Intro to Digital Video Editing
Chris Harshman
VividCon 2002


Just as a warning, I was in an odd mood when I put this together before VividCon, so there are some bad puns and odd humor in here. Additional points of interest discussed in the session but not on the original handout are in red

With the continuing advances in computer technology and growing availability, more people are choosing to use computers to perform video editing. This session will attempt to demystify the terminology and process involved in digital video editing. It will discuss multiple technologies, but the system used for this presentation has an M-JPEG video editing board DC30pro by Pinnacle and Adobe Premiere 5.1c. (I haven't had time to play with Premiere 6 yet) Video resolutions noted below are specified for the NTSC (North American) Television format.

Editing Elements

  • Codec, Coder-Decoder, audio and video data compression to digitize video and audio.
    A Codec is what makes the audio or video clips "digital" by converting it to a format your computer can store and understand. The file size produced by a codec is measured by its bitrate, essentially how much data (bits) per second are being stored in your computer.
    MPEG Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 & DivX) This can be hardware or software. MPEG-1 is an older codec very prone to compression artifacts such as speckles or fuzziness arround areas of detail, and blocks forming in areas of little detail. MPEG-2 is higher quality, but also larger file sizes (higher bitrate). MPEG-4 and DivX are newer, will produce near MPEG-2 quality with a much smaller file size (lower bitrate), and used on the Internet for such things as movie trailers.
    M-JPEG Motion JPEG (typically video editing cards only) There are some software M-JPEG codecs, but tend to not work as well as hardware.
    DV Digital Video (camcorders and video editing cards) Unfortunately I haven't had much experience with this format.
    Method Hardware or Software? You make the call. Your decisions will include desired distribution method, codec you want to use (if the distribution method doesn't lock you into a specific codec) and cost. Hardware will come with programs to let you "capture" video and audio from standard home entertainment center products like VCRs. The programs that come with hardware cards don't always have all the editing features you need.

  • Editing Software, Your construction set.
    Storyboard Edit vid in scenes, chunks, or clips (not good for fannish music videos). Programs like Video Wave or Video Studio, often come with editing cards.
    Timeline edit vid in seconds, frames, or user defined timeframe (this is what you want!) Programs like Premiere or Media Studio, some other new ones.
    Clips the actual unedited video or audio files on your computer It's usually recommended to store your clips on a separate hard drive in your computer. It's not necessary, but can improve the speed and performance of producing your vid.
    Tracks how many clips can be mixed together? (need at least 3 video, 1 audio) Most programs that do have tracks allow more than 3 and 1.

  • Connections (no you don't need to be in the Mafia) (To demonstrate different connection types, I showed my old video editing card with S-Video and Composite connections)
    FireWire very nice, but few electronic components support (digital Camcorder)
    S-Video nice, preferred connection to analog devices (e.g. S-VHS, Camcorder) (connections for this session were all S-Video)
    Composite still decent, is better than threaded Coax line Composite and S-Video are the most frequently used and both are on almost all video capture/editing cards.
    In AND Out trying to play computer media full screen can work but is more difficult You also need a Scan Converter then if you want to output to VCR.

Aim for Your Targets

  • Target Audience, will viewer know this fandom? exploring a known event or creating a new one? This is true of any creative work.

  • Target Media, how will the vid be shown and distributed?
    VHS typically editing in 320x240 or higher resolution, easy for distribution This is what Cons usually accept, our friends at VividCon were more tollerant of other video submission formats :-)
    VCD/SVCD VCD is 352x240 MPEG-1, SVCD is 480x480 MPEG-2, fair for distribution VCD is fixed bitrate, about 70 minutes on a standard 650 megabyte CD. SVCD is variable bitrate, but usually only 20-45 minutes on a standard CD.
    DVD 720x480 MPEG-2 only, somewhat painful to produce for distribution They really messed up when they tried to make writable DVDs. Too many different formats, and different formats don't work on all standard DVD players or even DVD ROM drives on computers. DVD does allow variable bitrates.
    Internet 320x240 is probably the maximum, use Quicktime, Real Media, or MPEG-4 Just remember, try to keep the filesize from being too large, not everyone has a DSL or Cable Modem like I do. (big grin) There's also a format (WMV) from Microsoft that's gained some acceptance in the internet community. (Bill has to have his thumb in everyone's pie)

  • Target Country, North America uses NTSC, different frame rates and resolutions around world Different formats have slightly different screen resolutions too.
    NTSC about 30 frames per second (sometimes called Never Twice Same Colors)
    PAL used in Europe, Australia, 25 frames per second
    SECAM used in France, Russia, similar to PAL but colors encoded slightly different
    Internet frame rate varies depending on codec and desired bitrate

Rip and Capture

Some simple features of capturing sofware were shown durring the session using Miro-Video Capture and Premiere. Ripping music from an audio CD was also discussed and a sample program shown.

Ok, you have the hardware, you have the software, now you need to get the darn audio and video into your computer. If your audio is on CD, you won't even need to capture that, you can RIP the audio directly from the CD. (no, this won't hurt the CDs ;-) DVD ripping is also available, but not efficient for most editing purposes. If you have a DVD player in the same room as your computer, it's easier to capture directly from this with your editing card. Using your software program, you capture video clips you need from VHS or DVD. Always make sure to capture a little more than you need. (it's easier to trim the fat than grow the steak) (OK I have no excuse for that one, sleep deprivation only goes so far) Also make sure to give your captured clips meaningful names so you know what they are later.

Let's Edit!

More demonstration of editing was done in Premiere. A sample project from a recent vid I produced was used to show clip manipulation.

Now that you have all these clips in your computer, you want to arrange them to tell the story your vid is trying to portray. The most noteworthy advantage to digital editing is that you don't have to place your clips in the timeline in order from start to finish, merely wherever in the timeline they belong. (non-linear editing) So you can edit each part of your vid separately if you desire. Using the timeline ensures you are keeping the video with the audio regardless of which clip was put down first. Editing programs contain many transformations, most of which should probably never be used. When you do use transformations, only use them sparingly and make sure they have a purpose. Too many transitions will distract and possibly annoy the viewers. Editing software will also let you preview a section of video to see what the final product will look like. This will help you in aligning audio to video, or video on multiple tracks together. You can tweak your edits and then preview the changes as many times as you see fit.

Render, Rinse, and Repeat

Once you've arranged your clips and maybe done some discrete transformations, you will want to see the finished product. This step is called rendering, and used to be a long time consuming chore. (think start it, go to sleep, and check it out the next morning) With today's fast computers and/or a good video editing board, rendering an entire 5 minute video can be done in about a minute or two. Software editing programs call this step various things such as "Export Movie" in Premiere. When you render the entire vid for the first time, you will want to review it as a rough draft, to ensure that the flow of the entire vid is as good as each individual section you previewed. You can always go back to your editing software and fix any problems you find in your rough draft, and re-render the vid again. Some programs such as Premiere, are even smart enough to know which parts of the vid have already been rendered, and will only re-render the sections where modifications have been made.


After doing rendering and touch up editing a few times, hopefully you will finally arrive at a finished product that meets the initial vision that took you on this video editing quest. Who knows, maybe you will even surpass your expectations. If not, don't worry, just remember to enjoy the process and have some fun, because in the end, that's what really matters.

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Last Updated 29-Oct-2002 / Chris & Christina