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Help! I'm new!
A beginners' guide to computer video...

Introduction: Welcome to the revolution
Why do you want to edit?
Hardware considerations
Which platform?
Graphics cards
Capture/Playback cards
Buying a computer?
Software considerations
Editing programs
Frequently Asked Questions



Only five years ago, the notion that affordable home computers could be used to store, edit and manipulate video clips seemed like a pipe dream. The odd enthusiast might use an Amiga to add a title or basic digital video effect, but sound and video editing required dedicated hardware.

You could (and still can if you're a masochist) get away with copying selected shots from your camcorder tape to a tape in your VCR. The introduction of video editing boxes partially automated the process (as well as making cutting slightly more accurate), while audio mixers allowed you to add two to three sound sources to your original soundtrack (although you had to be sharp with the timing, as the only convenient way of doing this was to add them all at the same time). Ten years ago - if you were flush - you could spend a grand or more on a vision mixer for professional looking wipes.

The gulf between amateur and broadcast video was vast - even five years ago. Much of this was due to the equipment: VHS camcorders offered noticeably sub-broadcast quality (which degraded during copying), and editing equipment was pedestrian and inaccurate.


People had been talking about using hard disks rather than tape to store video for a decade or more, but the cost of doing this was prohibitive except at the very top-end. In the broadcast field, big-name companies, many using variations of the Silicon Graphics UNIX platform, released hardware capable of storing broadcast quality video on hard disks, while dedicated software attended to the entire post production process, from editing to special effects.

These systems certainly did the job - but with price tags in the region of half a million, they were clearly not for the average film student or keen amateur. In the mid-nineties, the average PC was about as comparable to a Silicon Graphics workstation as a paper dart was to a Hawker Harrier Jump Jet. The number crunching required was outside the chomping power of home computer processors, and the cost of RAM (you need a lot to handle large video files) made desktop video editing a no-go area.

Then there was the cost of the hard disks. If you're editing your video within your computer, you need to store the shots somewhere, and video files take up a lot of space. The 40-50MBytes of hard disk typical only a few years ago wouldn't have held a presenter's announcement heralding the forthcoming programme.

But then, three to four years ago, things started to change. As often happens in hi-tech markets, unmet demand called forth great technological leaps. The last nail in the coffin of old-style tape-to-tape editing has only happened in the last couple of years or so. A vast increase in the capacity of low-cost storage devices means that whole tapes' worth of material can be brought in for editing on computer. The non-linear revolution had taken hold.


Just as so-called amateur equipment is getting closer to broadcast gear in terms of spec and performance, the two markets are converging in other ways, too. At one time, most people who used video equipment were either producing material for broadcast, or were solely creating home movies for their own pleasure.

With the advent of desktop editing, whole new fields are opening up - the semi-pro wedding videographer has been joined by a host of smaller corporate videomakers. Emerging market sectors include the creation of content for CD-ROM and for the Internet., and these are providing opportunities for a greater number of specialist production companies. Self-employed stringers using DV camcorders are starting to be hired by news organisations. And the proliferation of channels brought about by the launch of digital transmissions in the UK and Europe over the last 12 months will create yet more opportunities for film makers.

Last year, the UK launched a bouquet of digital multiplexes. Although the digital TV channels initially only duplicated the current analogue broadcasts, digital broadcasting offers many more channels, and this will soon result in a corresponding increase in demand for material.

It may be that your interest in computer editing is based merely on a desire to edit the occasional family video with a little more style and accuracy. This is a good enough reason for investing in a computer editing kit. However, once you have the equipment, new possibilities open up for you.

Until recently, production houses spent far more on Quantel or Avid editing/effects systems than they ever did on the operators. This was because the cost of the equipment was so high. Top Soho facilities houses could afford to take on promising candidates and spend significant money and time on their training - the cost was small in comparison to the huge equipment budget.

But if you can buy an editing or effects system that costs a few thousand rather than a few hundred thousand (and very basic systems can cost hundreds rather than thousands), far more production houses are set to spring up. And the self-taught editor/animator who won't cost employers tens of thousands to train will start to be in demand.

The increased demand for competitively priced programming and corporate productions
means the possibility of actually earning money from what might have started out as a hobby is feasible for anyone with talent and determination. The cost of an editing system might well turn out to be an investment after all.


