These days our audiences expect more. Seeing hundreds of hours of network television and big-budget films have made the viewers of our videos more demanding; they dont want to watch while your vacation video shows your feet and they dont let editing glitches go by without comment. Today we need to be careful in editing our video and with the low cost of edit controllers there are no more excuses for poorly done productions, even on the amateur level. Remember that editing is not just trashing the bad parts but arranging the good pieces to look better!
An edit controller is a device that helps you to edit raw video into a polished, professional-looking end product. The controller allows you to choose video from one source, usually a camcorder, and transfer it in an edited form into another camcorder or VCR (the target). Most of the controllers work with a variety of tape formats; S-VHS, VHS, Video8, and even Beta machines, as long as the VCR has some sort of external control capability. Some even use the infrared remote control codes of your VCR to run the show.
An edit controller is a useful tool in saving time for both the amateur and professional videomaker. Even if you arent on a tight schedule, youll appreciate how controllers take the grunt work out of editing.
No matter your level of expertise, you will find that an edit controller is a worthwhile expense, but one that takes a little bit of research to ensure a purchase youll feel comfortable with. Prices have come down so much in the last three years that it is easy to buy something that has features you might not understand right out of the box.
After reading this article, you will be able to make a more informed purchase and hopefully you will see how your videomaking could improve through the use of an edit controller.
To confuse matters more, not everything that claims to be an edit controller can live up to the definition. Some "wanna-bes" are more precisely called special effects generators. They help you create wipes, fades, and other video effects but still require you to cue up the master and slave VCRs to the proper points and do most of the editing manually.
The video mixer is another closely related device. Like the blender on your kitchen counter, it will mix two or more video tapes together into one, but you still have to do all the searching and cueing before hitting the "dub" button. A true edit controller has a small bit of memory called the EDL, or Edit Decision List.
The memory might be just enough for only four sequences or large enough to remember nearly a thousand scenes. This allows the controller to memorize which scenes you have chosen from a variety of tapes, prompt you for the particular tape, rewind or fast forward to the correct part, and do the pause, cue, and dub work by itself. You do the thinking and creating; it does the button-pushing and grunt
work. It makes you feel like a powerful Hollywood director!
We will look at two types of controllers, those which are stand-alone machines and those which require a computer to work. Both have their advantages and problems, and both categories contain both simple to use "starter" types and top-of-the-line professional devices. Well start with the simplest devices in each category and work our way up in complexity. If you dont see what you need in one category, it might pay to jump to the other. Just because an edit controller works with a computer doesnt mean it has to be difficult to run. Dont give up as the features start sounding more exotic; you might want to stick with us to find out what you will want in your next edit controller!
Stand-alone systems: Power in your palm
The Canon DE-100, formerly the VE-100,(Canon USA) is a video editor that works on rather simple principles. The DE-100 allows the quick cutting together of video scenes, and promises an easy learning experience. The drawbacks of this simplicity is that it can only remember four scenes at once, which might become as tiresome as doing it all yourself.
It will work with any camcorder with the LANC feature. LANC stands for Local Application Control Bus System, and was developed by Sony to allow computer control of camcorders. The $325 DE-100 also works with any VCR (or another camcorder) as the recording target, so long as that machine is either LANC compatible or can be run by an infrared remote control. The DE-100 can "learn" the commands for two video decks.
The JVC JX-ED11 is another inexpensive way to get into video editing (Manufacturers recommended cost, $129.95). Ease of use was the aim of JVC, and the device is touted to be so easy that "anyone can do it." The device works on wireless principles, thus freeing the videomaker from a few more cables.
Both playback and target videotape machines are controlled by preset codes or by the JX-ED11 learning the infrared remote codes of your VCR. Most of the functions are controlled by only four buttons and a shuttle knob. The shuttle knob allows you to run the playback deck at various speeds and stop the master tape exactly where you want a scene to begin. The JX-ED11 also has the convenience of battery operation (four AAs), thus insuring portability and another cord eliminated.
Bigger and better
As we move up from the devices you can hold in your hand to those which sit on your desk, we find more features, some which take more time to learn and master. You will be repaid by increased editing accuracy and a better finished video product.
The EC 1000PRO (FutureVideo) is about the size of a VHS tape. Although small in size, it has some major features. The PRO allows scenes to be edited in any order, so you dont have to rewind the tape to the beginning to start. It has some safeguards to prevent errors from tape slippage, improving accuracy control. Not only can you assemble a tape from disparate tapes, but you can also insert scenes and do audio dubs if your target VCR has such capabilities.
