On July 18, 1997, representatives from the top analog editing manufacturers met at the Linear Editing Panel at the Videomaker Expo. Jim Stinson, a Videomaker contributing editor, moderated the discussion. Following is a transcript of their debate.
JIM STINSON: I’m going to introduce our panelists this morning and I’ll start with Stephen Godfrey, the Vice President of FutureVideo.
STEPHEN GODFREY: We’ve been building edit control systems since 1986. FutureVideo is one of the pioneers in desktop video. When it comes to very precisely controlled positioning, synchronizing transports of one sort or another, that’s the sort of core technology within our company.
JIM STINSON: I’ll move on to Mike Iampietro, the consumer marketing manager for Pinnacle Systems.
MIKE IAMPIETRO: Pinnacle Systems has been in business for about 10 years and our core business has been creating special effects hardware for the broadcasting post-production industry, mainly 3D DVEs [digital video effects]. In fact, we’ve won two technical Emmy awards for our products. About a year and a half ago we made a decision to take some of this technology and make it available to consumers in the form of low-cost easy-to-use editing solutions. We acquired an existing edit control product called VideoDirector and married that to Pinnacle’s proprietary special effects technology to create the products that we sell today.
JIM STINSON: And finally we have Dave Hurley of Videonics, also the head of consumer marketing.
DAVE HURLEY: Videonics is now 10 years old. We make products that are simple and easy to use. We also make complex products but we have been basically in the business of consumer electronics and making things for the average home videographer for those 10 years. In the last couple of years we’ve acquired a couple of software companies and a couple of broadcast companies, so we’re moving ourselves up the chain as Pinnacle is moving themselves down the chain.
JIM STINSON: Linear editing by definition may be digital or analog, but the thing that distinguishes it from nonlinear editing is non-random access. I’m going to throw the first question out to the panel. Linear editing has some distinct advantages, in many applications, over nonlinear. I’ll ask any volunteer, what are the advantages of the linear approach to video editing?
STEPHEN GODFREY: I think most of us would come to focus on two aspects. One would be the running time of the project and then secondly, the amount of footage you have. There’s a commonly used rule of thumb: if you’re working on anywhere from 15-second spots to maybe 15 to 20 minutes of running time and you can afford to work in the nonlinear realm, it may be quite appealing. But if your running time is half an hour to two hours, you may find that it’s anything but efficient; in fact, you’ll find it is quite the opposite. So, I think you’ll probably look at it from the standpoint of the running time of your production on the one hand and the amount of footage you have on the other as a means to determine where one method might be more appropriate or more efficient to use than the other.
DAVE HURLEY: If you have a lot of people that you’re reporting to for the creative content of a program, and you have a lot of takes, then I can understand the reason for nonlinear editing. But if I have a clear vision of what I’m producing, and I’ve shot all the video, and I feel that I have perhaps one good take out of every scene that I need to use, then I don’t really see the need for rearrangement of scenes or the ability to use that nonlinear editing facility as something that is going to get me a little more creative flexibility.
One of the things I have in my mind–a question about nonlinear editing and the fact that everyone wants it–is more a fact that everyone wants it because it is the newest technology and it’s what we think we want. The fact that we think it’s going to be easier or free us from more decisions I don’t think is the case at all. In fact, it’s going to give you more decisions to make.
JIM STINSON: Linear or nonlinear, we all know that the convergence of computers and video is proceeding apace. Not only is the PC here to stay in some role or other in video, but it’s growing. Mike, what is your company doing to accommodate and embrace this new addition to the video world?
MIKE IAMPIETRO: Well, all of our products, from a professional level on down to our consumer products, are designed to interface with computers. Some of them can stand alone; others, like VideoDirector, our consumer editing product, require a computer. Computers in video editing aren’t only useful for nonlinear editing; they’re also ideal for linear editing. Basically, linear editing requires tracking and maintaining databases of large amounts of information, and it requires precise repeatability of specific operations. These are things that computers excel at. One of the things that’s nice about linear editing on a computer is that it doesn’t require a fire-breathing Pentium II with MMX. A very low-powered computer is quite capable of being an editing controller.
