Viewfinder: The Easiest Way to Edit Video

There are three ways to edit video: The oldest method required a knife and adhesive tape. From the 1960s to now, we’ve enjoyed electronic tape-to-tape editing, also known as linear editing. Now, we are witnessing the rise of digital nonlinear editing.

For much of Videomaker‘s 13-year history, we reported almost exclusively on linear editing. The term linear refers to the way video records in a line on tape. Once you record your video onto your tape, you can not go back and re-arrange it easily. You can not even change the length of a shot without having to re-edit all the shots that follow it.

Nonlinear editing, on the other hand, lets you add and delete sections of video easily, allowing you to re-edit a project without having to start from scratch.


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With nonlinear editing, a hard disk stores the video. This differs from videotape in two important ways. First, locating scenes of video becomes very fast and easy. Finding shots on videotape requires much fast-forwarding or rewinding. Hard drive editing allows instant random access to any shot. Secondly, it allows for flexibility in manipulating the video project. For example, you can change the order of your shots and play them back from your hard drive in the new order instantly.

The most important thing to understand is that nonlinear editing makes editing simpler for the user. All nonlinear editing products use some sort of intuitive graphic user interface. Some use a timeline while others use a storyboard.

Those of you who have been reading this magazine for years know that we’ve been very upbeat about nonlinear editing. Admittedly, we may have been premature in our enthusiasm, not because what we have written was untrue but because of compatibility issues between the various computer components needed.

For clarity sake, we’ll break nonlinear video editing systems it into four subsets: appliances, turnkey systems, new constructions and retrofitted computers.

A video-editing appliance works right out of the box. DraCo’s Casablanca was the first noteworthy video-editing appliance, while Applied Magic’s Screenplay soon followed. Blossom’s PVA and Panasonic’s PV-DS1000 will both be available this Fall. Unlike personal computers, these appliances can be used only for video editing.

A turnkey nonlinear editor is a personal computer that a manufacturer designs with all of the hardware and software for digital nonlinear editing installed and ready to roll. The Apple G3 with Final Cut Pro and the Sony VAIO with Adobe Premiere LE are prime examples.

The video appliance and turnkey systems are reliable because the manufacturer tests and guarantees that all of the components (even though different companies may have manufactured different parts) work together.

The new construction and retrofit subsets differ from appliance and turnkey because you–the end user–will buy components manufactured by different companies and build one of these systems yourself.

New construction means all of the components are new. Typically, you or someone you contract assembles this type of system. The manufacturers, say, of digitizing cards, may have a list of compatible components for their products. If the person building the new PC does the proper research, new construction can be as reliable as a turnkey solution. He would avoid purchasing any parts, like VGA cards for instance, known to be incompatible with other necessary components. Unfortunately, most people don’t do the research.

A retrofit means you take a computer that you already own and add all the hardware and software necessary for digital nonlinear editing.

Most people want to use their existing hardware, like hard drive and VGA card but they fail to realize that nonlinear video editing often requires serious hardware upgrades to maximize speed and efficiency. For example, to retrofit your computer for nonlinear editing, you may need to add a SCSI controller, a SCSI hard drive, and you may need to replace your VGA card as well. Some of your new components may also have IRQ conflicts with your current components.

For most people, we don’t recommend retrofitting an old computer for video editing–there are simply too many potential system conflicts for the average person to deal with. Retrofitting is so challenging that most people fail to do it properly, get frustrated, and then conclude that nonlinear editing is substandard. This is the farthest thing from the truth. Nonlinear editing is extremely rewarding–once the proper hardware and software has been configured.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.