Up to nine scenes can be set up, then the user pushes one button and watches while the PRO puts it all together. If youre still not sure about what youve done, the preview function allows you to see exactly what will happen when you order the tape assembled. The PRO controls your source tape device as if it were the real thing, sort of like a dress-rehearsal to work out any last-minute bugs. It works through mini-din connectors or LANC-compatible machines. The prices of the EC 1000PRO series starts at $595. The PRO also has an optional computer interface (see below for details).
The Panasonic AG-A350 has only 25 buttons, so it wont scare off the beginner, but it has quite a few mid-range features which are of interest, such as slow-motion editing capability, audio and video inserts, and a jog/shuttle dial.This dial allows for full control of playback speeds, fast searches, and frame-by-frame control when you want to start your edit from one exact frame, not a frame sooner or later. This accuracy makes the AG-A350 worth the suggested $1050 price tag.
This machine also can use time codes for even finer editing and selectable "pre-roll" time. This means you can start the playback deck and know that you have exactly 3,5,7, or 10 seconds before your edit point arrives. The only drawback to the model is that it uses 9-pin RS-422A connectors, meaning that it will only work with certain tape machines, mostly S-VHS or MII.
Dont Try This at Home
The following are some devices that start getting "complicated" rather quickly. As you read through the descriptions you might think "only a movie studio would be interested in such features!" Dont be too quick to judge, however. As each of us starts noticing smaller and smaller details in our finished video work, we start looking for solutions for recurrent problems. Some of these machines have features you might never use, but there might be that one magic button. If you stick with it you will find that you can not only cut scenes together, but control more scenes at once, add titles, and perform the complicated video gymnastics youve seen on television.
Videonics, Inc. calls the person using their devices a prosumer," someone in between an amateur and the professional. Their new Edit Suite is an addition to an existing video product line. While it, and the others we have discussed so far, allow the control of a source and target video, when added to the MX-1 Digital Video Mixer it allows control of four source VCRs and the target.
About the size of a computer keyboard, this device can control separate audio and video inserts and a preview mode if the connected VCR contains these features. It allows storage of 250 edit sequences and supports LANC, Panasonic Control-M, RS-232, and RS-422. The Edit Suite also has a jog/shuttle knob and retails for around $699.
Next up the ladder is the Sony RM-E1000T. This machine controls up to three source decks and the target VCR. It permits editing of up to 99 scenes if your camcorder uses time codes, with a Control-L camcorder you can program up to twenty scenes at once. An on-screen menu is an advantage in its favor, as well as the ability to learn codes for up to ten different remotes, should you use more than one target VCR during different editing projects. Some might balk at the $2000 suggested retail price, but the RM-E1000T also has a built-in ten page digital superimposer so you can create scrolling titles to show over the end of your video production just like a motion picture. One drawback is that it only contains two typeface styles in four different sizesso many of your movies will look the same to frequent viewers, at least as far as titling. A standard fade is also included. The device also has a disk drive that allows you to store your editing session, making it easy to repeat the procedure if you like. Accuracy is within 5 frames. (For more information on accuracy, see the accompanying sidebar: "Are the big systems really worth it?")
Alpermann+Velte (Through Ace Edit) offers the TE701, a cuts-only video assemble editor that will store a list of ninety-nine scenes in its memory. It also allows the edit list to be stored on any audio recording medium. The TE701 has a jog/shuttle knob and LCD screen for time code display. The General Purpose Interfaces (GPI) allow connections to a title generator, CD player, fader, etc. A variety of cables are optional to allow hook-up to almost every possible recorder/camcorder combination.
Alpermann+Velte also offers the PE800 that does the same functions as the TE701 listed above, but hooks into a computer using Windows. The PC version allows up to 260 scenes to be programmed. The price runs about $ . The company also sells a variety of Vertical Interval Time Code generators to work on any camcorder. These are devices to insert codes onto a tape to make it easier to cue up a tape to a precise point.
The most precise method of marking the start and stop points during an editing session is through using time codes. These are "marks" on a special track of the tape that we cant see, but some edit controllers can. They use these codes to help you cue up the exact second, the exact frame you want for your edit. If your camcorder doesnt put these codes on the tape, a VITC generator will do it while you record.
