Now that you’ve taped several hours of weddings, birthdays, and other precious moments, it’s time to
make them watchable.
Sooner or later, every videomaker will learn how important editing can be in making a good video. The
novelty of shooting with a new camcorder eventually wears off. When it does, most people see that
sandwiched between the great moments they captured on tape are some dull, lifeless moments that are
better left unseen.
That realization usually sparks the first editing session. Eager to improve their videos, people grab
a blank tape and an extra VCR to start putting the good parts of their raw footage together. Watching the
show become more entertaining and enjoyable with each edit often rekindles the excitement in making
But just as the novelty of using the camcorder can wear off, however, so can the fun of using two
VCRs to edit. It starts as a chance to flex some creative muscles, but it can be a chore because using two
VCRs simply gets tedious. This is especially true if you do a lot of editing. With the two-VCR technique,
your fingers do a lot of jumping around. You constantly press pause, fast forward and rewind to find the
right edit point. Then you have to release pause at just the right moment before the edit begins. You’re
never quite sure of how the edit will look until you record it, and then play it back. If it doesn’t look the
way you expected, you have to go through the whole button-pushing fiasco again.
So if you’re ready to move up from two-VCR editing, what can you do? Easy, get an editing
An editing controller gets you back to the creative part of editing by getting you further away
from the mechanical part of it. Instead of wearing out your fingers pressing buttons, many controllers have
shuttle dials that make finding edit points much simpler. Just turn the dial to the left or right and the tape
shuttles backwards or forwards, respectively. How much you turn the dial determines how quickly the tape
shuttles. Sound easier to use? It is.
A controller also handles all of the preroll, so there’s no more backing tapes up by hand to make
an edit. It even lets you preview an edit before you make it, so you can decide if it looks right, and then
only record it once.
If you haven’t added an editing controller to your video setup yet, it might be time to look into
doing it. A controller won’t make editing seem like a walk in the park, but it can make creating better
videos much easier.
The next few pages will help you decide if you need an editing controller, and if you do, which
one might work best for you.
Do I Need a Controller?
OK, an editing controller is a great tool. Does that mean you should rush out and buy one?
Before you start to compare features and prices, find out whether or not you need a controller in
your editing system.
A controller makes the editing job easier and more efficient. It can be overkill, however, for a
casual videomaker. The decision is ultimately yours, but here are some guidelines to help you make the
If you’ve done your share of two-VCR editing, and you’re sick of pushing buttons on the front
panels, then an edit controller is a logical, maybe even essential next step. The productivity gains from a
controller will help improve your videos and your enjoyment of editing. Also, if you plan to start a
production company, doing weddings or other event-related projects, an edit controller is a wise
consideration. It will help you finish videos faster and more creatively, which can earn you more business
down the road.
If, on the other hand, you edit videos for your family or friends, perhaps only a few times a year, a
controller may be more of a luxury than a necessity. It’ll be more fun to use when you edit, but it may also
sit untouched for long periods between uses.
OK, you’ve decided to get a controller. Now it’s time find the right one for your system. The first
feature to study: protocols.
Protocols are the electronic “languages” that controllers use to talk to your VCRs. For a controller
and VCR to work together, they’ve both got to “speak” the same protocol. If they don’t, you can’t use an
edit controller. Period. The controller you buy must support whatever protocol your decks use. If you don’t
already know the protocol used by your VCRs or camcorders, the manuals should tell you. Protocols come
in one-way and two-way versions. Whenever possible, you want a two-way protocol to connect your decks
to the controller.
With a one-way protocol, the controller can send commands to the VCR much like your remote
control does. The deck, however, can’t send information back to the controller. If there’s a problem with
the tape, or the pause button didn’t release properly, the controller won’t know it, and you might not
Two-way protocols let decks and the controller “talk” back and forth. This interaction helps you
make more reliable, precise edits. That, in turn, gives you more editing power. The most common two-way
protocols are Control-L and Control-M. (Control-L also is called LANC.) Most Hi8 and 8mm camcorders
and decks have a Control-L jack, which is either a tiny stereo miniplug connector or a small 5-pin jack on
older models. A handful of S-VHS decks have Control-L as well. Control-M is Panasonic’s proprietary
standard found on its AG series S-VHS decks. It uses a 5-pin connector.
You may also find RS-422 and RS-232 protocols mentioned on higher-end decks and controllers.
These “top-of-the-line” protocols allow for the tightest precision and reliability in controlling your
Control-S, also called Synchro-Edit on some models, is a popular one-way protocol supported by
some controllers. It’s a predecessor of the newer Control-L.
All of the above protocols use a special cable to connect the edit controller and VCR. Without the
cable, they can’t “talk” to each other, and you can’t edit.