One of the problems with the move from old-style linear editing to computer-based non-linear editing is that you need to have more than just creative flair and a basic knowledge of shooting and editing styles. You also need to know a bit about computers.

While most editing software packages are fairly intuitive (though familiarity with the program will make you a lot quicker), the same can't always be said for the hardware. Video hardware problems stem from the large size of video data files and their need to be moved at very fast speeds. Also, the specs of computers and peripherals are changing continually, so putting together the right system, while leaving room for expansion, can be bewildering.

The heart of the system is the computer itself. Then you need to consider extra elements - a video capture card; and perhaps a better graphics or soundcard. But first you have to choose the computer.


Although other types of computer are available, the choice of DTV system is essentially a decision between the Mac or Windows PC platforms. If you are familiar with computers through other applications, then you may already have a preference. If not, you will find that both platforms have keen advocates, so solicit several opinions before making your decision.

Macs have traditionally been the choice of the creative professional and have carried a hefty price tag. Things are now changing, and Macs have become truly affordable. Apple now offers two complete iMac DV editing systems, one for £999, the other £1,119, both including VAT and the iMovie video editing program.

This is a complete turnaround as far as the consumer end of video editing goes, there is still not as much available for the Mac as for the Windows. On the professional front however, there is plenty available (although top-end Windows NT PCs are becoming the platform of choice for many in the low-end broadcast market). A plus point for the Mac is how user-friendly the operating system is and how much easier it is to add hardware and software.
Windows PCs have the advantage of being the market leader, offering a huge choice of models and specifications. You can get a good Windows machine at a bargain price and there is plenty of hardware and software to choose from.

Mac and Windows PCs are both suitable for serious editing, but you should ask yourself: do I want to produce near-broadcast quality video, possibly for commercial use? If you don't, then a low to mid-range model will suit your needs.
Mac is still stronger in areas such as desktop publishing and photo manipulation, making it more attractive if these uses appeal.


Deciding on the computer platform is only the start of the buying decision. Once you have decided whether you are going to opt for Mac or Windows, there are several other decisions you have to make. One of the most important of these is your choice of processor.
The job of the processor is to perform the calculations required by the programs you are running. Processor speed has doubled in the last 12-18 months, and high-spec systems typically have clock speeds greater than 400MHz.

What does this mean? Well, a common misconception is that the faster the clock speed, the faster the number-crunching ability of the processor. This is not technically true. The clock speed is the equivalent of the rev counter in the car, rather than the speedometer - the rev counter only measures how fast the crankshaft is turning, not how fast the car is travelling.

When Intel's 450MHz Pentium III processor was launched, it easily outperformed its predecessor the 450MHz Pentium II - even though the clock speed was the same. For this reason the industry has created benchmarks for testing processor (and system) performance for identical tasks.

There are many benchmarks available, with different companies producing their own. Not surprisingly, results from benchmark tests can vary, so don't treat them as gospel. The chart at the top of the previous page shows Intel's own claimed results for its Pentium processors using its iComp index 3.0. This benchmark was introduced earlier this year to test the speed of processors, particularly when involved in tasks such as 3D and multimedia work.

It's difficult to give any specific benchmark information that is meaningful today and will also be meaningful in six months time. The equipment changes and the benchmarks change with them. Processor manufacturers and suppliers are constantly updating the information on their websites, so when you are ready to purchase, check out the sites listed here.


There are several types of computer memory. RAM (random access memory) is the temporary space used for system operations. If you think of the computer as being a conventional office, then RAM is the equivalent of your office floor. The bigger the floor space, the more pieces of work you can do at the same time. More floor space lets you carry out work that requires lots of space (such as manipulating large drawings or models).

The more RAM, the more programs you can run at the same time. Some programs require a minimum amount of RAM. It's better to have more than the minimum requirement, as applications will run faster when they are not competing for RAM space, and if memory doesn't have to be swapped between programs.

The good news is that the price of RAM has plummeted in the last few years to under one pound per megabyte. Opt for a minimum of 64MByte, although 128MByte - or even 256MByte - is better. Some graphics programs, such as for 3D work, need at least this much. storage

The other main type of memory is the permanent memory provided by disk drives. In our office analogy, disk drives are equivalent to your filing cabinets. It's where you keep files and programs that you're not currently running (as well as saved versions of the files you have open).