Another stand-alone controller is the RM-G800U, another entry from JVC. It is a good example of an edit controller that puts time codes to good use. Built mainly for the professional or advanced amateur, the RM-G800U can use VITC,LTC (Longitudinal Time Code), or JVCs own new system the CTL time code. Whichever system the videomaker chooses to use, an LED display helps keep track of it. Two GPI ports and jog control are included, as well as audio insert editing and a preview function. A special "goto" feature allows one direct access to any particular point on the videotape.
The MPE-100S (General Systems Electronics) is a German-made computerized video editor for those using the PAL or European standards video. It has menus in German and English on screen, where most of the programming can be controlled. It uses either cables or infrared to control VCRs and camcorders. The MPE-100S uses VITC time codes to provide accuracy to within two frames. If your tape did not have VITC on it before, this controller can be used to put the code on a copy of the tape, while using the original for the final to keep image quality high. If you don’t want to use VITC, a tape counter function will also work, along with jog/shuttle.
The device allows working between various tape formats and stores 100 scenes in its edit list. The MPE-100S also controls titlers and multiple sound sources.
The edit controllers which work with PCs and Mac computers are generally more powerful for lesser amounts of money than their stand-alone cousins. This is because they use the power of the money already invested in your computer. For those who already own a computer, saving some money on an edit controller is possible by flexing the computers muscles. The main disadvantage of computer-based controllers is their lack of portability and their need for lots of computer resources.
Back to the basics
One of the most prominently advertised products in this category is VideoDirector (Gold Disk). This product is popular because it allows the use of picture icons or “picons,” small still shots from each scene that you manipulate using your mouse in Windows (there is an older Amiga version too). It is a very visual program with a push- button interface, so it’s popular with people who are just beginning or who are very “visual.” It works using the Sony LANC and infrared for the target VCR and connects to the computer through the serial port interface.
VideoDirector lets you name each clip and then arrange them for final assembly. According to Gold Disk, the only limit to the number of scenes programmable is the limit of your computer memory. It prompts you when there is a need to change source tapes, etc. and uses audio cues for some functions. Genlock support is provided, meaning that with some additional computer hardware and software the videomaker can insert titles and effects via VideoDirector’s interface. At $99.95, it really packs in the features forthe price.
If you don’t need all the picons, the Sima PC Video Ed/It system is virtually a steal at $49.95. While not as easy to use as the VideoDirector, this system not only works on the LANC system (Model SES-L) but also has a model that works on the Panasonic Control-M protocol (Model SES-M). Target control is via infrared emitter. Up to ninety nine scenes can be queued and monitored in real time counts on the computer. Accuracy is good for the beginner to the advanced amateur, but professionals might hold out for VITC.
Looking down the middle
Our previously mentioned friend, the EC 1000PRO (FutureVideo Products), has an optional RS-232 interface that allows connection to an IBM-compatible PC. This way,all of the functions of the PRO are controllable from the keyboard. If you have some basic programming skills, you can create your own mini-programs that allow you to simplify complex procedures. Packages already exist for some projects and are available from the manufacturer. The computer option also expands the capacities of the PRO for an extra $195. The software expands the nine-scene limit of the PRO to 999 events. Each event can contain the scene desired, a description of the scene, and other information. There is also an optional SMPTE time code reader in the EC 1000PRO/TC model. They also sell the EditLink which has a programmable interface to run other devices and which promises accuracy to within 1 frame if using the SMPTE time code. It works with LANC and Control-M.
The MediaPhile Industrial Video Deck Controller MP3.0S/422 (Interactive MicroSystems) works with SVHS, Hi8mm, and Beta decks through the control of IBM compatible and Amiga computers. Up to seven decks can be controlled with 9 pin RS-422 connectors. Controller cables for decks are around $95 with the computer connection and software running an additional $100. This allows A/B roll editing and control of SEGs through purchasing additional cables. Genlock support is included and modules for LANC control are also available. Accuracy is within 1 frame using SMPTE.
The Edit Master 4.0 (VC Technologies) will even run on older 286 model computers and requires less memory than the previous controlling software. The disadvantage is that the commands are assigned to individual keys on the PC keyboard, making it almost impossible to use without a template attached or book nearby. It does have a HELP function that will explain each function, and it has quite a few functions! The Edit Master 4.0 works for NTSC or PAL systems and can hold 20 lists of 999 scenes in memory. Macros help alleviate some of the tougher procedures. Jog/shuttle is run through the keyboard also. Prices start at $495 for upgrades from previous versions.
