Sure, you can make good videos "in the camera," without
ever taking a single step into the realm of post-production. But
if you want to take your videos to the next level of quality and
professionalism, you have to edit. This may sound like a simple
over generalization, but try to imagine what movies would be like
if Hollywood moviemakers left their films unedited. Or just remember
the last time you tried to get your family to sit still while
you fast-forwarded through the boring parts of your latest epic.
What you need is an edit controller: a simple device that allows
you to easily cut out the bad parts and combine footage from more
than one master tape. Here you’ll learn what features to look
for in an edit controller; then use the accompanying buyer’s guide
to check out the models currently available.

Take Control

Luckily, professionals discovered the power of editing early in
moving film’s history. With film, editing involves physically
cutting and pasting together strips of raw film footage. With
videotape, you need to copy selected raw footage to another tape.

If you don’t want to spend any money, you can use your existing
camcorder and VCR, combined with your fingers and a sense of timing,
for the time-honored "two-finger edit controller." This
involves pushing and releasing the pause buttons on two VCRs (or
a camcorder and VCR) with your two index fingers, timing each
edit visually as you watch the scenes on a monitor.

However, the two-finger approach has its downside in quality.
Full-motion video rolls off the tape at 30 fps (frames per second).
If you miss your edit mark by even a fraction of a second, your
edit will be jumpy. This is why serious hobbyists and professional
videographers use video edit controllers.

An edit controller is a device that allows you to control two
or more video decks, plus other equipment such as an SEG (special
effects generator) or a titler, at one time. This allows for precise
control of the start and stop buttons to give you the power to
make your video jump-free and professional-looking.

Don’t mistake an SEG for an editor. While an SEG can put fades,
wipes, titles or other special effects into your video, it usually
does not control the starting and stopping of the tape.

Video edit controllers can be either computer-controlled devices
or stand-alone units. Don’t confuse a computer-based edit controller
with a nonlinear editor. Where computer-based edit controllers
take charge of two or more VCRs for editing, a nonlinear editor
actually digitizes the video footage. In a nutshell, this means
that the computer power necessary to run an edit controller is
much less than that necessary for a nonlinear system.

How an Edit Controller Works

A video edit controller works by taking control of your playback
and record VCRs. To do this, it needs to communicate with them
somehow, in order to send the commands for pause, record, fast-forward,
rewind, etc. A protocol is the method of communication between
the separate pieces of equipment. Be careful to choose an edit
controller that uses the same protocols as your camcorders and/or
VCRs. The most popular protocols are Control-S (or synchro edit),
Control-L (or LANC), Control-M (or Panasonic 5-pin), RS-422, RS-232,
and IR (infrared).

Some edit controllers only use the IR remote sensor of your VCR
to communicate. This is handy because they work with most VCRs,
but the accuracy of the edit cannot be as precise as those systems
that use a cable to communicate. The rest of the protocols use
a cable that allows the edit controller to talk to the VCR; all
but Control-S also allow the VCR to talk to the edit controller.
This bi-directional feature is most important with equipment that
uses time code.

What is time code? It is a system of numbering the frames of
a videotape in hours:minutes:seconds:frames for increased accuracy
in the editing process. (See "Time Code is on Your Side,"
September, 1997 and "Edit Suite" in this issue.) If
your camcorder and VCR use time code, you want to be sure your
edit controller supports the same kind of time code.

The most universal of the time codes is SMPTE, which stands for
Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Some consumer-level
8mm video equipment uses a time code called RCTC or Rewritable
Consumer Time Code. Some S-VHS equipment uses a version of SMPTE
known as VITC or Vertical Interval Time Code.

Most editors use some form of an edit decision list (EDL) to
program a number of edits in advance. Every time you want the
record deck to start or stop recording, for example, you add another
entry to the EDL. The more entries that are available in an editor’s
EDL, the more edits you can make at one time. Keep in mind that
the editors that do not use time code can allow the playback and
record decks of your system to get slightly out of sync if you
try to make a complicated EDL. If you’re working without time
code, it is often best to simplify your edits and not try and
do too many at one time.


Stand-Alone Editors

The simplest editors are stand-alone units that plug directly
into your VCRs. They can also trigger other devices such as SEGs,
audio mixers and titlers. The Videonics Thumbs Up! 2000 ($199)
is a good choice for the videographer who is ready to try editing
for the first time. The Thumbs Up! 2000 works the way Siskel and
Ebert would edit video. You watch the video you’re editing through
the editor, and if you want to keep the footage, you press the
thumbs up button. If you want to cut out footage, you press the
thumbs down button. The Thumbs Up! 2000 uses either Control-L,
Control-M, or IR to communicate, so it will work with most equipment.
If your source tape uses either RCTC or VITC time codes, the Thumbs
Up! 2000 will read them. You can also use the Thumbs Up! 2000
to insert time codes if you have two VCRs of the same format.
The Thumbs Up! 2000 is included in Videonics’ Home Video Producer
($329), which also includes an audio mixer, a sound effects generator
and a microphone.