The bigger the filing cabinet, the more information it will be able to hold. Video files take up a large amount of space, so you need a very large 'cabinet' - or preferably several. Video files can be compressed, but high rates of compression can lead to picture degradation. The more you compress, the more video you can squeeze onto your hard drive.

Ideally, you should have a separate hard disk for your video files, rather than trying to shoehorn them in and around your operating system and programs.

Your system will run best if you have one disk for the operating system and other programs, and a second (third or fourth) for your video material.

It's the disks used for video storage and editing that need to be large, although programs and operating systems are getting bloated, too. For video, a one gigabyte hard drive can store around four minutes of DV footage, and between five and nine minutes at S-VHS quality (depending on compression and cropping).

Not so long ago you needed big money to pay for big hard drives, but now 20GByte and even 40GByte drives are affordable (in fact, these figures will probably already be out of date by the time you read this!).


Hard drive size is important, but just as crucial is the data transfer rate - the speed at which data can be recorded onto hard disk and how quickly it can be read off it. Be careful: often the data rate quoted is for the fastest time, the 'burst rate', but this is not the measure to look for since all drives are capable of short sprints. What is important for video work is the sustained (or minimum bulk) data rate - how fast information can regularly travel without any danger of it slowing down.

To be safe, the sustained data rate should be at least half as great again as the required data rate for the degree of compression you are using. If it drops below the required speed for even a moment, you will lose at best a few frames when capturing video to the hard disk or playing it out again. At worst you could have a system crash during the editing process.
Try to find out from the company or retailer you are buying from (or from magazine tests) what the sustained data rate is. For example, most ultra SCSI hard drives have quoted maximum data transfer rates of 40MByte per second, whereas for Ultra-ATA EIDE it's 33MByte/sec. However, tests show that typical sustained read and write speeds come in at around 10-11MByte/sec for Ultra-SCSI and 11-15MByte/sec for Ultra-ATA. This is still way above the required 2-3MByte/sec for S-VHS/Hi8 or 3.6MByte/sec for DV. If you have older or slower drives you will be treading a thin line but drive speed is far less of an issue than it used to be - almost all modern drives are fast enough for video editing.


All computers have graphics cards, but some are better than others. The graphics card is the piece of hardware that the computer uses to create the pictures you see on the monitor. The monitor displays what the card tells it to - how many colours it can use, how quickly it can re-draw the screen and what resolution it can work at.

Your monitor may be capable of giving a much better picture than your graphics card will allow it to. If you just display text and simple images then any old card will probably do. This is what you get with many off-the-shelf systems. However, if you are using a lot of graphics-intensive applications, as with video editing, and require fast screen re-draws or maximum fidelity, a more powerful graphics card may be needed. Also higher resolution will allow smaller windows and reduce clutter - very useful when organising an editing screen set-up.

It is important to note before you consider upgrading that monitors have their own maximum capabilities. They may already be working at that level on your existing card - consult your monitor manual or check with a decent retailer. If this is the case, the only way of getting a better picture is to upgrade your monitor as well.

Many professionals run two monitors on their editing systems, so that the numerous windows and toolboxes of complex editing programs can be spread across two screens. The ever falling cost of monitors means that even the amateur can enjoy the luxury of twin-screen editing. Some graphics cards will support two or more monitors (check out those from Matrox and Colorgraphic), which can be useful if your computer is short on slots. The only other way is to use a second card, preferably of the same brand and known to be compatible..


Big. Go for big. The minimum requirement for your main monitor is 17in - otherwise you'll have difficulty seeing all those windows and toolboxes. You also want a separate good quality TV set to monitor the video output. For detailed graphic work, look for a monitor with a good refresh rate - 120MHz, rather than 75MHz.


To transform your computer into an edit machine you need a capture/playback card. Actually, the capture card is so crucial it's not a bad idea to select the capture card first then build the computer around it. This card slots into your computer and contains the video input and output sockets, plus the hardware required to transfer video footage to and from the computer.

Your choice of card is largely down to the type of camcorder you are using, or likely to upgrade to, in the near future. Most current cards can handle video from either analogue camcorders/video recorders (Hi8/S-VHS), or the digital output of DV. Not both. But, Matrox (with RT2000) and Pinnacle (DV500) are about to launch sub--£1000 combi cards.

Equally important is the format you're going to play back to. Even if you have a digital (DV) camcorder, you may still want to output to an analogue VHS or S-VHS video recorder. In this case it may be best to buy an analogue card and use the DV camcorder's composite video output.

