MPAG News - Digital Video Production


Digital Video Production For Local Access Cable TV

Digital video editing has come of age. You see it everywhere on TV now. The biggest difference, from our local cable production viewpoint, is that the cost of good quality digital equipment is very economical now.

Computer based editing is fast and easy. For people familiar with computers, the drag and drop method of editing is easier to understand than the electronic controllers used to drive tape decks directly. The biggest gains are made when the number of edits, effects, titles, sound tracks, etc., increase. If you look at programs on TV, you'll see frequent scene changes, lots of informative graphics and title screens, routine use of background music and sounds. Doing this on the computer isn't much harder than doing very simple edits.

Tape to tape editing is ideal when all you need to do is play the program sequentially, in the order things happened, just cutting out the unwanted portions. Adding some titling graphics and occasional overlay images isn't too hard. If all that is needed is a simple program introduction and ending information, this is still the fastest, easiest way to edit.

But when our producers want to do something more complicated, it becomes a lot harder. Too hard, for many of our producers. A simple expositional program with many short interviews, on site scenes, informational screens, and a constant background music track, requires a nightmarish number of separate, precise steps to manage in tape to tape editing.

Play through all tapes, find every scene, write down the time of each. Figure out which one needs to go in which order. Then, fast forward/rewind, change tapes when necessary, to each individual scene. Record that one. Repeat for each new element. If you want effects between scenes, you need to do an extra step to generate each of those. Same goes for trying to place title screens, especially overlay (on top of the moving video). You need to set those up, then manually display them at the right time, while the scene records.

The background music, added to the program, requires a complete additional recording. You finish your first edits of video, with original sound, then make a copy of those trying to add your new sounds at the right levels, and in time. If you wanted to do your scene changes in time to the music - a common editing technique - that adds another step - making a "music track" tape, which you then insert your scenes into.

It can take hours of editing for every minute of video done this way. We've done it, of course, because it was the only way to do the sorts of shows we want. But it is difficult, so many shows of this nature simply aren't made because it is too time consuming. Not all producers can spend the time needed to learn how to handle all of the operations needed, and we have no one available on staff (especially in the evening and weekend hours) who could guide them. Computer systems can provide online help, tutorials, and - especially for those at all familiar with the machines - an easier intuitive feel for the entire editing process.

Now in 2003 we will have this capability. We have a new Pinnacle ProOne RTDV PC based editing system. It offers an advantage important to us as users of a shared community resource: fast real time production.

The entry level home movie making programs are nice, but not as fast or powerful as the professional editing systems. For a system intended to be shared by many producers, and used to produce programs on volunteer time, speed is more than just convenience. Home users can handle using a system which takes a few hours to process the audio and video to make a movie. It is acceptable to take a bit more time preparing the program as well - you don't need to worry about someone else needing to use your computer.

The system we have produce a movie in real time. All effects, titles, audio, and final output to SVHS or DV (digital) tapes for airing can all be done without any delays to prepare the material. Changes in an edit can be reviewed in real time, as well. Real time means much faster productions, less guesswork - no spending an hour doing "make a movie" only to find that it isn't what you wanted, requiring you to do it again because of one easily-fixed change, easily spotted if you could have previewed it beforehand.

The system is hooked up to the rest of our studio. That offers a number of major advantages over the typical home PC setup:

1. Video can be recorded from VHS and SVHS tapes without additional hookups. Our SVHS editing VCRs will be connected to the digital system (as well as of course their existing direct connections). Tapes shot on VHS or SVHS camcorders can be transferred to digital easily. This includes using shots from existing tapes, those provided by anyone who has good material on tape, but not in digital format. Not all home PC digital editing systems handle non-digital input, so this is another bonus over such equipment.

2. Digital video can be recorded to VHS or SVHS tapes. Most home users don't have SVHS, and even VHS copies tend to be of lower quality than our pro VCRs do. Again, the system will be hooked up for this purpose, no need to run a wire from your camcorder to the VCR.

3. From analog VHS and SVHS sources, our production studio equipment can be used to preprocess the video, correcting colors and making other changes as desired. When this is needed, it can be a great time-saving step.

4. Our audio mixer is available for recording from many sources. While home PCs have a CDROM on them, making recording from an audio CD easy, material on audio cassette tapes is another matter. We have a good range of quality microphones, making good voiceover recordings (talking to narrate a program) easier. It is easy for several commentators to work together in our studio, something which would be much less convenient at home.

5. Our video production studio is hooked into the system as well. Not only can new live audio be recorded easily, but additional video segments can be added directly from the studio. Studio lighting and sound offer a great edge over the typical home environment for giving a professional image. For both actual sets and the "virtual sets" - such as weather screens and other things shown behind the real people - this offers an easy place to work on that important aspect of TV production.

6. In live and tape to tape productions, a computer system provides significant advantages. The introductory titles, ending credits, and intermission video clips and graphics can be created, processed, and even played from the computer editing system. Played live, because it is a real time system, able to generate new title clips and graphics on the fly. So even though a given program may be primarily the classic sort with a single view on the event, or a two camera live interview program, it can still benefit from the extra sparkle - a nice break outside of "ordinary" home sorts of video - that a digital video system offers.

The Advantages of Digital Camcorders and Tape Formats

Digital video tape formats (DV, DVCAM, Digital 8) all offer higher quality than SVHS, CD quality stereo sound, and - important for many of our people - a convenient small size without compromising quality. Full size SVHS camcorders (like our Panasonic AG456) work very well, but are much bulkier and heavier than smaller "Handycams". There are definitely still differences in the cameras themselves (home level camcorders, even recording to digital tape, still can't match the image quality of better lenses and electronics - but they are still very good).

Yet just having digital camcorders isn't enough. To use digital effectively, you must have some way to edit the audio and video. To do so by copying to SVHS first would defeat the major advantages of the format. Digital doesn't just mean higher quality. When a digital connection is used, as to the computer, the video is copied exactly, no loss of quality. Unlike tape to tape editing, digital retains its quality through any number of copying stages. In addition, the computer system can control the camcorder, automatically playing, copying, and recording, with no need for any manual intervention - or guesswork in searching for scenes by time/date/etc.

Without a digital video editing system, it wouldn't pay to get digital camcorders. We have a full editing PC system in order to get the full power of digital. As well, those producers with home digital video camcorders could use their cameras, in addition to MPAG equipment, to create programs using our video editing system.

One nice thing about computer systems is that new software and minor hardware upgrades can extend the utility of the machine for many years. But for us, it is enough to have a system which meets our needs now, rather than hoping for future improvements. The systems available now could meet our needs indefinitely.

Our Video Toaster system was purchased in 1994, and we've upgraded it a few times since then. It still serves its original purpose excellently, despite the fact that there are current systems which can do much more. The state of the art in PC based digital video editing now is truly at the level where the endless changes in computer technology won't render our system obsolete.


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