Digital Video Editing Getting Started FAQ

It’s not that difficult to set up a digital video editing system and start editing within 1 hour if you are familiar with computers.

But you WILL encounter problems sooner or later. You’d better know the basics of digital video editing to make your editing life easier.

This page features straight-forward, easy-to-understand information about getting started in the world of digital / desktop video editing. I have put all the info in a FAQ format. Hopefully, you will find this page helpful.

What is Digital or Desktop Video Editing?

Digital Video Editing, or Desktop Video (DTV) Editing, is using your computer to edit videos.

Today, computers are so fast and storage is so cheap that you can capture your video directly from your camcorder to your computer, edit it, add all kinds of cool titles, filters, transitions and FX. Then you can output back to tape, onto the web or even onto a CD or DVD.

Although different technically, Digital/Desktop Video Editing is the same as Non-Linear Editing (NLE) for most practical purposes.

What is Non Linear Editing?

Non Linear Editing (NLE) is editing using random-access video storage. It means you can get access to your footages from hard drive randomly and instantly. The video files on your hard drive are just like normal Word documents, you can load, watch, manipulate, any part of the file in a non-linear mode.

Instead of using jog shuttles and special video decks, you simply capture the video to your hard drive. You can then edit and rearrange the shots much like moving paragraphs around in your word processing program. Since the video is digitized, you can instantly get to any exact point in the video.

Non Linear Editing software is timeline based. Each shot is placed on the timeline. You can lay down more than one track of video and audio onto the timeline.

The best part about NLE is the effects. It’s only limited by your own imagination and the software you choose. You can add special filters to clean up and restore picture quality, or to place ripples or swirls in the video. You can also create awesome transitions between shots.

Then comes titling and graphics. You can use any Windows true type font, so foreign languages are no problem at all. You can add a logo or computer graphic or even animation. In fact, you can make it fly, bounce, or spin onto the video.

You can also add cool plug-ins to your NLE software to create awesome 3D transitions and effects.

The power of NLE is truly incredible. Now every video makers can create videos that look and feel like network productions.

What is Linear Editing?

In the past you had to edit linear.

The simplest form of linear editing is called assemble editing or deck to deck. This is when you copy the “good” parts of a tape over to a new tape and repeat the same process until the whole program is finished.

A/B roll editing is when you edit from two or more video sources. An A/B roll system often includes a digital mixer, to let you cut, fade, dissolve and wipe from source A to source B.

Non-Linear is definitely the way to go. Anything you could do on an old fashioned linear system can be done better and cooler with NLE. The only instance you may have to use linear system is probably producing news programs where you have to finish it really fast and don’t need any effects.

Here is the only place I mention linear editing in this site :).

What is a video capture card?

Video capture cards let you record video from camcorder or VCR onto your computer’s hard drive. These cards use hardware and/or software compression (codec) to digitize the video onto your hard drive.

While it is the video editing software that lets you actually create and edit the video, it is the video capture card that determines the quality of your video.

Check out this comprehensive video capture card features chart to see which card is best for you.

What is a CODEC?

CODEC stands for Compression/Decompression. It is the compression algorithm used by your video capture card to digitize and store the video on your hard drive.

Codecs exist for all kinds of compressed video, including DV, MJPEG, MPEG, Indeo, Cinepak, Sorensen, wavelet, fractal, RealVideo, vXtreme, and many others. The three most popular video codecs used today are MJPEG, DV and MPEG.

Besides capturing video, the codecs also come into play when you need to render transitions, titles, and effects. The system has to take the source frames, decompress them, perform the effects, and recompress the resulting frames.

What are “hard” and “soft” codecs?

Hard codecs are hardware codecs, normally a computer chip. You supply power and raw video at one end, and get compressed video out the other end in real time. Flip a switch and pump in compressed video, and raw, uncompressed video comes out.

Soft codecs are software modules that do the same thing, such as the DV codecs supplied by QuickTime or Microsoft. Modern computers are fast enough that soft codecs can compress or decompress in real time or even faster.

Which is better, hard or soft codec?

One thing to keep in mind is that “hard” vs. “soft” doesn’t matter when it comes to video quality, both give excellent result when working properly.

Speaking of speed, in early 1998, various vendors claimed a 25% or 30% speed advantage of hard codecs over soft codecs. Too much depends on other factors, like the speed of the computer’s CPU, bus and bus interface chipset, to decisively say that one codec will be faster than the other in effects rendering. As CPUs and buses speed up over time, the soft codecs have taken the lead in speed for rendering operations.

However, hard codes do have some advantages sometimes depending on your requirements. Hard codec systems usually come with breakout boxes that include analog (composite, Y/C, or even component) connections as well as 1394 connections. You can connect up any VTR format with analog I/O to the box and capture it in real-time or output to it in real-time.

Another very cool feature that many hardware based capture cards now have is real-time features such as transitions, FX, filters, titling and more. You do not have to render, these effects play directly from the timeline. Not everything is in real-time with these cards. Each real-time card comes with its own special selection of real-time features.

What is FireWire?

Also known as IEEE1394 or iLink, FireWire is a new interface standard that allows super high speed data transfer. It is the hottest new technology in digital video.

When you use a DV camcorder/VCR and FireWire card, the video is passed directly from your camcorder to your hard drive. Because the signal stays digital through the entire process, you get zero loss and a final video with identical video quality to the original footages.

For more information about FireWire and DV, see DV & FireWire FAQ.

What is Rendering?

Normally, before your edited video can be played back to tape, the computer have to “render” or “make” the finished movie as a single separate video file. Once this new file is created, you can play it back anytime you like.

The rendering process takes up a lot of computer power and time. The more titles, effects and filters you add, the more processing power, speed and time will be needed to create the finished video. This is the area where more RAM and a faster processor can really make a difference.

Rendering can take 10 to 20 times as long as the total time of the finished movie. Rendering times of several hours are not uncommon. Until rendering becomes faster, long videos (over 1/2 hour) with effects are not very practical even for professional editors.

What is full speed, full screen video?

A standard NTSC video signal consists of 30 frames (actually 29.97) per second, and two fields per frame. This is considered to be full speed or full motion video. PAL uses 25 frames per second.

With digital video, full screen is considered 720×480 for NTSC, 720×576 for PAL. If you capture at a smaller size, your computer will have to interpolate the missing information when it plays back the video full screen to your VCR or TV. The larger the capture size, the higher the resolution, and the greater size of the file created.

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