If you own a camcorder with DV input as well as output, or if you have a DV video recorder, then using a digital card, or a PC with DV built in, will retain the high picture quality of DV without degradation - editing via analogue equipment can result in a noticeable loss in quality. Also, DV in/out gives smoother device control.


Sound is an area that is frequently neglected by computer users (and indeed many amateur videomakers). Editing packages let you edit sound as well as video, but first you have to get the audio into the computer. If your capture card is video only, then you need to use a separate soundcard.

Many computers come with soundcards ready installed or integrated on their motherboards. but few people think of their computers as capable of producing great audio. If you are using a capture card that has both video and audio capabilities, you may wonder what more you could do with audio - apart from adding a decent pair of speakers.

Well you could start composing your own soundtracks or creating your own sound effects. This is easy to do, even for those who don't consider themselves very musical - as long as you have imagination, a reasonable soundcard and some inexpensive software. MIDI - which most good soundcards support - will allow you to turn your computer into a very sophisticated synthesiser. You can program the sounds using sequencing software, selecting the notes from a huge number of pre-programmed instruments. With many cards you can even plug in a keyboard and compose music in real-time.

If you are already using a MIDI soundcard and want to test your composing skills, visit
Headspace's website at: After downloading the free Beatnik plug-in, you can have a play on one of the on-line synthesisers.


If you are looking to develop a computer-based editing system then there are several routes you might follow:
* Buying an off-the-shelf edit set-up
* Ordering a tailor-made system
* Creating a DIY system or upgrade


NLE is still in its early days. Despite glib claims to the contrary, hardware conflicts and instability remain a serious problem in this field.

There are a number of companies who advertise complete systems made to their own specifications. This can be a very good way to buy, as the systems will be put together in tried and tested hardware configurations. These should work well and not suffer from frustrating hardware conflict problems.

It is a good idea to check the edit machine's specifications thoroughly before you buy it. You may find that the cheapest options won't do what you require of them. It may be that the whole thing is too slow, or the storage provided is not great enough (10GByte is really the minimum).

It's worth visiting the company's premises to discuss your exact requirement with the people who will put the system together. This gives you an idea of whether the people are up to the job of handling your queries . A DTV system is a high-ticket item, and good support is crucial. You need to know that the company offers accessible telephone support and a good warranty - if there are problems you'll want them sorted out quickly.


Having a system put together by an expert to meet your specific needs is the ultimate way to purchase a system. But it has its price. Some companies charge a consultancy fee, and will be looking to offer you better quality and therefore more expensive hardware. They may also be looking at your future needs and take into account upgradability.

These companies are often used by professional clients who need systems to be reliable and cope well under pressure. In a professional environment reliability of any computer system can be a major problem. You may well get a better and more reliable system buying this way. Again, check that they offer good telephone support and preferably on-site warranty.


This route can offer considerable savings. If you have a decent monitor and a reasonable spec computer to start with, then putting the system together yourself is a worthwhile option. Computers have a modular design and they fit together in a very straightforward way. This makes it possible to replace items such as a hard drive or even a processor.

However, upgrading these doesn't always deliver the expected improvement, as existing components in your system may create speed bottlenecks. Also you may experience serious conflicts between the upgraded items and older components.

Indeed, before upgrading, you need to consider if it's worthwhile - or whether you could get better value for money and fewer problems by buying a new machine. If your computer is getting a bit long in the tooth, then it may need nearly all of its components replacing with faster ones. In this case it is likely to be cheaper to go for a new system than try to upgrade virtually the entire machine.

An added advantage of a new machine is that it usually comes with a faster CD-ROM and modem, plus more RAM. Also, 17in monitors and big fast drives tend to be significantly cheaper in mass market systems than when bought separately.

Whether you decide to upgrade an existing system, or buy a completely new one, the first thing you will need to decide is what tape format you will be using - DV, Hi8, or S-VHS, for instance. This will determine the minimum spec of the hard disk and capture board. This in turn will determine what motherboards you can use and so on. Working backwards like this is the best way to ensure you buy components that are up to the job. If you don't plan it well enough before you start then you can end up making expensive mistakes.

It is also worthwhile phoning around a few component suppliers to check prices and - more importantly - checking to see if they will freely exchange components in case you discover incompatibility problems.