DAVE HURLEY: When we first started making editors, we put them in their own boxes. They were computers because they had chip sets that were equivalent to those in PCs. Ten years ago, most people didn’t have their computer where their VCR was; they were in two separate rooms, if they had a computer at all. This is what you see in a resurgence of stuff like the Casablanca. It’s been around for a long time but they’ve put it all in a clean and efficient box so that you can say, ‘This is one appliance. This is a tool.’ And that’s the philosophy that Bill Gates has, that everybody has–which is smart boxes, not necessarily the computer.
STEPHEN GODFREY: I think my perception is just a slightly different one. I’m surprised at the number of users that I speak to who are really quite genuinely confused. It seems that there’s a certain amount of the potential user base who perceive that if you have a computer it must be nonlinear. And I think, probably my colleagues would agree, we’ve had to sort of stand up with our banner and say, ‘Wait a second! We can do computer-based linear editing.’ There’s an awful lot of people who make an assumption that if it’s got a computer, it’s nonlinear and that means that the message has been well put out by various publishers and various manufacturers of nonlinear systems. We’re here to say to you that the computer can provide an enormous amount of additional power and productivity but that the nonlinear method has certain advantages and disadvantages as is also the case with linear editing. We’re here to try to help you have a clearer vision as to what method might suit your purposes better.
JIM STINSON: For some years, what the computer has done is first, as Mike points out, create a database of all the edits, all the shots, all the time code, everything that you have done in the usual linear deck-to-deck way. The second thing that it has done is to specify effects transitions and other things so that when you take your little floppy disk to the post-production house, then the big stuff from Pinnacle and other people can be brought to bear on it to execute instructions that you have asked your computer to put into that database. And the third thing that it does is to facilitate the electro-mechanical control of the source deck, the record deck and the various things that you are using. So those three functions have for years been taken care of by computers.
Moving right along from that, then, let’s get to number three, which is all this computer digital revolution. The next question for the panel is: How will the consumer digital format influence the evolution of editing products in general and your products in particular?
STEPHEN GODFREY: In a sense, it doesn’t really matter to us. Our control technology is to be able to synchronize transports and to move tape around and it doesn’t really matter whether that tape is being recorded in a digital or an analog format. I think users have the benefit of having an edit control system that can handle either. It gives you the flexibility of changing from an analog to a digital transport and recording mechanism, if you like, and certainly the image quality is stunning. I don’t think any of us would wish to look backward where image quality is concerned. But as long as you are moving tape around and having to synchronize multiple tape transports, it doesn’t much matter, from our point of view, whether that is an analog signal or a digital signal.
MIKE IAMPIETRO: I agree with Stephen. I think all of us make products that are capable of controlling today’s current crop of DV machines. There’s another side, of course, to editing than just controlling the machines, which is processing the video–adding effects and so forth. The data on DV tape is compressed and because the manufacturers who own the specs–Sony, Panasonic, et al–maintain a fairly tight grip on this compression/decompression technology, there’s not currently a lot of affordable hardware for interpreting the data in a digital format, adding effects to it and then putting it back out in a digital format. So with today’s current DV camcorders and products like mine, for example, you can certainly control the decks and you can certainly process the analog output of the decks, which looks beautiful. But we’re still a little bit of a ways from being able to work with the data in its pure digital format throughout.
DAVE HURLEY: I think the bottom line is NTSC. How many of you folks have digital VCRs? If you’re coming out of a digital camera, where are you going? You’re going the same place I’m going–to VHS–so that my mom can see it. I think the biggest fallacy and misconception that most people have is that tape mechanisms, the transports, are going to wear out your tapes. This is why everybody thinks they need to put it all on a hard disk. You’re only going to use your tape X amount of times. Don’t worry about it. Analog tape has the same problems as digital tape because it’s the same material. So you think you’re not going to have drop outs? You think you’re not going to have problems with digital tape? You are! So the analog to digital thing doesn’t make sense until you start putting it on substrates like DVD.
JIM STINSON: Let’s move onto the next question. Which features or capabilities of desktop editing products are most popular with amateur and prosumer level users?
DAVE HURLEY: We’ve had a great deal of success with our new Video ToolKit because it does drag and drop. That is, you create a scene, it shows up on a tape log and then you decide what you want to edit out by dragging it to a timeline. Boom, Boom, Boom. So people get to see in a timeline what their production’s going to look like and they get to pull in the scenes in a nonlinear way. When they’re all done and ready to make the tape, instead of going to the hard disk, it goes to the transport and starts to move tape around. I think that’s been a really big hit.
