Video Editing

I was waiting for an affordable solution to be available for the PC. This came in 1996 when Gold Disk Inc. Introduced the Video Director system. In 1997 Pinnacle Systems purchased Gold Disk and, one year later, released an improved version which they called Studio200, which was my first introduction to video editing using the PC.

In effect it was a glorified edit controller, with facilities for adding titles, transitions, and effects by means of an external unit called a mixer which was controlled from the PC’s parallel port. The camcorder and VCR were controlled from a serial RS232 port - the camcorder by it’s LANC input, and the VCR by infra-red. The video from the camcorder was not captured as such to the computer, but rather as a series of ‘stills’ encoded by the mixer to show the frame that was currently selected by the user operating the program’s transport controls. In this way, ‘in’ and ‘out’ points could be visually chosen for each required clip, and their timecodes stored in a sequence known as an Edit Decision List (EDL). The order of the clips and the position of transitions and titles was shown graphically in an area known as the Story Board.

When it was time to make the movie the PC shuttled the camcorder back and forth, pausing and starting the VCR at the appropriate times, according to the EDL,  to gradually assemble the movie. When a transition, title, effect, or still image was encountered, then the mixer came into play to add these to the video stream, having been primed with these from the PC’s parallel port. All-in-all it was a very clever system, and was quite revolutionary for its time. The trouble was that many users had problems with it, caused mainly by the system’s many components (especially soundcards and VCRs) not having accurate real-time responses. Also, due to camcorder mismanagement, it was possible to have gaps in timecode which caused the process to fail. When it worked however, it was quite remarkable, and better than any other available consumer system.

In 1998 Pinnacle released a new version - Studio400. This had a much improved interface with a very welcome addition, a Timeline - which showed the order of the clips and their duration against time. Also, the video was now captured in its entirety, at a low resolution, and displayed in a preview window which could be played and scrolled with frame accuracy in the timeline in order to edit and create the EDL. It was thus possible to see the visual effect of editing in the preview window before the movie was made. Other additions included an overlay track for titles and other tracks for music, sound effects, and voice-overs. It was also possible to create an audio volume profile on each track, which was a welcome improvement. Another intriguing facility was SmartSound - a music generating tool, using real musician samples, whose duration could be adjusted to fit the length of video chosen on the timeline. The process of making the movie to tape was similar to Studio200.

These two Studio versions marked such a milestone in home movie editing, that I felt compelled to describe them in basic detail above, and include a diagram below of how the various components were hooked up together for the sake of completeness. Compare this with the  simplicity of the systems we use today.       

When digital-tape camcorders arrived, Pinnacle met the new challenge with StudioDV. This required a new connection to be provided on the PC - the IEEE 1394, also known as ‘Firewire’, to hook up to the digital interface of the camcorder. This carried the digital video data, audio, and timecode, and also accepted transport commands from the PC.

The program could be operated in one of two modes - Preview Capture, where a low resolution copy of the tape was saved to hard disk, requiring little space, and Full Capture where the full resolution was stored. In the days of FAT32 disk storage Preview Capture was to be preferred, as there was a Windows limit of 4GB to a file’s size which amounted to about 18 minutes of video. If Full Capture was used, then video often had to be transferred as a number of individual sections.

The editing process was similar to the earlier Studio400, producing an EDL as before. The Make Movie process was different however, and varied according to whether Preview Capture was used or not. In either case, the external hardware mixer was no longer required, as everything was mixed and rendered in software and no longer needed to be performed in real-time.

If Preview Capture had been used, then the program first searched the camcorder for scenes detailed in the EDL, and captured them to the computer as individual files in full resolution (each of which were unlikely to exceed the 4GB limit). Any transitions, titles, or effects that had been applied were then rendered into separate sections and added to the hard disk. When it became time to output the movie to tape (using the camcorders Video-In facility), or to a file on the hard drive, all the captured and rendered sections were then output sequentially.

If the Full Capture mode was used, then only the transition/title/effect rendering process was performed to create auxiliary files on the disk. When outputting to tape or file, the EDL was used to select the correct frames from the captured video, and then output sequentially, with the auxiliary files inserted at the appropriate times. One of the advantages of the Full Capture mode was that the camcorder’s timecode no longer needed to be continuous, Studio created its own timecode during capture. The down-side was that it required a larger amount of disk space. This mode of operation however forms the basis of all later generations of Studio, and most other editors.

There have been many new versions of Studio released since the early days, each bringing with it something new. First came the inclusion of HollywoodFX, a collection of 3D transitions and effects. DVD authoring was later introduced, which also included the production of VideoCD and SVCD discs. A Plug-In interface was added from version 9 onward, which gave access to a wide range of 3rd -party effects and extras. A second video track was added too. Recent additions include the capability to handle High Definition (HD) video, and disc-authoring extended to include Blue-Ray (BD). Throughout its evolution, Studio has increased the number of video file-types supported, and has recently enabled publishing directly to video-sharing websites like YouTube and Vimeo.

Ever since the early days of Studio, an increasing number of competing video editing applications have been introduced by different manufacturers. Even Pinnacle themselves released Edition/Liquid, which was a result of their acquisition of the Fast Corporation. This was more of a prosumer application, was more expensive, and less easy to use, and was not really a threat to Studio. Even though these products may be quite capable in their own right, I have always remained loyal to the Studio line, as it is easy to use (and to come back to), is affordable, has always worked for me, and produces professional-looking results. Also, Studio always seems to be one-step ahead of the competition in keeping up with technology.