Without a computer program to tell the hardware what to do, all you have is an expensive collection of miniaturised bits of metal and plastic. If you are not too familiar with computers, you might intuitively think that using an editing program would be the complicated bit, but in reality the hardware can be a far more complex area to come to
grips with.

If you were working as an editor in a production house, there'd probably be a 'techie' on hand to sort out the problems if, say, the computer crashes or the sound and video won't synchronise, leaving you to get on with the important creative stuff. You're unlikely to have this luxury at home so, in the first few sessions at least, you might find yourself pulling your hair out in frustration at digitisers that don't want to digitise, or display windows that won't display, whatever you try. If you can overcome such initial distractions, you'll soon be through the worst and can devote most of your computer time to producing cracking video.

Most capture/playback cards come bundled with one of the more popular editing programs, such as Adobe Premiere or MediaStudio Pro - although sometimes in a lite, stripped down version. Even the lite versions are good enough to get up and running. Special prices are usually available to let you upgrade to the full version, which will have a wider range of features. Similarly, once you have the editing program it's not too expensive to obtain any further upgrades.


A specialist editing retailer should be prepared to give you a demo of a program you are considering. This is not only important to give you an idea of what the program can do, but also to let you see how comfortable you feel with the interface.
In addition, there are a number of programs, such as Macromedia Director, that are designed primarily for editing multimedia material for CD-ROMs and the Internet. Plug-ins such as Boris FX, are available to add extra functionality to some of the main video editing programs. These increase the range and sophistication of transitions and effects available to the program.

As with any specific model or version, these plug-ins can have a sell-by-date - later versions of the main editing programs which they enhance may render them incompatible, or indeed the upgrade might incorporate many of their features.


A popular editing package that comes bundled in one form or another with Canopus DVRaptor, the basic Media 100 system, Pinnacle miro video DC30-plus, DV200 and DV300. It is capable of editing both video and sound, has basic digital video effects built-in - such as titling, transitions and key effects - and supports plug-ins
that increase the range of effects available.

Premiere features a standard timeline window, in which the movie is assembled. Moving from left to right along the window represents moving forward in time through your movie. The timeline is divided into individual tracks - two for the main video with a transition/effects track between them, as well as sync audio tracks and as many additional video/superimpose and audio tracks as you're ever going to need.
Importing, trimming and rearranging shots is simple, but there are a lot of windows, so a second monitor for the less important windows reduces clutter.
It is currently at version 5.1, and although it started life as a low-end package, Premiere is making more and more inroads into the professional market.

Ulead's MediaStudio Pro is the biggest rival to Premiere at the prosumer level. The full program is currently also offered as an option for Canopus's DVRaptor and DVRex, and is bundled with Dazzle Multimedia, Electronic Design's AV card and FAST AVMaster 2000. Ulead's stripped down VideoStudio is also available.

MediaStudio 5.2 is a suite of five programs: Video Capture - for... well, capturing video; Video Editor, the heart of the program, where video, sound and effects files are assembled; CG Infinity, a titling and effects package; Video Paint, a rotoscoping package for drawing over a single frame (or series of frames); and Audio Editor, which lets you add, crop and mix soundtracks, as well as letting you pan the sound towards the left or right speaker.
The Premiere interface may have proved more popular in the UK, but MediaStudio also has what it takes.


In its original form, VideoShop was Avid's editing system for beginners. The latest version is pitched higher - at the Premiere/MediaStudio market. While its titling is still fairly basic and the lack of a transition track means you have to overlay dissolves and wipes on top of the video track, it does have one or two nice features - particularly its ability to overlay video onto 3D objects.


If you have a bigger budget, consider a higher-end system such as Media 100. This is less a software package than a family of systems, with an upgrade path from model to model. The qx version comes with Premiere, but higher versions use dedicated Media 100 software. Competitors include Digital Origin's EditDV for the Macintosh. Broadcast quality editing systems are also available from companies such as Fast and Matrox (in many cases using third-party software).


One of the best ways of finding out what your new equipment can do, is to enroll on a training course. There is a wide range of courses available. They vary considerably in content as well as in price.

If you want to learn more about all aspects of production, then your local college or university is a good place to start. There are courses all over the country offering video and television training, but they vary greatly in the skills taught and the amount and quality of equipment available for hands-on practice.

