Recording footage with your camcorder is one thing; turning it into a watchable video is another. Consider an edit controller.

At one time or another, we all have faced a stack of tapes–from last year’s vacation, for example–and no way to edit them. Your friends grimace at the thought of one more night of watching vacation videos in your living room. They remember the popcorn turning stale, and minutes seeming like hours, as they watched footage of the dashboard of your car.

What you need is an edit controller that can help you cut out all of the boring, shaky and otherwise nasty shots that we all have a tendency to capture on tape.

You may already be editing your tapes using the tried-and-true method of using your camcorder, VCR and quick fingers on the pause, play and record buttons. Often when using this method, you spend more time worrying about whether you are hitting the buttons on time and spend little time and energy on the creative part of the editing process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could unleash this creativity and turn those vacation videos into wonderful experiences for your audience to enjoy?


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With an edit controller, you can concentrate more on the artistic side of the editing process and let the controller handle the technical side.

If you want to achieve this freedom of expression, then this article is for you. We’ll walk you through the basics of edit controllers, and what to look for when shopping for one. We’ll also introduce you to the world of stand-alone versus computer-based edit controllers.

In point

Edit controllers come in many shapes and sizes, and can even reside in your home computer. However, they all have some basic functions that you need to understand to be able to use them effectively.

When you edit, you play your tape on one VCR or camcorder and record it on another. The play tape is called a source tape. It is the “source” of all of the shots that you will eventually edit to the record tape, more commonly called the “master” tape. You will often have more than one source tape.

The edit controller controls the source and record decks of your system. It cues both decks to shuttle and pause your tapes, and it controls their play and record functions. This allows you to concentrate on making your edit decisions.

The technology that allows your edit controller to take charge of your VCRs and/or camcorders is called an edit-control protocol. The controller “talks” to your VCR or camcorder using this special electronic language. Edit control protocols vary greatly depending on the manufacturer of the VCR or camcorder; some examples include Control-L (LANC), Panasonic 5-pin and RS-422. You must find out what protocol your VCR or camcorder uses and buy an edit controller that supports that protocol.

While watching your source tapes, you need to decide which parts you will keep and which should end up on the cutting-room floor. Once you make that decision, you have to decide in what order the “keepers” should appear on the master tape.

Here’s where the edit controller really comes in handy. With it, you can choose fairly precise edit points. These points are: the in point, where the “keeper” footage will start, and the out point, where it will end. In the old two-VCR method, the in point is where you hit the record button and the out point is where you hit the stop or pause button. With an edit controller, you don’t need to sit poised over your machines and hit buttons.

When you preview the edit performed by the controller, you may find that it didn’t happen exactly the way you wanted. But don’t panic. Many edit controllers have trim controls that allow you to move the edit points forward or backward slightly to accommodate the minor differences in VCR and camcorder transport mechanisms.

If you want to go back and change something several edits later, a number of edit controllers have memories that maintain the edit points you used in previous edits.

One other feature found on some edits controllers is the ability to trigger video mixers, titlers and special effects generators. They do this using one or more general-purpose interface (GPI) or serial connections.

System Basics

Five years ago, if you were looking for an edit controller, you probably would need a heavy wallet and would be looking at a stand-alone model. Now, a growing number of stand-alone models are available for under $1000, and a new breed of computer-based edit controllers are available for even less. Keep in mind that any system you buy needs to be compatible with your existing equipment, and you’ll need at least a good monitor or television and a VHS record deck.

Although stand-alone edit controllers still represent a major part of the video-editor market, the computer-based editors are quickly gaining ground. If you don’t own a computer, take heart. Prices for cutting-edge Pentium and Power Macintosh systems have dropped below the $1500 point. If this is still too rich for your budget, you’ll be glad to know that most computer-based edit controllers work on older systems that you can purchase for under $500.

There are very compelling reasons to investigate computer-controlled editors. They are easily upgradeable and usually cost a good deal less than comparable stand-alone edit controllers. Another important consideration is the computer itself. With a computer, you can keep edit logs, print tape labels, create inventory files, write your scripts and even develop your video hobby into a sound business.

