Video editing

I’ve been editing videos on a PC for far too long. It’s a lot easier than it used to be, but it still feels like it’s not quite ready for prime time for non professionals. At least it’s now reasonable easy to find room to store the masses of data that you need to manipulate when editing DV video, and the editing programs are better, and the special hardware is cheaper or no longer special. It’s still very time consuming though, and don’t mention DVDs…

I started video editing on an NT 4 box with a Fast AVMaster capture card and a copy of the ULead editing package that came with it. The hardest thing was the fact that capturing from my DV camcorder took up masses of disk space and the disks had to be fast enough to capture the video without skipping frames… Then you had to edit the massive files and finally squirt them back out to the VHS VCR. Due to space limitations it was always tempting to drop quality early so that you could manipulate the files easier. Vague memories of the pain of editing back then include how complex it was to deal with interlacing issues when capturing for later PC or web based display and how many settings you had to tweak at each stage of the process; oh, and shuffling huge files around to make room to work.

I’ve just finished a 2hr 14min video and most things are better. I didn’t need to think about interlacing once and even the preview on the PC looked great. I can capture from my camcorder via Firewire and control the device directly without needing special LANC cables. The capture program “just knows” which device control settings to use (there was a time, between LANC and now, that you had to guess which set of device control settings to use and they always seemed to almost match your device rather than completely match…). All my disks are fast enough, all the time. I have enough space to capture without sacrificing quality and my processors are fast enough to allow me to manipulate the files and render transitions in real time, again without sacrificing quality. The Dazzle Hollywood DV Bridge plugs into the Firewire cable and converts to all the normal video signals so that I can plug it straight into my VCR; no special cards, no special drivers. My laptop is up to the job of doing most of the video editing so I can use my main PC for other stuff whilst doing things that take a long time and dont need 100% attention. In all the process is much less painful than it was and this latest video is probably the highest quality VHS I’ve done.

Then there’s DVD authoring. I spent some time fighting with Pinnacle Expression. It’s nice and simple and designed for my Mum but it doesn’t give me enough feedback and well, things just take too long. I switched to Nero 6. That gives you much more control, and moving video backgrounds on your DVD menu screens, but its MPEG2 seems to result in less nice looking output (especially if the scene is complex and there’s a lot of panning going on). Making disks takes an age. Ok, so we’re compressing the DV to on average a third its size but again, why cant it use more of my processors to do it? It could at least let me run it twice on the same box; I ended up running it on two different boxes and doing the conversions in stages. DVD-R’s aren’t big enough (the 2+hrs of DV takes up over 30Gb and looks great on VHS but there’s only 4.7Gb of space on a DVD-R and, well…). I also can’t quite work out why the MPEG2 conversion is SO lossy when I’m only converting a small file and I’m nowhere near to filling the DVD… Why can’t I take a small DV clip and have it play at an amazingly good quality from a DVD? So much to learn…

I guess the problem is that I don’t do enough of it. If I were doing it every day I’d have a better selection of tools and a greater understanding of them. Since I only do this when I have to the tools are always new and the understanding is severely lacking… Still, it does seem that video editing via Firewire is now pretty easy. I guess in a year or so DVD authoring will be that easy too… Such is progress.

Back to the code face again tomorrow.