An HND in Film and Television is available at, for instance, Poole College of Art and Design - this is a very advanced, well recognised, in-depth three-year course - designed to take you directly into the industry. Call 01202 533011.

It's also worth considering the City and Guilds 7700 course in TV and video production. This is available at several colleges throughout the country. At the City of Bath College, for instance, it can be taken over 36 weeks on a part-time basis. It's industry approved, and designed as a foundation course to higher education and industry covering all aspects of production, including filming and editing techniques. Call 01225 312191.

Colleges may also offer a variety of short evening classes in video skills and other related subjects such as scriptwriting. Practical courses can also be offered by community-based organisations such as Oxford Film & Video Makers. Call 01865 741682.


If you are looking for something a little less drawn out and more specialised, then a weekend or one-day course in a specific subject is an ideal solution. There are plenty to choose from and courses are available for specific systems.

Fox Video in Gloucestershire, for instance, offers a good three-day course in Media 100 - call 07971 289231. If, like a lot of people, you are using programs such as Adobe Premiere or Media Studio Pro, then you need a course such as those offered at Swan Rose in Lancashire, which tailor-makes training sessions to suit all levels - call 01772 626088.


Although there are few books on non-linear editing, there are several that cover all aspects of video including editing. If you have an aversion to book-based instruction then a good video is a possible alternative.

You can run through video courses as often as you like, replaying sections you don't fully understand. And, if you have your computer set up next to your TV, you can go through each section with your video tutor 'hands-on'.
The Academy, which operates on a mail order basis, sells videos covering a wide range of computer applications, including three two-hour tapes running through all aspects of Adobe Premiere. The company also produces a Premiere CD training disk too. Call freephone 0800 834043.


For someone intending to edit on a computer, the most logical form of training would involve using the computer itself. CD-ROMs offer the ideal way of doing this. Instead of passively reading a book or watching a video, they can provide a natural hands-on training environment, interactively teaching you the software commands you will actually be using. CD-ROM training disks can be fun to use, and if well made, let you quickly navigate through to the information you are looking for. CD-ROMs can contain lots of different types of data with various sections of still images, video sequences, as well as written data and voice-overs.
As yet, choice is limited. CD-ROMs also tend to be quite expensive. For a good range of titles, including Premiere, try VTC on 01982 560711.


Q. What are the advantages of buying a non-linear editing set-up over conventional video equipment and will it mean spending a lot more money?

A. To answer the second question first: not necessarily. A typical linear editing set-up would involve two reasonable spec S-VHS VCRs (possibly £500 a piece), and this is before you begin to look at a vision mixer (as much again), an edit controller and all the other peripherals (sound mixer, titler, processor etc).

With a non-linear set-up, you don't have to keep hammering the source and record VCRs, so you can get away with taking footage straight from your camcorder (saving the cost of one VCR). If you can then find a digital camcorder with FireWire input, you can save on the other VCR by outputting the edited movie back onto your camcorder. Vision and sound mixing facilities are likely to be built into your software, and the cost of the hardware is plummeting constantly. Unless you go for a complete mega computer, you may find that you spend less than on a linear system.

So now for the advantages: a computer editing set-up is more accurate (genuinely frame accurate); convenient (you can edit and re-edit segments without having to redo the whole thing); far more sophisticated (the range of sound controls, transitions and effects available is more advanced than anything a domestic black box can offer); more easily upgradable (which means it's easier to keep up with the latest software etc), and of course, you get a computer that is capable of doing other things too.

Q. As digital camcorders are more expensive than Hi8, is it really worth paying the extra?

A. Yes - if you're concerned with quality (and if you make sure you opt for a model with digital FireWire input as well as output). Picture and sound quality are inherently better than analogue. In addition, with analogue equipment, every time you copy the video (eg from camcorder to computer, computer to master tape, master to VHS), you noticeably lose quality. This can mean the final version looks ropy.

If you have a DV camcorder and digital capture card, there is virtually no quality loss (some in-camera compression is involved, which may degrade the signal slightly). If you are using an analogue card, you lose more quality, as the signal has to undergo analogue-digital conversion.

In the long run, a DV camcorder might actually save money. With a Hi8 camcorder you will need to buy a pricey Hi8 or S-VHS VCR to record your finished master tapes on to. With a FireWire enabled digital camcorder, you won't.