If you can’t use a cable between your decks and an editing controller, you may be able to use an
IR (infrared) editing link. Many controllers have special wands you can put in front of a deck’s remote
control sensor. The controller transmits commands to your VCR through this wand. The VCR responds just
like it would to a remote control. This method will get you away from pushing buttons on the front panel.
Note, however, that it may not be as precise as using a direct cable link.
With the protocols behind us, let’s dig into some features. Once you know a controller will work with
your decks, you can compare the extra features of each model. These editing niceties can really add some
spark to editing, and make the process even more fun.
A favorite feature in an edit controller is preview, or the ability to see what an edit will look like
without actually recording it. This simple feature might save you more time than all the others combined. It
works by using the “Edit In” and “Edit Out” points you electronically mark on your tapes to “fake” the edit
process. You’ll see the decks shuttle to the proper point and start rolling, just like they do when you make
an edit. On your television or monitor screen, you’ll see exactly what the edit would look like on your tape.
Nothing gets recorded, however. It’s just a practice swing; a dry run. If you see a problem (a bad zoom, a
camera bump, or a take that started too late), you can continue to make changes until the preview looks
perfect. When it does, hit the edit button and record the scene on your master tape. With the preview
feature, you make fewer editing mistakes on your tapes. You’ll still make changes, but the number of times
you make an edit to correct a problem caused by another will drop dramatically. (Wouldn’t it be great if all
of life had a preview button?)
Other helpful controller features include trim buttons, or buttons that let you adjust edit-in and
edit-out points backward or forward one frame at a time.
Suppose you use a controller to preview an edit-in point on one of your tapes. On the monitor, you
notice that you marked the edit-in point a little later than you wanted. On a controller without trim buttons,
you’ll have to shuttle the tape back and forth to mark the correct edit-in point. With the buttons, however,
you can just click a few times and move the edit points further forward or backward to the proper
Yet another slick feature is edit memory, or the ability to keep your edit-in and edit-out points in
some form of electronic storage. This feature lets you mark several sets of edit-in and edit-out points for a
group of edits instead of just one. Without edit memory, you have to mark the edit points and record the
edit before progressing to the next one. You don’t have to do that if your controller has edit memory. You
can mark several sets of in and out points, one after the other. When you mark the last set of edit points in
your video (or the last set the controller’s memory can hold), you hit the “Edit” button and watch as the
controller creates the video for you. It performs, or records, all of edits you saved in its memory.
Another key extra to have on a controller is a jog/shuttle knob. Most good editing decks have
them, as do most good controllers.
Going First Class
Now that you know what features and functions to get, you should decide which type of controller to
get: stand-alone or computer-based.
Stand-alone models are exactly that: devices that need nothing but VCRs, a television and a power
outlet to work. They connect to your decks and monitors with cables, some of which may be included with
the controller (be sure to ask). Stand-alone models make great first controllers. You can probably find one
or two inexpensive models that comfortably handle the editing basics. You can also find full-featured
models for much more. They’re relatively easy to install; just hook up the cables and turn it on. It probably
won’t take long to learn to edit, either.
If you compare certain features on stand-alone controllers with those on computer-based
controllers, you may find that stand-alone controllers don’t measure up. They usually have smaller edit
memories, and the memories are sometimes temporary. That means that you can’t store as many edits, and
the ones you store vanish when you switch the power off. If you don’t need to save the edit lists once the
tape is complete, that issue may not matter.
Stand-alone models may also have limited upgradability. What you buy now might be all you’ll
get. Computer-based systems can give you more power and flexibility because they integrate the
computer’s power into the functions of an edit controller. If you buy one, you’ll get practically infinite,
permanent storage of your edit lists. Some systems let you use your computer monitor as a video monitor
as well. As with most software, computer-based controllers will probably be upgradeable in the future.
However, if you don’t have a computer capable of hosting one of the computer-based systems, a
stand-alone model will certainly cost you less.
If you have the computer, the two systems will cost about the same. Be aware that anytime you
put new software or hardware into a computer, you run the risk of conflicts between the old and new
equipment. Odds are you won’t have any problems, but you should be prepared.
It’s Up to You
Use your current video production workload, your future video plans, and your budget to make the
edit controller decisions.
If you don’t do much editing now, and don’t foresee a big change, a basic stand-alone model will
probably work best. If you’d like to do more editing, and don’t already have a computer, look at some of
the advanced stand-alone models. They have the features you can use right away, as well as in the future. If
you’d like to do more involved editing, and you have a computer, the right software and hardware can turn
it into a serious editing controller.
Whichever variety you choose, you’ll no doubt enjoy the creative freedom a controller gives you.
Be sure to spend the time to learn how to get the most from your new controller. Practice will help you