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Digital video: Editing

This page discusses how to turn digital video shots into a good quality film. This is work in progress, which I only started on 31 January 2001, so please be patient and let me know about errors or omissions.

I am an amateur videographer with several years experience using an analogue video camera. I am now trying to create good quality amateur digital video films. As a first step, in January 2001, I purchased a good quality digital video camera, a fast personal computer with a large hard disk, non-linear editing (NLE) hardware with editing software and a video cassette recorder (VCR), that can work with digital and analogue video formats, see 'Digital video: Background and purchasing decisions'. Now I am learning how to make good quality film from the videos I shoot. I see that each of the step to do this can involve considerable time and expertise. Fortunately, there are many helpful resources on Internet to guide the budding video author and I acknowledge the many people who have provided these links, which are discussed below.

Canopus 'DV Storm' I am using a PC with Windows 2000 Professional, Canopus 'DVStorm' with 'Premiere' 5.1c in PAL format. Specific comments refer to this combination of hardware and software. DVStorm is a relatively new hardware and software product for digital video editing. It is based on the professional 'DVRex' products. I include here some of the ways I have learnt to use DVStorm and which are not discussed in the manual. DV Storm users have their own User Group forum for posting messages and a compilation of 'Rex'-user information by Don Lamprecht.


1. Overview

There are many resources which advise on how to take film and video shots for amateur and professional work. Here are some selected links:

Here is an overview of many of the steps commonly used in making useful video film from 'raw' digital video footage. They are very similar to those used in analogue film work, with the major benefit that there is little loss of digital video quality during editing.

There are descriptions of how Dean Mermell and Victor Rook (who used a Sony TRV-900 video camera) made and marketed commercial films using digital video equipment and software that is available to amateurs and similar to that described here. In 2000, 'Roo Productions' produced a full length feature film on DV and documented their scripting, budgeting, scheduling, casting, shooting, editing, location scouting, etc.

2. Identifying and defining the clips to use

3. Transferring the selected clips to the computer

The format of the digital data on the video tape is not in a format that a PC can understand. This is why you have to capture the video so that it passes through a codec to change it to a standard that the PC or its programs can recognize and work with. 

Firewire connections send all the selected data on the tape to the computer, including the video, sound, timeline data and even the f-stop and shutter speed. (Unfortunately the f-stop and shutter speed data is not made available by NLE software, but may be visible on the camera during video capture, using 'code enabled').

There is a size limit of 2-GB (about nine minutes of video) for AVI files on Windows operating systems, except for Windows 2000 with  NTFS-formatted hard disks , when there is no limit. This is a compelling reason for using Windows 2000 Professional or Server for digital video work.

4. Editing the selected clips with NLE software

Adobe's 'Premiere' is the most widely used NLE software.