The Panasonic AG-A96 ($525) is a workhorse of the prosumer video
industry. It works with many Panasonic VCRs, including the popular
AG-1980 prosumer editing deck. The AG-A96 has an eight-scene edit
decision list. Because it uses the Control-M (Panasonic 5-pin)
protocol exclusively, make sure the rest of your equipment is
compatible. The AG-A96 does not support time code or provide a
triggering mechanism for an SEG or titler.

Computer-Controlled Editors

If you already have a computer, you can use it as part of a video
edit controller. As stated above, a computer-controlled video
editor is different from a nonlinear video editor because a nonlinear
editor converts the analog video into digital information, then
stores it on your hard drive. These systems are great, but if
you want to be able to edit more than a couple of minutes of video
at a time, you will need a very large amount of hard drive space.
The computer-controlled analog video editors allow your PC to
control your camcorders, VCRs and SEGs without ever converting
the analog tape into digital data.

The V-Station 3300VX for Windows ($695) from FutureVideo Products,
Inc. is a video editor crammed with features. It allows you to
control three VCRs at one time so that you can perform true A/B
rolls between two source tapes and one master. It has three triggers
for SEGs, and a 250-event EDL. It connects to your computer’s
serial port with an RS-232 cable. FutureVideo also offers the
V-Station 3300 PLUS ($1,095), which add to the features of the
3300VX: a 9999 event EDL, SMPTE time code reader and generator,
and the ability to control Panasonic’s WJ-MX30 and WJ-MX50 mixers
with a serial cable. The V-Station 3300VX and PLUS require Microsoft
Windows 3.1 or 95, 8MB RAM, and 10Mb of hard drive space to operate.

Pinnacle’s VideoDirector Studio 200 ($300) is a slightly different
variation of the computer-controlled video editor. It comes with
a separate piece of hardware (called the Studio Mixer) that you
plug into your computer via the parallel port (printer port).
The Studio Mixer connects to your video gear via Control-L, Control-M
or Control-S with a serial device called a Smart Cable (which
requires an available serial port on your computer). One handy
feature of the Studio 200 is autologging. When you first insert
a tape into the play deck, the Studio 200 asks you if you want
to autolog the tape. If you choose autolog, the Studio 200 will
tape a low-resolution screen shot from the tape each time you
started or stopped the camera. These low-res screen shots, called
picons, become the markers you’ll use for the EDL. On the downside,
because you can only control two VCRs, true A/B rolls are impossible.
The Studio 200 provides an option of saving a single high-resolution
frame on the computer, then performing a fade or wipe from that
single frame (called an A/X roll). The Studio 200 requires 8MB
of RAM and Microsoft Windows 95.

Finally, there is the Video ToolKit 3.0 for Windows 95/NT ($279)
from Videonics. The Video ToolKit comes with Videonics’ AV/Net
module, a piece of hardware that allows you to connect up to four
devices using any of the standard protocols. You can also hook
up a second AV/Net for an editing suite of up to seven devices.
If you have a video capture card, the Video ToolKit will allow
you to perform tape logging using picons like the Studio 200 (but
without the automatic feature available in the Studio 200). After
logging the tape, you select the edits you want to make, including
SEGs functions, A/B rolls (if you have two source VCRs and an
SEG), and sound effects, then let the ToolKit do the work. It
also supports all of the consumer time code formats.

There is a vast world of video editing equipment waiting for
your unedited tapes. If you have a computer, the computer-controlled
editors provide more options and flexibility, while the stand-alone
units are simpler to use, and can be transported easily. With
this plethora of tools available to help you edit, you no longer
need to dread it.

Larry Lemm is a freelance technology writer and consultant.

[Sidebar :Glossary of Editing Terms]

  • A/B Roll: The process of using two source VCRs and one record
    VCR during editing, allowing transitions between two synchronized
    video streams with a switcher or SEG.
  • Control-L : (LANC) A two-way edit control protocol.
  • Control-M: (Panasonic 5-pin) A two-way edit control protocol.
  • Control-S: (synchro edit) A one-way edit control protocol.
  • Edit Controller : Electronic device used to control a VCR
    and/or camcorder’s functions to facilitate automated videotape
    editing with speed, precision and convenience.
  • EDL : Edit decision list. A list of edits programmed into
    an edit controller.
  • IR: Infrared. VCR or camcorder control through infrared
    pulses.
  • Protocol: A method by which two or more pieces of editing
    equipment communicate with one another in order to synchronize
    their functions.
  • RS-232: An edit control protocol found on professional video
    equipment.
  • RS-422: An edit control protocol found on professional video
    equipment.
  • SEG: Special effects generator; also known as a video switcher
    or video mixer. A device that enhances video productions in a
    number of ways, including performing clean, synchronized transitions
    between two source VCRs (A/B-roll editing).
  • Time Code : A system of numbering the frames of a videotape
    in hours:minutes:seconds:frames for increased accuracy in the
    editing process. Popular time code types include RCTC (Rewritable
    Consumer Time Code) and VITC (Vertical Interval Time Code).

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