, meaning you can import your files and start working without having to care about any kind of conversion, adjustment or preset creation. A button on the top menu of the full editor allows users to switch between any of the three formats available, meaning you do not need to go to submenus and dig after hidden settings to get the format you want. For someone shooting video with a smartphone, or with any other camera, but using the vertical mode, having a NLE that treats your footage as “normal”, makes complete sense.

Is 9:16 the new normal?

The vertical format is not going to be the new normal. I do not expect people to turn their 16:9 TVs on the side to watch portrait mode videos, although I believe a computer monitor used for preview can and should be turned that way if you spend part of the day editing vertical videos. But in the real world, we’re still used to experiencing movies in a horizontal aspect ratio, from the TV in our living rooms to computers of theaters.

With tools that make it easier to edit the vertical format, new opportunities for filmmakers appear on the horizon. There are already multiple ways to share your content, even beyond the regular platforms online. From festivals to agencies, those willing to explore the options and limitations of the portrait mode have the chance to document the world we live in in a completely different way, that has its own unique challenges but may offer a new perspective.

Some people have explored the potential to create movies in the portrait mode, long before it was “trendy”. Christoph A. Geiseler, a filmmaker from Los Angeles, published in 2012 a documentary about India called Curry Power. He says that the 10-minute film, created to “explore the aesthetics of the vertical video format”, is a “is a musical collage that features tigers, camel polo, holy men, dancers and live music by renowned musicians Pete Lockett and Wasifuddin Dagar. During the Curry Power production process, I did not have access to a tripod for vertical videos or customized video-editing software for post-production.”

The example from Christoph A. Geiseler was kind of pioneer in 2012, but in 2016, multiple filmmakers explore the “freedom” of looking differently at the world. While some movies continue to be experiments for art installations, there is a variety of material shot vertically that, although continuing to be unconventional, makes its ways in different areas, from docs to advertising, and reveals us there are others ways to see the world.  They may not be adequate to be projected on larger screens, because our eyes do seem to adapt better to the horizontal format when it comes to moving images, but nonetheless, they attract attention. That’s the reason why it makes sense to have software that accepts the format and edits it as any other. Get Cyberlink’s Power Director 15  and try it: there is a demo version that you can use for 30 days, to explore the world of images shot with your smartphone or camera turned on its side.

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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…

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David Neal
David Neal

Here is a more in depth look at the first 10 years of vertical video (includes Curry Power and ~50 others beginning in 2007)