Pretty much any VCR can time-shift Friends or play Sing Along with Barney. When it comes to the rigors of video editing, however, the field narrows dramatically. If a deck doesn’t have features specifically for the editing videographer, it’s not an editing deck–it’s a deck trying to edit.
In the next few pages, we’ll explore 12 of the most-important features you’ll find on today’s hottest editing decks. Cross-reference these features in the accompanying buyer’s guide, and you’ll be sure you’re buying the best editing VCR for your needs.
One of the most important "features" any editing VCR can offer is a high-band recording format such as S-VHS, Hi8 or DV. High-band formats resist generation loss, the softening of details and smearing of colors you see after copying a tape several times.
The S-VHS and Hi8 formats (both analog) reduce generation loss by recording greater resolution and less video noise on special tapes using a signal format called S-video. DV (digital video) spells the end generation loss by converting the analog video signal into a series of numbers. If you copy from one DV unit to another through the digital FireWire connection, you’ll get copies with virtually no noticeable generation loss. Check out: [Sony DHR-1000 DV deck]
The video signal coming out of your VCR or camcorder is actually made up of two parts: luminance (brightness) and chrominance (color). Normal video jacks and cables combine these two elements; as a result they can interact and cause visible image degradation. S-video jacks separate the luminance and chrominance signals, resulting in a cleaner video image.
S-video jacks appear on virtually all S-VHS, Hi8 and DV VCRs. These jacks offer a benefit regardless of the format–even a standard VHS or 8mm tape will look better when played or copied through S-video jacks then it will through standard audio-video jacks.
Flying Erase Head
If there’s any feature that’s mandatory for an editing deck, it’s the flying erase head. This head performs a precise edit between video frames, allowing you to stop and start recording (or do video inserts) cleanly. All S-VHS, 8mm and Hi8 VCRs offer a flying erase head, and all DV devices, by nature of their digital recording system, perform clean edits.
Be sure to look closely for flying erase heads when shopping for low-cost (or older) VHS-format VCRs. Fixed erase heads were more common in past years and there are still a few of today’s low-end VHS VCRs that are not equipped with flying erase heads.
Built-in Edit Controller
Some VCRs are like an edit controller and deck all in one, allowing you to define in and out points for a handful of scenes. The VCR then plays these scenes in order, telling another deck or camcorder when to begin recording. The end result is a hands-off assemble edit.
Accuracy of a built-in editor depends on the deck. Consumer level decks with time code will usually get within a few frames; those with real-time counters are often accurate within a half second. Control methods for the record deck include Control-L, wired remote pause and infrared control.
Check out: [JVC HR-S9400U S-VHS deck]
If you want to change the color saturation, hue or sharpness of your video, you probably expect to reach for a video processor. Some editing VCRs have a built-in proc amp (processing amplifier) that affects the playback signal. This allows you to make some minor adjustments to your video quality as you edit, such as correcting for improper white balance.
Proc amp controls may be in the form of actual knobs or sliders, or may appear as items in an on-screen menu. Though rarely as flexible or powerful as a stand-alone video processor, the built-in proc amp can be a real asset.
Check out: [to be named]
Time Base Corrector
The next step in on-board VCR processing is the TBC (time-base corrector). A TBC corrects small timing problems inherent in analog tape playback for a cleaner and more-stable picture overall. Some genlocks or computer-based SEGs (special effects generator) won’t work unless the signal has passed through a TBC.
The only real disadvantage to the TBC is the potential for a slight increase in video noise. This occurs because the TBC is actually digitizing the video signal between playback head and deck output. Decks with built-in TBCs usually offer proc amp controls as well.
Check out: [to be named]
One of the most useful editing features to appear on any deck is timecode support. Instead of making a VCR take an educated guess as to the location of the frame, timecode labels frames with their own unique addresses. The end result is greatly improved editing accuracy with no counter slippage.
Unfortunately, there’s no timecode standard for consumer-level equipment. Some Hi8 decks use Sony’s RCTC (rewriteable consumer time code). In the VHS/S-VHS realm, there’s JVC’s CTL timecode, SMPTE time code laid onto an audio track and Panasonic’s VITC (vertical interval time code) among others. DV decks number every frame by default, and some DV decks will convert this internal timecode to RC time code or SMPTE timecode. For more on timecode–see "Timecode Is On Your Side" in the September ’97 issue of Videomaker. Check out: [to be named]
Audio dubbing capabilities are considered an entry-level feature for editing decks. With audio dubbing, you can record new audio onto tape without affecting the existing video. This allows you to add a sound effect, piece of music or background ambiance to enhance the mood or drama of a scene.
The various formats handle audio dubbing in different ways. VHS and S-VHS editing decks allow dubbing to the linear audio track (or tracks), leaving the hi-fi audio and video tracks untouched. Some Hi8 decks offer PCM digital stereo sound, which you can record independent of the AFM audio and video. The DV format allows stereo digital audio dubbing to two of its four audio tracks, provided the video was shot in four-track (not two-track) mode.
Check out: [Mitsubishi HS-U680 VHS deck]
The aesthetic opposite of audio dubbing, video dubbing (also called insert editing) allows you to record new video with the existing audio. This is handy when you want to insert a cutaway or other shot without existing audio. Some videos are easier to edit by laying the video in after you’ve recorded the sound (music videos, for example).
Like audio dubbing, there are different approaches to video dubbing based on format. VHS and S-VHS allow video dubbing without affecting the linear audio track (the hi-fi tracks are re-recorded with the video). Some Hi8 decks allow video dubbing without changing the PCM digital audio tracks, though the AFM audio gets re-recorded with the video. Video dubbing is a given in the DV format.
Check out: [to be named]
Sometimes, half the battle in editing is finding the scenes you want to transfer, locking in your edit points and cueing up the record tape. Two VCR controls that simplify this task are the jog wheel and shuttle ring. By spinning the jog wheel at different speeds with your fingertip, you can accurately advance or rewind the tape.
A shuttle wheel is better for broad tape movements, and you’ll usually find one wrapped around the jog wheel. In its center position, the shuttle ring pauses the tape. Twist the ring clockwise, and the deck’s transport steps up through all the available shuttle speeds. Turning the shuttle ring counterclockwise has the same effect, but moves the tape in reverse.
Check out: [JVC HR-S7300U S-VHS deck]
Durable, Gentle Transport
Camcorders are designed for light weight and occasional use–they’re not really suited for heavy-duty editing. Most normal VCRs have more rugged transports than camcorders, making them a better choice for editing.
An editing VCR takes this ruggedness to the next level, usually offering a transport sturdy enough to withstand thousands of hours of the back-and-forth rigors of editing. An editing VCR will have a transport designed to be very gentle as well, reducing the risk of the tape stretching or breaking. Finally, most editing VCRs shuttle the tape much faster than a camcorder. This makes every edit quicker, and saves you a lot of time over the long haul.
Edit Control Jack
Two-finger editing is fun, but it’s not the most efficient way to turn your rough footage into a finished masterpiece. To edit like the pros, you need to put a computer or edit controller to work. To do that, you have to have a VCR capable of receiving and responding to commands.
An edit control jack allows an edit controller or computer to control nearly every function on your VCR. The popular Control-L interface (used by Sony and Canon) carries transport commands like pause and fast-forward, as well as deck status information and timecode. Panasonic’s 5-pin edit protocol performs a similar function, as does a pro-level serial interface like RS-422. The DV format’s FireWire connection carries editing commands and timecode as well as digital video and audio.