Digital Video Editing: Everything I Knew Was Wrong… Almost

How many times in your life have you turned around and everything you knew was wrong? Below, I recount my painful journey from tape-based, analog linear editing to software-based, non-linear digital editing and how I continued to face the challenges of being old school.

Back in the Day

In the late 1980’s, you needed at least a $200,000 investment to do reasonably competent, standard definition video in a professional tape format. Effects were moving little boxes and some Leroy Neiman-like coloring effects.  In 1985, the Quantel Mirage was the showcase digital effects system going at a cool $250,000. Four years later, we finally had the investment money to buy a lower-end digital video editor: an Ampex ADO 100 at $28,000. Making words was another adventure entirely; the early Chyrons went for over $45,000, so we ended up with a much cheaper option: the Chyron VP-2 for $7,000.00

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The Chyron VP2 Character Generator


Edit room configuration was sort of like having a bunch of horses tied to a wagon; the linear editor was the wagon and every other device was wired to it.

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Typical High-End Linear Edit Room

The Software Revolution

Today everything is in run by software – on a single little box.

There was a whole hardware industry in television production. Sony, RCA, Grass Valley, Chyron, Ampex, Quantam, Quantel, Ikegami, Panasonic, JVC… just to name a few, and we threw around terms like H-phase shift, match frame edits, TBC (time base corrector), and DA (distribution amplifier).


I scoffed at the computer industry pushing its way into TV technology, until the Amiga Video Toaster reared its ugly head: the first computer device that had an adequate composite NTSC I/O built on the card. Unfortunately, it was not really controllable by my Sony BVE 800 linear editor; no cues could be programmed, but it did have toaster paint and a built-in effects unit. We used it as a secondary input to our main system. Later, I moved on to an AMPEX ACE 10 editor.

The early 90’s saw two main revolutionary developments: layers in Photoshop 3 and “hybrid” hardware/software systems. Everything was still tape-based, but now the tape machines were run through a computer where more sophisticated effects were available for video and words. It was cue controlled. So we stepped up our game and bought the Pinnacle Aladdin System.

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Amiga Video Toaster

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Ampex ACE 25 Editor

This is also the beginning of TV video editors becoming graphic artists in order to function. The concept of the motion graphics was born with Adobe After Effects 3.0 in 1994. We could now do a layout in Photoshop 3.0 in layers and import them directly into After Effects and move them around. Around 1996-97, I got into an argument with one of the producers, exclaiming that I WAS AN EDITOR, NOT A GRAPHIC ARTIST (which is sort of like screaming I AM NOT AN ANIMAL I’M A HUMAN BEING!). It was subsequently pointed out to me that I had to improve my graphic skills or I would not be a TV editor much longer.

Also, during that same time period, the revolution reached its inevitable conclusion with most of us old TV editors in full retreat: the introduction and complete acceptance industry wide of digital non-linear editing. I started using early versions of Premire, Speed Razor and AVID for PC (a poorly designed little brother to the expensive AVID Media Composers).


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Speed Razor Editing Software

Tape machines still fed, recorded and mastered. Web video was in its infancy; if you saw video on the web, it was usually with a single line link that you clicked and another page would open. In those days, streaming formats were limited and the horrible MPEG1 was the file format of choice, although the Windows Media and QuickTime 2.0 file formats were introduced in 1993.

Adapt or Die

Except for the abandonment of tape and the introduction of digital data-based shooting storage (video now became a file like everything else), everything from that point on was an improvement of the technology. Computers got faster as files got bigger. High definition replaced standard definition. Non-linear editing and motion graphics and graphics software became more elegant. And the role of the editor increased as “client-supervised” editing became a thing of the past. All of us old linear editors had to adapt or leave the business.

Yes, everything I knew was wrong. Like my digital co-workers at Liquid, I had to keep up with changing technology. My years of experience helped enormously and no technology change would affect my sense of timing and composition. It’s nice to know technology can’t change EVERYTHING!

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