Starting To Edit

If you are taking your first steps into the world of edit controllers, there are a number of things you must consider. How familiar are you with the editing process? How much editing will you be doing? And how comfortable are you with technology?

It’s important that you don’t overwhelm yourself by buying the most complex system on the market. Ease into the process by choosing a system that will assist you in learning the aesthetics of editing as well as the basics of the editing process.

You could look at JVC’s JX-ED11 ($50). This edit controller works with any camcorder or VCR that uses an infrared (IR) remote control. As with any IR-based system, accuracy is poor, usually ranging within a second or two of the planned in and out points. Still, if you use it properly, the JX-ED11 will teach you the basics of editing.

Sima offers the SFX-L Automatic Editor with special effects ($99). This editor works with camcorders or VCRs that have the Sony or equivalent Control-L protocol. It will also wipe or fade to eight different colors (not live video) and has an audio mixer built in.

Another stand-alone editor that might fit your budget is Videonics’ Thumbs Up 2000 edit controller ($199). This system easily allows you to mark those sections on your tapes you want to keep, and those you want to get rid of. The TU-2000 hooks up to any Panasonic 5-pin remote jack or Sony Control-L jack (record side), and controls your VCR through infrared commands. The TU-2000 is also available as part of Videonics’ Home Video Producer ($329), which includes a simple sound-effects generator/mixer, microphone, a pair of speakers and a beginner’s booklet and videotape on the subject of video editing.

For those of you who have a 486 PC, 4MB of RAM, an empty serial port and a 256-color display, Pinnacle Systems offers VideoDirector Studio 200 ($299). This video editing hardware/software package allows users to overlay graphics and text onto their videos, as well as control a camera and a VCR using the supplied SmartCable. The SmartCable controls a Control-L or Panasonic 5-pin source VCR or camcorder and an infrared record VCR through the computer’s serial port. The included external genlock device handles title overlay, and even provides still-image capture and transitions from a still frame.

The Advanced Editor

If you feel you are ready to put some real pop and sizzle into your video productions and have a good feel for the editing process, there are a number of options to choose from.

Panasonic’s AG-A96 Multi-event Editing Controller ($525) will control any Panasonic deck or camcorder with a 5-pin connector. This editor has an eight-scene memory and will do both video and audio inserts. It will also control more sophisticated equipment as your budget increases. Add a titler, a pair of VCRs and monitor, and you have a complete editing system.

For those of you with a few dollars saved for a rainy day, Videonics offers a stand-alone edit controller that will enhance your system without breaking the bank. The AB-1 Edit Suite A/B roll edit controller ($699) is compatible with all major edit protocols and has a 250-scene memory. When combined with Videonic’s MX-1 Digital Video Mixer ($1199) it will mix and control up to four play VCRs and one record deck. This system has built-in time-base correctors (TBCs) for synchronizing two sources. It also enables you to see all source decks as well as a variety of effects on the same monitor. Add the Video Titlemaker TM-3000 ($799), source and record monitors and an S-VHS record deck and you have a complete home editing system (if you use your camcorder as the source deck).

If you already own a 386 PC or better, the FutureVideo V-Station 3300 ($695+) will give you full control over VCRs and camcorders for tape-based editing. With this Windows-based system, you can edit your video, control titlers and SEGs and perform A/B-roll edits to your heart’s content, then save the whole edit decision list on a single 3.5-inch floppy disk for easy archiving.

The Out Point

When you decide what you need to complete your editing projects, make a list of your hardware and software needs. Think about your editing demands as well as your finances. Expanding and upgrading should always be a part of your decision. It costs less in the long run to buy a more expensive system that you can upgrade than to buy a cheaper system that won’t grow with you.

If you’re doing projects that require a great deal of sophistication and quality, don’t struggle with a system that won’t support those needs. However, if you’re just doing videos for your own fulfillment, it doesn’t pay to buy a monster editing system that will do everything but your dishes.

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