Editing: Desktop Editing FAQ

New technology introductions and revolutionary advances in the state-of-the-art sometimes seem to happen on a monthly or sometimes even a weekly basis. And for many of us, that means constantly challenging our ideas about the best techniques, strategies and gear to create our videos. Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions that might help you make sense of this fast moving industry.

Q. Which features are most important in a modern digital editing system?

A. The obvious answer is that the most important features for any system are the ones you’ll need to use most often to get your work done. This may seem obvious, but time after time, I’ve seen beginners debate the need for features that are miles beyond what they’ll ever really use.

For example, let’s say you’re assembling a system to make simple training videos. The fact that the editing program in consideration can handle 99 tracks of audio is cool, but not particularly important. You can probably work for years making superb training videos and never need more than half a dozen discrete audio tracks.


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On the other hand, if your vision for your video career includes working towards projects that require a great deal of audio scoring, such as feature films or music videos, you might want to place multiple audio track access higher on your list of must-have features. Never let the "feature wars" make you think that just because product A has a feature that product B lacks, that product A is better than B. For example, many of the features listed on the side of the box of professional editors are for HD broadcast television. If your producer has not already lined up the financing to produce HD television, don’t worry about this feature.

Ask the real question: "What features do I need, considering the type of work I’m likely to be doing in the foreseeable future?" In truth, nearly all of today’s popular editing packages have all the features you’ll ever need.

Q. I have some money and want to upgrade the quality of my productions – what will give me the biggest "bang for the buck" when it comes to investing in new production capabilities?

A. Great question. In the not-so-distant past, the answer may have been to buy superior acquisition equipment. Today, with inexpensive digital camcorders that create excellent pictures, and a digital signal flow that preserves that quality over generation after generation of dubbing, it truly is the golden age of self-produced video picture quality.

Many editors place their hopes in the features and functions found in the latest and greatest editing applications. "If I only had better software, I’d make better video." While there’s a lot to be said for using good tools, a hammer is only as good as the hand that swings it.

The best thing to invest in is yourself. Remember, your equipment doesn’t make the video. You make the video. If you have some extra money and want to really improve your video editing skills, take a class at the local community college, a trade show or at a Videomaker Expo, Conference or Workshop. Investing in your knowledge is the very best thing you can do to insure your continued progression as a videographer.

Bottom line: Success with video is about what you know, not what you own.

Q. I hear video editors talk a lot about program pacing. What does that mean and how can I make sure my program maintains the proper pace?

A. In video editing, the term pacing usually refers to how much information is presented to the audience in a given period of time and how quickly new information replaces old. Whether you’re editing a training video or a dramatic story, the pacing of the show needs to match the comfort level of your audience. Many beginning video editors who think they’re producing a tightly edited piece, are surprised to discover that they have problems keeping their audience focused on the show.

Pacing a program just right is a delicate balance. The information must flow fast enough not to bore the quickest members of the audience while keeping the flow of information reasonable for those who aren’t as quick, or who want to ponder something they’ve just seen before new material is introduced.

One factor that affects any program’s pacing is the clarity of the elements of presentation. If the characters and their situations are understandable, if the actors are natural and convincing, if on-screen text and graphics are well designed and easy to read, the audience can take in the presented information more quickly and be ready to move on.

If, on the other hand, there are problems with the clarity of the presentation, the editor has to slow the flow of information to let the audience catch up. I got a reminder of just how good most audiences are at assimilating information when I recently bought my son a DVD package containing the first few seasons of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. As we sat down to watch this television classic, it struck me just how quickly it was paced. William Conrad, the show’s narrator has a machine-gun quick delivery, as does virtually every other character in the program.

If all the kids and adults who grew up on this classic program could handle that rapid fire pace of delivery – I suspect that today’s kids and adults can as well. Faster isn’t always better. But too slow is almost always the kiss of death for a program.

Okay, I’ve saved the hardest and most frequently asked digital video question for last.

Q. What hardware is best for desktop video work?

A. This is the granddaddy of all of the commonly-asked desktop video questions. If you follow Internet and newsgroup discussions you’ll find that this question pops up far more than any other. The problem is that it’s impossible to answer, for lots of reasons. Here are two big ones.

First, it’s difficult to answer because desktop video production isn’t one thing, it’s a term that covers a vast range of tasks and processes. Different practitioners need different capabilities. And the system solution that’s perfect for one user might easily be too much or too little for another. Even if you discover that your needs are very similar to others and you’re tempted to shortcut the process by just following their advice, you’ll quickly run into the second problem: State-of-the-art in the video arena is an unbelievably fast moving target. Generally speaking, get the fastest CPU and the largest hard drive(s) you can afford.

Twenty years ago, I had a friend who owned a high-end stereo shop. We used to talk about gear having a five to ten year product life span. Today, for most consumer electronics, especially video (think: DVD), the product life span might only be months.

For camcorders and computer-based editing gear, regardless of the brand or model you buy, this year’s state-of-the-art is likely to become next year’s closeout bargain.

We said it once and we’ll say it again: Generally speaking, you should get the fastest CPU and the largest hard drive(s) you can afford. But even if your editing system is a couple of years (and a couple of technology revs) behind the current gear, it’s probably still capable of turning out great video. And that’s the point of the whole exercise, isn’t it? If you’re preparing to purchase your first editing system, don’t fret too much about the fact that something newer will be appearing soon. Revel in the fact that nearly all desktop video equipment sold today is vastly more advanced than anything past generations of video editors could hope to acquire and use.

One sure truth is that the key factor in making great video isn’t the equipment you use. The equipment doesn’t make your video you do. So what you’re doing right now (reading a copy of Videomaker , learning about the video editing process itself) is vastly more critical to your success than the specific equipment you use.

The very best advice you can get about editing equipment is to buy the best system you can afford, as quickly as you can, and get started on the real secret to becoming a successful videographer: experience.

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