Q. What sort of hardware spec should I look at for a decent non-linear system?
A. The faster the processor the better - aim for 400MHz - and treat the following as the minimum spec to go for:
* 16-bit soundcard
* 4GByte+ boot-up hard disk
* 17in monitor,
* 128MByte+ RAM,
* 32x speed CD-ROM
* 20GByte+ hard disk for video files
* Capture card, graphics card
* Speakers


Computer editing set-ups can be temperamental - crashing for what seems like no reason. If you have opted for a fully integrated editing system, you should expect to be able to switch on and go. If you're going down the DIY route follow these tips when setting it all up:

* Make back-ups of everything important before you start. If you're competent to do so, wipe everything from the hard drive and reinstall the operating system and programs from scratch.

* Switch off unnecessary memory-resident programs. If you have a screensaver set to spring into life every few minutes, this can cause the machine to crash.

* Don't fill your video hard drive to capacity - the head will take a lot longer to find blank spaces to write to, and this can cause dropped frames.

* If you're getting rid of unwanted software from a Windows PC, use Windows own uninstaller program (in Control Panel). Windows needs to keep track of all program links, and if software isn't uninstalled properly, the system may keep trying to re-establish links, causing repeated problems.

* If you're using an editing system that requires an external SCSI controller, make sure the retailer sells you the appropriate device. Some controllers are designed for use with specific drives only, while others are designed for use with small disks and devices such as CD-ROMs and scanners.

* If you intend to run programs other than your editing software, try to make sure they run on another machine without crashing before you install them on yours!


Assemble edit Method of editing where shots are selected from the source tape and laid onto the timeline shot one at a time, starting with the first shot of the movie etc. Most non-linear editing contains a mixture of assemble and insert editing.
AVI Along with QuickTime, this is one of the two main digital video file formats.

Backside cache Fast memory used by the processor to store commonly used instructions.

Batch capture Method of automating the capture of several shots from a source tape. Device control is used to capture the shots to your exact specification.

Bus mastering Technology that allows faster data transfer, so you can opt for lower compression ratios - which translates into better quality.

Capture card Also called a digitiser. Board that connects between the video source and the input of a computer and enables a video signal from a camcorder to be converted to a digital signal the computer can manipulate.

Compression Reducing the size of a file using a scheme such as M-JPEG or MPEG. DV and FireWire uses a standard 5:1 compression, whereas with analogue, you can compress at one of various rates when you capture. Compression of 8:1 or less is recommended for S-VHS/Hi8. The greater the compression, the greater the chance of quality loss.

Cross-fade (dissolve) Transition between two consecutive shots in video where the first shot is faded out as the second is faded in.
Defragmentation Rearranging the files on disk so that all the information pertaining to each file is stored together. Defragmented disks tend to run quicker than fragmented disks.

Data transfer rate Speed at which files are sent from one device to another. Sustained, rather than maximum, data rate is important.

Device control Method of controlling external video devices, such as camcorder or VCR, using the computer mouse and keyboard. Usually requires special hardware between the computer and the device.

Edit decision list (EDL) A record of the start and end points of each shot in your video. Various programs allow you to create electronic EDLs.

FireWire Data transfer protocol designed for carrying DV information and device control commands.

Insert edit Method of editing where main tracks (such as master shot and continuous soundtrack) are laid on the timeline first, and other shots (such as cutaways and reaction shots) are inserted over them.
Keying Electronic process in which a plain coloured background is removed and replaced by video from another source. Obvious example is the weather forecast, where a blue-screen background is replaced by weather maps.

Non-linear editing Editing video on computer hard disk. Disks are non-linear format - they store data in a random order and access is near instantaneous. Tapes are linear - shots are stored in order and access time is dependent on their position on the tape.

Operating system The software used to control a computer and run programs - for instance DOS, Windows, Mac OS.

Rendering Some editing operation, such as transitions and special effects, are memory intensive. With some hardware/software systems, when you insert a transition, for example, into your video, you actually only give the computer the instruction to create the transition. It is not actually created until you have rendered it. This can take some time, so it is often carried out after an editing session.

Timecode One of a number of systems that allocate an individual label to every frame of a video, based on hours, minutes, seconds and frames.

Transitions Method of moving from one shot to another. The most basic transition is the cut, where one shot ends and the next shot starts at the next frame. Other transitions include fades, wipes and dissolves.



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