  • From Premiere 5 upwards, the default interface is almost identical to Avid's Media Composer, which is a TV/movie industry standard. However this can be confusing for novices. David Ruether recommends use of a 'timeline-centred way to use the program. He has written:  "..Premiere opens the first time with a relatively non-intuitive interface, which even I don't understand...;-) Fortunately, it can be converted to a VERY intuitive interface very easily (why Adobe doesn't supply it this way, I don't know - the majority of buyers are first-time NLE users, and this program can be very easy to use...). Click on the preview window upper-right right-facing triangle, and select "single view" (with dual monitors you can then size the window to 720x480 for full-size preview for NTSC), shrink the borders to the smallest they will go before losing the resolution you want (320x240 for 1/2 size for use on a single monitor). Next, hit the similar triangle on the timeline window and select "timeline options" and select the middle "icon size" and top "track format" - this gives you a running view of video content, along with track file-source info. With the same triangle you can also select "track options" to add a couple of audio and video tracks, and while there, also name the audio tracks more usefully as, A1A, A1B (instead of A2...), A2, etc. so audio track names correspond with video track names. Arrange the windows for best use for you and save the project as "TEMPLATE", or some such (when starting a new project, open this and save it ["save as"] with a new name to preserve the template). Now you can work on the timeline entirely, making all editing decisions right there, using the various tools to move/cut/filter/transition/etc. clips as if you were handling real filmstrips (except this is "non-destructive - all changes are reversible). Try lots of stuff to get used to the various tools (I use only the arrow, razor, "lasso", and [hidden under the square "lasso"] "double arrow" tool [moves everything to its right along the timeline as a set, to open/close gaps]). Double-click in the empty line above the time scale to get the "work area" bar, adjust to taste, hit "enter"-key to render changes under that bar for preview. "Scrub" the timeline with the mouse in the time scale to see/hear video slowly (for making editing decisions). Change timeline resolution (down to one frame level, if want) to get a better view, if needed (lower left corner). Hold down the "alt" key while scrubbing to see unrendered changes (sound is silent). Right-click on video or audio tracks to access filters and other options. Click on triangles at track left ends to "open" tracks to see audio waveforms and gain access to video and audio level-setting "rubber bands" (you can click on them to place "handles" [for mixing sound, with fade in/out "ramping" of the "rubber-bands", or hover the mouse on them, then hold the "shift" key to adjust overall audio levels or video transparency (with transparency key-type selected - right-click on track to access that...). You will eventually have tried all the menu items and controls - then you may find you can also combine various functions/controls to expand possibilities and do most anything you want. You can also add "plug-ins" to expand the range of basic transitions, filters, etc."
  • There are many printed and online resources about using Adobe's 'Premiere' NLE editing program.

5. Adding clips from elsewhere

You can use your own footage or download free clips or even purchase video footage. There is also software to create 3D animations to add to the film.

6. Trimming clips

There are often shortcuts, using the keyboard and mouse, within NLE software for many of the commonly carried out editing steps. Trimming clips is one of them. It is well worth finding the fastest and easiest way to use the computer to do these repetitive tasks. 

7. Adding still pictures

When there is a need for a still picture within a production, NLE software can import a photo as a *.gif or other type of graphics file as a clip. Sometimes, it is worth taking the best 'still' out of a clip that has no motion or sound in it, and adding the still back as a stable clip of defined length. This is useful, for example, when a sign or map has been filmed and needs to be put into the final video as a title. There are many graphics files and images on Internet. gettyimages has made available over 35 million free images for use on the web. Glow Images Inc. has many stock photos. ImageWolf, which costs US$29.95, is a search tool that can locate graphics and movie files on the web. Of course, copyright issues must be considered if files from elsewhere are to be used in productions.

Digital still photography is well described and taught by the online Epson PrintAcademy. It costs US$29.95 for 60 online teaching sessions.

I have bought and can recommend Canopus 'Imaginate' v 2 software. It provides 'virtual' rostrum camera effects for one or more photos in a sequence, and writes them to a file that can be incorporated into video editing software such as Canopus EDIUS.

If you have many photos to scan, before they are incorporatd into a project, consider using a commercial resource, such as ScanCafe which can also digitize tapes and movies in a variety of older formats.

8. Adding transitions between clips

Transitions are the most important 'events' that an editor can add to video clips. Basic transitions are available in al NLE software, but the more expensive ones have more complex forms. There is a considerable advantage in being able to add and view transitions in real time, while editing. Editing software that is supplied with interface cards, such as the Canopus range, provide this. Note that transitions are not always needed. A good way to learn how to use transitions, is to watch how they are used in a good-quality film.

9. Altering the video, improvements and effects

10. Adding text for titles etc.

All good films begin with a title and end with the credits. And extra titles during a film can give it that extra appeal. Trick processors can offer all sorts of special scene changeovers and effects.

11. Chroma-key or compositing

Chroma-key, the method for removing background from a movie by subtracting a colour is also called 'Chroma-key Background' or 'Chroma-key Paint'. It is called Chroma Key because you 'key-out' a colour, using either blue or green. Quality is the same using either colour. See Blue Screen Studio. Chroma-key fabric is available if paint is not suitable for the background.