Call the professionals!
United Media offers a Windows-compatible program costing $1500 in its PC Edit series. The system might sound pricey, but features include control of up to eight tape machines, RS-422 interfaces, software which can control up to 2000 events. From three to eight GPI ports are possible depending on which model you choose, as well as four audio channels. Uses VITC and LTC for superior accuracy.
The Panasonic FastEdit system (Selectra) helps you view the timeline of your project in a graphical format. Not just a controller, it allows six video sources and eight-channel audio editing while using more than 200 special effects including chroma and luma-key effects (the same effects used to project your local weather reporter on top of a map). FastEdit supports VITC for accuracy within 1 frame. This equipment is more properly called a desktop video system since it includes so much. The package includes a computer, three monitors, 3 advanced VCRs, and the controller for just under $10,000.
At some time youve probably thought "Why cant I usethis computer and store the video images in a digital format, like those little movie clips you see on the screen, then I could manipulate them so that I could…." Well, the technology is here, and although it takes huge computing power and storage it has some big advantages.
For those with IBM compatible Pentium computers, the Plum(Interactive Images) is a new product which works on nonlinear video editing. The Plum software is bundled with its own audio card, fast SCSI-2 interface card, and Adobe Premiere editing software. A Macintosh version is promised by the end of 1995. Nonlinear editing means that once the images are in the computer you can manipulate clips you want to edit without having to rewind or forward a tape, its all done digitally.
One of these pioneering products for the Power Macintosh or Quadra line is the Radius Edit 0533. This software controls the various VCRs you might attach and allows four audio channels. It wasnt enough to allow complete editing control, but it also contains the ability to do direct titling and many special effects such as picture-in-a-picture and slow motion. It can work on PAL or NTSC formats and uses SMPTE. The manufacturers recommend using an array of hard drives to hold all the digital information. These systems allow unparalleled control of video, but the hardware to run them could end up costing your life savings. Be sure to do your research before plunking down your cash.
Its easy to see that buying an edit controller could turn into a nightmare quickly if the buyer loses sight of his or her goals. As FutureVideo Vice President Stephen Godfrey told me during a telephone call, "Many times we forget that the idea is to extract aesthetically pleasing product." Hes right, dont be fooled by the promise of bells and whistles youll never use. At the same time, prices vary widely so you can be sure to find something in your price range that will do what you need it to do. Continue doing research and watching the pages of Videomaker to keep up with the latest models and vendors.
For even more information, see Michael Loehrs article"Choosing and Using Edit Controllers" in the June 1995 issue of Videomaker.
Terms and jargon
- EDL –
- Edit Decision List, a type of memory for a list of scenes which are later put together to make the finished tape.
- Jog/shuttle –
- usually a knob which allows you to control exactly which frame you wish to check or to quickly find a particular scene on a tape.
- Preroll –
- backs up the tape before the edit for a cleaner transition at the edit point.
- RTC –
- Real time counter, shows the tape time in hours, minutes, and seconds.
- VITC –
- vertical interval time code generator, a device to insert codes onto a tape to make it easier to cue up a tape to a precise point.
- SMPTE –
- Society of Motion Picture and TelevisionEngineers, sets standards for NTSC. Also used to refer to time codes put onto videotapes. These codes help insure accuracy since they are put into each frame and do not change even if there is tape slippage or stretching. For more information, see Glenn Calderones article about SMPTE in the April 1995 issue of Videomaker.
- SEG –
- special effect generator, allows fancy wipes and fades, some allow simple editing functions.
- Control S –
- an early interface developed by Sony to allow external control of camcorders, etc. Communication only really worked in one direction, and has all but been supplanted by the more powerful LANC or Control L system.
- Control M –
- an interface developed by Panasonic to allow external control of camcorders, etc. Uses a 5 pin DIN connector.
- Time code –
- a reference to chronological time put on one of the tracks of videotape to aid in finding frames during editing. Time codes mean that you dont have to rewind the tape to the very beginning and fast forward to a time value but instead can advance to that point from any starting point. Various types include:
- CTL –
- Control Track Longitudinal time code
- RCTC –
- Rewriteable Consumer Time Code
- LTC –
- Longitudinal Time Code
- LANC or Control L –
- stands for Local Application Control Bus System, developed by Sony to allow computer control of camcorders. Uses a common mini-plug connector.
