In the last newsletter, we covered non-linear editing from inception up until the revolutionary Quantel Harry which, although it was more of a video effects system, had some non-linear editing capabilities. Now we are going to move on to the genuine article, and cover non-linear editing with computers as we know it today.

Non-linear editing with computers was first introduced by Editing Machines Corp. (EMC) in 1989 with the EMC2 editor, a hard disk based non-linear off-line editing system, using half-screen resolution video at 15 frames per second. It may interest you to know that not long after this, EMC2 editing systems were imported into South Africa and used for the very popular TV series Sweating Bullets - these suites were probably some of the first to be used in this country.

A couple of weeks later that same year, Avid introduced the Avid/1, the first in the line of their Media Composer systems. It was based on the Apple Macintosh computer platform (Macintosh II systems were used) with special hardware and software developed and installed by Avid. The Avid/1 was not the first system to introduce modern concepts in non-linear editing, however, such as timeline editing and clip bins - both of which were pioneered in Lucasfilm's EditDroid in the early 1980s.

The video quality of the Avid/1 (and later Media Composer systems from the late 80s) was somewhat low (about VHS quality), due to the use of a very early version of a Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) codec. But it was enough to be a very versatile system for offline editing, to revolutionise video and film editing, and quickly become the dominant NLE platform.

In October 1990, NewTek introduced Video Toaster, a hardware and software solution for the Commodore Amiga 2000 computer system, taking advantage of the video-friendly aspects of that system's hardware to deliver the product at an unusually low cost ($1499). The hardware component was a full-sized card which went into the Amiga's unique single video expansion slot rather than the standard bus slots, and therefore could not be used with the A500 and A1000 models. The card had several BNC connectors in the rear, which accepted four video input sources and provided two outputs (preview and program). This initial generation system was essentially a real-time four-channel video switcher.

For the second generation, NewTek introduced the Video Toaster Flyer, a far more capable non-linear editing system. In addition to processing live video signals, the Flyer made use of hard drives to store video clips and audio, and allowed complex scripted playback. The Flyer was capable of simultaneous dual-channel playback, which allowed the Toaster's video switcher to perform transitions and other effects on video clips without the need for rendering.

The hardware component was again a card designed for the Amiga's Zorro 2 expansion slot, and was primarily designed by Charles Steinkuehler. The Flyer portion of the Video Toaster/Flyer combination was a complete computer of its own, having its own microprocessor and embedded software, which was written by Marty Flickinger. Its hardware included three embedded SCSI controllers. Two of these SCSI buses were used to store video data, and the third to store audio. The hard drives were thus connected to the Flyer directly and used a proprietary file system layout, rather than being connected to the Amiga's buses and were available as regular devices using the included DOS driver. The Flyer used a proprietary Wavelet compression algorithm known as VTASC, which was well regarded at the time for offering better visual quality than comparable Motion JPEG based non-linear editing systems.

Until 1993, the Avid Media Composer could only be used for editing commercials or other small content projects, because the Apple Macintosh computers could access only 50 gigabytes of storage at one time. In 1992, this limitation was overcome by a group of industry experts led by Rick Eye, a Digital Video R&D team at the Disney Channel. By February 1993, this team had integrated a long form system which gave the Avid Media Composer Apple Macintosh access to over 7 terabytes of digital video data. With instant access to the shot footage of an entire movie, long form non-linear editing (Motion Picture Editing) was now possible.

The system made its debut at the NAB conference in 1993, in the booths of the three primary sub-system manufacturers, Avid, Silicon Graphics and Sony. Within a year, thousands of these systems replaced a century of 35mm film editing equipment in major motion picture studios and TV stations world wide, making Avid the undisputed leader in non-linear editing systems.

Although M-JPEG became the standard codec for NLE during the early 1990s, it had drawbacks. Its high computational requirements ruled out software implementations, leading to the extra cost and complexity of hardware compression/playback cards. More importantly, the traditional tape workflow had involved editing from tape, often in a rented facility. When the editor left the edit suite he could take his confidential video tapes with him. But the M-JPEG data rate was too high for systems like Avid on the Mac and Lightworks on PC to store the video on removable storage, so these used fixed hard disks instead.

The tape paradigm of keeping your (confidential) content with you was not possible with these fixed disks. Editing machines were often rented from facilities houses on a per-hour basis, and some productions chose to delete their material after each edit session, and then recapture it the next day, in order to guarantee the security of their content. In addition, each NLE system had storage limited by its hard disk capacity.

These issues were addressed by a small UK company, Eidos plc (which later became famous for its Tomb Raider video game series). Eidos chose the new ARM-based computers from the UK and implemented an editing system, launched in Europe in 1990 at the International Broadcasting Convention. Because it implemented its own compression software designed specifically for non-linear editing, the Eidos system had no requirement for JPEG hardware and was cheap to produce. The software could decode multiple video and audio streams at once for real-time effects at no extra cost. But most significantly, for the first time, it allowed effectively unlimited quantities of cheap removable storage. The Eidos Edit 1, Edit 2, and later Optima systems allowed the editor to use any Eidos system, rather than being tied down to a particular one, and still keep his data secure. The Optima software editing system was closely tied to Acorn hardware, so when Acorn stopped manufacturing the Risc PC in the late 1990s, Eidos stopped selling the Optima system; by this time Eidos had become predominantly a games company.

So there we have it thus far. In the third and final article we will cover the introduction of the Media 100, the Final Cut pro, and all the developments thereafter until now. If you have any comments or queries on this article, or would like us to cover any other topic, please let us know.

You can go to Wikipedia and other internet resources for some of the information contained in this article.