Edit controllers are the mechanical hearts of the old-school edit bay. Without some form of edit control, it’s nearly impossible to achieve the kind of accuracy that most video projects require; with them, it’s possible to control a number of titlers, Special Effects Generators(SEG) and VCRs from one central unit, as well as create edits that are frame accurate.
As useful as they are, edit controllers can be confusing at times, especially
when you’re setting up an edit bay for the first time. For those who need
a little help to configure a new edit bay or upgrade an existing one, this
article will attempt to explain some of the ins and outs of purchasing a
new edit controller. Along the way, we’ll take a look at some of the edit
controllers that are currently available on the consumer/prosumer market.
Linear Editing Basics
Before we get started, let’s make an important distinction: when we refer
to editors or edit controllers, we’re talking about machines that control
VCRs–linear, tape-based editing. We are not talking about nonlinear editing
systems, which operate digitally on a computer’s hard drive. Nonlinear editing
is an entirely different ball of wax that we’ll save for another article.
But just because an editing system is linear doesn’t necessarily mean that
a computer isn’t involved in some way. In fact, many of the best low-budget
edit controllers use a computer to manage editing tasks, such as Edit Decision
Lists (EDLs), special effects, titling and CD-based music.
Before you purchase an edit controller, you need to make sure you have the
right equipment to make it work properly. In order for an editor to take
control of your VCRs, for example, you need to make sure your VCRs support
the same types of editing protocols that the editor supports. If you want
to control a titler or SEG from the editor, you’ll have to make sure your
titler or SEG has a GPI trigger or some other means of external control.
It’s common for a novice home video editor to use a camcorder as the source
deck and a VCR as the record deck. This is feasible only if your camcorder
has a Control-L or Panasonic 5-pin (Control-M) edit control jack. This cuts-only
configuration puts a little extra wear on your camcorder, but unless you’re
shooting and editing video every weekend, it is not likely to significantly
tax your camera.
Some Low-budget Options
There are a few things to keep in mind when assembling a low-budget edit
bay. Perhaps the most important is the compatibility issue mentioned above
(make sure you have the right editing protocols available). Equally important
is the presence or absence of some form of time code to increase the accuracy
of your edits.
One of the easiest, least expensive ways to get into video editing is to
purchase a simple stand-alone editor like Videonics’ Thumbs Up! ($199).
Designed specifically for beginning video editors, Thumbs Up! allows the
user to edit by watching the tape and simply pressing the Thumbs Up or Thumbs
Down button. This allows the editor to select and discard the desired shots
with a minimum of effort. After selecting the footage you want to keep,
you place the Thumbs Up! near your record VCR’s infrared port with the camcorder
connected via Control-L or Control-M; press the edit button, and all of
your selected scenes will be copied onto the record tape. Though many videographers
will quickly outgrow this simple device, it’s an excellent introduction
For a considerably more powerful unit, Videonics’ AB-1 Edit Suite ($699)
fits the bill. The Edit Suite can control two source decks, a record deck,
a titler and an SEG for true A/B-roll editing power. It also supports Control-L,
Control-M, RS-232, infrared and Control-S protocols. Other features include
a jog/shuttle controller, LCD display window and two GPI triggers.
For those who have a home computer that they’d like to use for video editing,
there are several good low-cost items to choose from. Videonics’ Video ToolKit
3.0 ($279),is a software/hardware product that can control up to seven devices,
including VCRs, special effects generators and titlers. If you already own
Videonics’ MX-1 Digital Video Mixer, the Video ToolKit will give you the
option of controlling all functions of the device directly from the computer
screen. The Video ToolKit also performs the very useful function of controlling
batch digitizing for nonlinear systems.
Pinnacle’s Studio 400 ($199) takes control of a camcorder and home VCR via
a home computer’s parallel port; with the included Studio Mixer box, it’s
possible to capture still images, overlay titles and graphics, incorporate
special effects, create real-time previews of editing decisions and automatically
log the contents of a videotape.
Some Mid-Range Choices
Let’s turn our attention to a higher quality level of video gear. As you
begin matching your video production needs with a heftier dollar investment,
you can expect a durable and reliable return on your investment. Initially
the price tag may sting a little, but in the long run the investment will
pay off: you will have less repairs, glitches and frustration at key moments
in your production.
Panasonic offers a wide range of edit controller choices. On the prosumer
level, the Panasonic AG-A350 edit controller ($1050) is a popular model
that features time code support, player and recorder counter displays, a
jog/shuttle, 9-pin RS-422 control, and preview, assemble and video/audio
insert modes. It also supports control of variable-speed VCRs, such as those
with digital slow motion features.
On the computer-based edit control front, there’s TAO’s Editizer ($1995).
This popular A/B-roll edit controller has been around for a number of years.
The Editizer consists of a software editing interface and a small hardware
device that controls all of your editing equipment. Support for RS-232,
RS-422, JVC 12-pin, Control-L, and Panasonic 5-pin is available, as well
as GPI triggering and direct serial control of some SEGs. The Editizer is
available in both PC and Mac versions.
Another popular computer-based edit controller is FutureVideo’s V-Station
3300 VX ($795), a fully functional A/B-roll system that controls 3 decks,
an SEG and a titler from a Windows software interface. Like most other computer-based
edit controllers, the V-Station 3300VX makes use of both hardware and software
to control decks and equipment. A small box that attaches to the computer
can be configured for Control-L, Panasonic 5-pin, RS-232 and RS-422 support;
GPI triggers control the SEG and/or titler. For full serial control of most
prosumer-level SEGs, the V-Station 3300 Plus is available ($1195); this
upgrade also includes a SMPTE time code reader and generator. Also available
for the V-Station VX or Plus models is a jog/shuttle controller for $695.
From Hobby To Investment
Remember when I said we weren’t going to talk about nonlinear editing in
this article? Well, I lied just a little. There is a certain type of sophisticated
computer-based edit controller that incorporates both linear editing and
nonlinear editing capabilities, offering the most powerful features of both
types of equipment. This kind of editor is usually referred to as a hybrid
system, and there are several currently available in the prosumer market.
One of the most successful of these is the Fast Video Machine ($3995). On
the simplest level, it is a powerful computer-based edit controller that
incorporates its own SEG on a computer card. With over 300 real-time effects,
a powerful edit controller interface, a title/graphic generator and time
code reader/generator, it’s easy to see why it’s been so popular in the
prosumer editing arena. When combined with the Digital Recorder/Player option
($5995), the Video Machine becomes a true hybrid solution with both linear
and nonlinear capabilities.
Bringing It All Together
As you can see, putting together an editing system can be quite a chore,
even if you already know plenty about the video editing process. The most
important thing to remember: make sure you buy equipment that will support
your existing gear. By the same token, it’s a good idea to purchase camcorders,
VCRs, SEGs and titlers with a mind to the future: in other words, purchase
gear that supports the editing protocols and other interfaces that you can
put to work in the future. Then, when it’s time to build that editing system
you’ve always dreamed about, you won’t have to scrap any of the stuff that
you’ve already payed for.