In 2005 Pinnacle Systems was purchased by the Avid Corporation, as a means of adding an entry-level editor to their product portfolio. They continued the development of Studio through to version 15, and then released a version of their own called Avid Studio1 (AS1), which was to replace Avid Liquid which had recently been discontinued. This provided the facility of multiple audio/video tracks, a much requested Studio feature. They were working on Avid Studio2 (AS2) when, in June 2012, they sold their consumer line(s) to Corel, who have subsequently launched AS2 under the Pinnacle banner as Studio16 (PS16). The future of the Studio line under this new ownership is anybody’s guess.

I devote a separate page to PS16 under the heading of ‘My Favourite Software’. You will find it HERE.


Another solution to performing analogue conversion is to use a DV camcorder, providing it has a VCR Mode, separate analogue connections, and supports ‘pass-through’ for analogue video output.

Versions of Pinnacle Studio up to 15 supported export to Firewire devices, but in AS1 and S16, this has been dropped for some reason - so it is no longer possible to output directly (via a converter) to analogue tape. The way around this is to first make a DVD of the movie (without a menu), then copy this externally from a DVD player to a VCR.

In the beginning there was film. There was little opportunity to edit this, other than cut and splice it. Adding titles, transitions and effects had all to be done previously in the camera - in fact we all became adept at what became termed ‘editing in the camera’, creating fades, titles, cut-away shots, and special effects on the fly. Sound was not a problem as there generally wasn’t any.

When video arrived, things didn’t get easier overnight. Gone was the chance to physically make cuts and splices, but copying was now possible to a VCR, and selective copying of scenes in any order could now be done which was nearly as good - and without destroying the original. This was known as ‘Assembly Editing’. A number of hardware product appeared on the market to make this job easier and more reliable, but operating them was a tedious and nerve-wracking affair. Sony produced a consumer-level edit controller that could handle up to three edits at a time, and had accessories like a simple titler and a graphics tablet, and there was a more professional (and expensive) system available called Casablanca which was favoured by wedding videographers. In North America the Commodore Amiga gained a reputation for being able to simply edit video, but was designed for the NTSC standard and was not generally applicable to PAL countries. There was also Adobe Premiere, which was quite expensive, and required costly hardware to interface the video to the computer.

In parallel with Studio, Pinnacle also marketed the DC10 system which it purchased from the German company Miro. The editing software was provided by Premiere, under license from Adobe, which made it expensive, and not really suitable for home use. There was also the short-lived MP10 system which used an external codec to capture analogue video in mpg format, and a (by now) familiar Studio interface to edit it. This was discontinued due to recurring technical problems.

Although the majority of editing today is done with digital video, there is still a need to be able to capture legacy analogue footage (Betamax, VHS, 8mm, Hi8, etc). There have been several devices released on the market to enable this, and there have been earlier versions of Studio that included suitable hardware. A common problem with many of these, however, has been the loss of synchronisation between audio and video on long captures. A solution to this came with the production of the ADVC range of converters by Canopus (now Grass Valley), which included special circuitry to guarantee synchronisation. These interface with the Firewire port on the computer, and appear to the editing software as a DV camcorder. The latest versions of these are the ADVC55, which handles only analogue input, and the ADVC110 which handles both analogue input and output. I have used an earlier model, ADVC100 for several years, and it has behaved flawlessly.

Most editing software allows for the insertion of still images. It is therefore possible to create very attractive slide-shows complete with titles and music. Transitions come into their own when creating slide-shows, more so than when editing video, and adding 3D transitions and effects and using picture-in-picture and employing pan-and-zoom will bring everything to life.

Another use for an editor with multiple A/V timeline tracks is to use it to mix sound files together, either in-line or overlayed. Since each track will have the capability of adjusting volume over time, it is easily possible to achieve a balanced mix. Those editors that support surround sound can apply this to individual tracks too. Tone controls and audio effects can often be applied to tracks, and sections of tracks as well.  

No discussion on movie editors would be complete without mentioning this as a budget-conscious way of producing movies, as it comes as part of Windows or, in the case of Win7, can be freely downloaded from Microsoft. As a basic editor it is quite capable of performing all fundamental tasks, and supports both story-board and timeline editing modes. It has separate tracks for music and overlay titles when in timeline mode. Titles and credits can either be in-line with the video, or overlayed - and there are a number of animated effects that can be applied to these.

All-in-all, this is quite a capable program, and is not to be looked down upon. It provides a good introduction to video editing, and is ideal for the beginner, someone with shallow pockets, or as a means to create a quick movie whilst on the move using, say, a laptop. (It has facilities for making the movie suitable for sending by email, or publishing on the web).

The down side is that it recognises only a fairly limited number of file types, does not support HD, and does not include facilities for authoring DVDs. The latter can be overcome by outputting to disk in DV-AVI format, then using an external program to author this file to DVD. It is possible that you may already have a program that can do this, as many CD/DVD burners often come bundled with something like InterVideo, Roxio or Nero.

Editing movies can be absorbing and fun to do, and the finished result can be most rewarding. As you do more of it, you can quickly learn the basic rights and wrongs, but it is always nice to have someone to lead you in the right direction when you are first starting out. My father, who was a professional movie editor and wrote books on the subject, taught me some basic rules in my youth, and I have learned additional things over the years since.

There is more than one style of movie that can be made, with a music-video being an extreme example, which often breaks all the camera-handling and editing rules (that is why they are so frustrating to watch). Most other movie styles, be it documentary, travelogue, drama, or indeed home movies normally follow more established editing principles. I would like to share some of these with you here.