I think people know what they want but I don’t think they know what they need. And that’s the big difference.
MIKE IAMPIETRO: I think you can put the things customers want into two categories. One is something that Dave hit on–things that make your job easier to learn or that make you more productive. An example of that is the drag and drop editing that both of our products have. Another example of a great easily approachable feature is VideoDirector’s ability to automatically detect the scenes on your tape and go ahead and log every time you’ve started a new shot on your tape. It’s done by looking at the video signal and looking for abrupt changes in the level of light.
The other area is eye candy–the cool effects, the cool titles, things like that. No matter what you give people, they’ll say, ‘Well, can I do a page curl? I want to map my video onto an arbitrary three-dimensional shape.’ I could sell you something that will do that if you’ve got $70,000.
STEPHEN GODFREY: I think I’d like to address the second half of the question which is really more meaningful to our audience. What do people want? I think, based on feedback from trade expositions, phone calls and user groups, it boils down to productivities. Since most of our users are commercial users, time is money. Getting that project done with the least amount of grief with the best possible artistic result–that really is what you’re there to do. Editing is very simple. Either you’re going to make a series of the best creative decisions–hopefully you’re capable of doing that and it’s going to result in an aesthetically pleasing (client pleasing) edit master. That’s really what editing is about. So getting that job done efficiently with the least amount of grief, the least amount of distraction in terms of taking you out of your creative groove and putting you into this hardware management burden or computer management burden, is part of what you’re asking for. You want to get paid and you want to get on to the next job. If we can enable you to get more productivity out of the product or out of the process, then I think we have achieved a significant segment of your expectation.
JIM STINSON: We’ve established that there are some applications where the source material is relatively small and the end product is relatively short and in those situations digital nonlinear editing can be an effective solution. But in situations that are the opposite, where there is considerable source material and the resulting program has any considerable size, linear editing is often more cost effective and more time effective. So what are some of these applications?
MIKE IAMPIETRO: Wedding videography is a perfect example. With training films, industrial videos, marketing films, things like that, you typically tend to shoot a significant amount of footage and produce something that’s in the area of 30 minutes to an hour. So all of these lend themselves to linear.
DAVE HURLEY: I’ve done productions for three major networks. If it’s commercial and there’s a budget, nonlinear is the way to go because you’ve got a lot of decisions to make in a very short amount of time. And you’re probably going to have a ton of footage. That’s when a lot of decisions have to be made, a lot of cuts have to be made. And I can see using a nonlinear system to just jam everything in a short amount of time. But if you’re doing scenes that are taking a minute or longer, you’re going to fill up your hard drive pretty quickly. So the reality is, how much money is it going to take before it stops being a hobby?
JIM STINSON: In a way you’re saying the opposite. In a way you’re saying that when you have a very large amount of source material then nonlinear becomes a viable option.
DAVE HURLEY: It’s when you need all those choices. It’s when you need the flexibility. When you have other people that have to approve. That’s when you need to be flexible enough to say, ‘Hey, no problem. I just take this out and put this in.’ You know when you do a linear edit and you give it to someone and they say ‘Oh, this is wrong,’ you know you start pulling your hair out because you’ve got to go back and re-edit the whole thing. You can’t just drop an insert in.
STEPHEN GODFREY: I somewhat see it the way Dave has mentioned, but I think there are certain differences. One of the problems that you have is client satisfaction and if your client is not satisfied obviously the job’s not done. If you’ve got a nonlinear project and the client has to review the project and approve it, where are you going to store it? You leave your system engaged with that project until the client can make time to come and see it which makes it very awkward to try to do other projects when you’re in the middle of this one. So the archiving aspect can be a bit dicey. I don’t quite agree with the point Dave made but I will also add to it. I think it is an enormous burden if you have to go back in a linear project and re-edit it. Any reasonably competent editor can go back and rearrange some scenes, drop some scenes out, do some inserts as the case may require to change the editorial content. With an auto-assembly capability built into most of our range of products (and I assume that of many other products as well) I don’t think that’s a burden. But it is a whole lot easier to offload that project onto video tape and put it on the shelf until the client can come in and have a look at it instead of having it tie up your nonlinear system.
JIM STINSON: Well, we’ve gone through our list of questions without fisticuffs. Please join me in thanking Mike, Dave and Stephen for appearing here today.