George Cole tries out the latest non-linear video editing equipment and finds it both affordable and user-friendly.
Someone once said that video editing was about presenting life with the boring bits chopped out. That may be, but one thing is certain: video editing used to be an awkward and long-winded process before the arrival of today's computer-based editing systems. In the old days, video editing involved transferring shots from tape to tape, with a camcorder connected to a VCR. It also meant using a lot of extras such as a video editor for streamlining the copying process, an audio mixer for adding sound or music, and a vision mixer for adding effects like fades and wipes.
But now, computer or non-linear editing has reached the mainstream market, thanks to the falling price of the technology required to carry it out. Today, you can assemble a powerful non-linear editing system for under pound;2,000 and that includes the computer, plus the additional hardware and software that goes with it. If you already own a powerful computer, the cost is even lower.
Five years ago, only professional studios could afford the video editing systems that are now on the high street. What's more, today's non-linear editing formats are designed for real people rather than techies.
The first stage of video editing involves recording video footage, and for most of us that means using a camcorder. They come in all shapes, sizes and prices, and their picture quality varies too. Companies such as Sony, Sharp, Canon, JVC, Panasonic and Samsung offer camcorders in a range of different formats or systems. The most basic are the analogue formats, VHS-C and 8mm. Prices start at around pound;300, but if you can afford it, try and opt for higher-specified Hi-8 or S-VHS models, which cost from around pound;350. Even better are digital camcorder formats which record sound and pictures as a digital code, and shots can be transferred digitally from the camcorder to the computer (and back) with little loss in quality.
Sony's Digital8 format (prices start from around pound;600-700) not only records digitally, but it can play 8mm and Hi-8 analogue tapes. The MiniDV digital format offers compact camcorders and prices start from around pound;500. Digital8 and MiniDV camcorders have a DV out socket (also known as a Firewire, i-Link or IEEE 1394 connector) which enables digital recordings to be transferred at high speed to a suitably-equipped computer. It's well worth checking out camcorders that are end-of-line models, as these can be somewhat cheaper than the latest products.
One of the problems with using a computer to edit video footage is that video files use up a lot of hard disk space - one gigabyte of disk space (roughly equivalent to 1,000 floppy disks) can only store around five to ten minutes of video, depending on the picture quality. Not so long ago, most domestic computers offered hard disk capacities that were measured in megabytes, and could only store seconds of digital video. Today, computers offering 20-40 gigabyte hard disks are not unusual, and you can be sure that even larger capacities will soon be the norm.
The choice generally boils down to a PC or Apple Mac. Both have their supporters, although the PC is by far the most popular platform and offers he greatest range of editing software packages and peripherals (add-ons like video cards).
Your computer also needs a fast processor chip because video editing involves a lot of number-crunching. Most new PCs offer a Pentium III chip or equivalent, while the latest Apple computers use a speedy G4 chip - both are fine for editing. An editing computer also needs lots of RAM or internal memory otherwise the system may run slowly or even crash. The minimum amount of RAM you should opt for is 64 megabytes, but 128 or 264 is even better. Your PC will also need a monitor and you should go for the biggest you can afford, ideally a 17- or 21-inch version.
Your computer will also need a video capture card, which digitises the video signal and allows it to be transferred to a computer. Some capture cards are designed for analogue video, others for digital. Also check your computer's graphics and sound cards. The former is responsible for the quality of the screen display, and the latter determines the computer's audio quality. Specifications can help, but the best judges of quality are your eyes and ears. If the idea of assembling the components required for a video editing system is daunting, you can buy ready-assembled kits which include a computer and hardware and software components from firms such as Apple, Digital Media Concepts and Digital Video Computing.
There's more to video editing than simply removing unwanted scenes. With the right editing software package you can add titles, graphics and animations, change colours, remove objects, create fades and dissolves, add sound and music and much more besides. Most editing software is operated by a computer mouse and can be used after a short practice session. Many include a timeline. Moving along the timeline represents moving backwards and forwards along your edited video. Many video-capture cards come bundled with editing software, although this is often a cut-down or "lite" version. Even so, these cut-down versions offer many features and can often be upgraded to the full version for a discount price. The most popular editing packages are Adobe Premiere (for PC and Apple), Media Studio Pro (from Ulead) (PC) and Strata Videoshop (Apple). Newer on the market are Apple's Final Cut Pro, and iVideo which comes free with its latest iMacs, Prices range from pound;50-pound;1000 or more.
If you're planning to put your video clips on to the Internet, then they need to be in a format that uses relatively small video files. You also want as many Internet users as possible to be able to play your video clips, so opt for a format that is widely available and easily obtainable. This means using video files that can be played back with plug-ins - extra pieces of software that work with a Web browser. Products like Macromedia's Shockwave and Apple's QuickTime players can be downloaded for free from the Internet (see below), but there is normally a charge for the full versions.
Computer Video magazine www.computervideo.net
Digital Video Computing www.digitalvideo.demon.co.uk
Digital Media Concepts www.dmconline.co.uk
Apple QuickTime www.apple.comquicktime
Macromedia Shockwave www.macromedia.com