- NTSC –
- National Television Standards Committee, standard in US, Mexico, Canada and Japan. Features 30 frames per second.
- Assemble editing –
- shooting video in the most convenient manner, choosing the best shots of a scene, then pasting the different shots together in the order you like.
- Insert editing –
- simple insertion of a scene from the source tape to the target tape, this replaces the scene previously on that tape.
- PAL –
- Phase Alteration Line, standard in Britain, Europe, and South America. Features 25 frames per second.
Crash Course in Crash Edits:
So you still insist on doing it all yourself? When one edits without an edit controller(which used to be called crash editing), its a lot of pausing, cueing, dubbing, etc. There are bound to be glitches in video or sound resulting in flashes of light, loud bursts of sound, or tracking errors at the points of the edits. This is partially because there is more on the tape track than the picture and sound occurring in your scene. There are also synchronizing signals or pulses, put on the tape. When editing a video, you pull scenes out of order, disrupting the flow of the synchronizing signals. This can lead to "jumping" or "rolling" at the point of your edits. You can easily see why it was called crash editing!
One way to lessen this problem is to get a target VCR with a flying erase head. A better solution is to get a VCR (or use a camcorder as the target) which has the insert edits feature. This will allow you to transfer the sound and video onto a tape without transferring the sync track, but only onto a tape which already has a track of its own. The best way to do this is to record the tape in the camcorder with the lens cap on, recording nothing but black, and sync signals, onto the tape before using it as your target. Of course, the best way to avoid such problems is to do both of the above plus invest in at least an inexpensive edit controller.
For some even better tips on assembly editing, see Jim Stinsons article in the June 1995 issue of Videomaker.
Are the big systems really worth it?
You might feel that the less expensive systems do a fine job, and they seem a lot less confusing; so why not just stay with them? Many people will, and they will be happy since the machines do what the videomaker needs. However, if you are producing semi-professional or professional video projects such as commercials, documentaries, and even high- end wedding video, you might need to look at the accuracy of the controller to see if it meets your needs. The NTSC standard is 30 frames per second, so if the controller manufacturer allows that it is accurate to within 5 frames, you can control your start-up or ending point to within one third of a second. (It can be as much as five frames slow or five frames too fast). Some of the higher-end machines even promise control with only one frame error (1 frame). This can allow editing fine enough to catch the bride tossing the bouquet but being able to predict and edit out Uncle Eds loud belch while the flowers are mid-air. Of course, this is an over-simplification, but the point is that these controllers are well worth the money if you need this kind of power over the medium.
Canon USA, One Canon Plaza, Lake Success, NY 11042, 800-652-2666
JVC Company of America, 41 Slater Drive, Elmwood Park, NJ 07407, 800-JVC-5825
FutureVideo Products, 28 Argonaut, Suite 150, Laguna Hills, CA 92656, 714-770-4416 or 800-346-5254
Panasonic, One Panasonic Way, Secaucus, NJ 07094, 800-524-0864
Videonics, 1370 Dell Avenue, Campbell, CA 95008-6604, 408-866-8300, 800-338-EDIT
Sony Electronics, 1 Sony Drive, Park Ridge, NJ 07656, 800-824-8232
Alpermann+Velte (Offered through Ace Edit, P.O. Box 323, Bondi Junction NSW 2022, Australia, 011-61-2-398-9039
GSE, General Systems Electronics, Kostheimer Landstrae 36, D-6502, Mainz-Kostheim, ++(0)6134/2909-0
VideoDirector (Gold Disk, 20675 S. Western Ave., Torrance, CA 90501, 800-982-9888. Canadian customers can also contact Gold Disk at 5155 Spectrum Way, Unit 5, Mississauga, Ontario, CANADA, L4W 5A1, 1-416-602-4000.
Sima Products, 6153 Mulford, Niles, IL 60714, 708-966-0300
Interactive MicroSystems, 9 Red Roof Lane STE 2, Salem, NH, 03079, 603-898-3545
VC Technologies, 148 Veterans Drive, Northvale, NJ07647, 800-526-0242
United Media, 4771 E. Hunter, Anaheim, CA 92807, 714-777-4510
Radius, 215 Moffett Park Drive, Sunnyvale, CA 94089-1374, 800-227-2795
Interactive Images, 20925 Research Parkway, Suite C, Colorado Springs, CO 80920, 719-598-3894