12. Editing the soundtrack

A good soundtrack is often more important than good video. Breaks and defects in sound quality are always noticed. Mark Tomlonson has writtenadvice on sound recording including "Good recorded audio is 95 % microphone placement, 4% level setting and mixing, and 1% the right equipment." The amount of reflected sound suggests how close the subject is to the camera and determines where the microphone should be placed.

Hardware audio mixers are not required if you have NLE software which can combine several sound tracks.

13. Adding music and sound effects

Music and sound effects are added to video by recording them to a WAV file, then adding the file to the audio line of NLE software and rendering. This is called 'scoring'. It involves four steps: finding the right music; adding selected portions of music to the production; editing the music and/or visuals to create relevant musical events that synchronize with the picture; and acquiring the legal rights to use the music publicly.  

Most NLE software requires sound files to be of a specific type. For example, 'Storm Edit' requires the WAV files to have a sample rate of 48,000 in stereo with 16-bit resolution, which can be prepared using 'CoolEdit 96'. 'CoolEdit 96' provides a simple way to create suitable WAV files on a computer from music CDs, microphone input or the line-input from other audio equipment.

14. Adding voiceovers 

Nick Peck and Jay Rose have detailed advice on how to create high-quality voiceovers.
There are several ways to make voiceovers for video, depending on whether the video or the sound is the principal component.

15. Using separate sound recorders

Video work may involve recording sound on a recorder and combining the sound and video later. Any sound recorder, such as a minidisk, can be used, but for the best quality sound recordings for video work, professionals use high quality recorders, such as the Tescam DA-P1 portable DAT recorder.

16. Videoing a computer or television screen

Although video display and standard computer or TV screens flicker, we perceive a stationary image. Unfortunately, video cameras usually record and enhance flicker to produce a 'rolling bar' effect on playback. The best way to deal with this is to use an LCD monitor instead of a computer video display unit or TV set, when filming a computer or TV screen. 'Rolling bars' can be minimized by setting the computer monitor's refresh rate to match the camera PAL or NTSC video scan rate as closely as possible. When flickering is synchronized, the image in the camera's eyepiece is stable. PAL is recorded at 25 frames/second, so a computer monitor setting of 50 or 100 HZ would give a stable picture. Unfortunately, NTSC video cameras record at 29.94 frames/second, so there are no camera settings that will work properly. 'Rolling bars' can only be removed from video or film at specialist centres. A 'corioscan', which costs about $400 and connects a computer to a monitor and is used in special centres, can be used to send the signal from a computer to the input on a camcorder without producing 'rolling bars'.

Interlaced video: Most video equipment used by consumers has interlaced video. All broadcast TV is interlaced, as is video generated by VCRs and camcorders.

Capture video of events on a desktop screen

John Navas has written a FAQ about how to install free Windows software to capture video from your desktop screen
1. Download psdk-x86.49.cab.
2. Open the downloaded file psdk-x86.49.cab, using Microsoft's .CAB viewer or a 3rd party tool like WinZip.
3. Extract the following files into a folder (you can create a special folder or just use the Windows directory):


4. Rename these three files respectively to:


5. Execute CapScrn.exe to start the screen capture utility. You will be able to adjust the resolution, frame rate, etc. On-line help is available.

Captured movies are in AVI form with Microsoft RLE compression. They can be played with Windows Media Player and used in most video editing. Also included in the same .CAB file is VidCap, a video capture program that works with capture devices installed with VfW drivers (but not OHCI Firewire).

17. Copyright

There are several kinds of copyright, licenses and permissions to consider in video and film work:

18. Rendering the video

The process of taking clips and additions from a timeline, in a NLE program, to create a file that can be shown as a video, is called 'rendering'. Most recent video editing cards work with the NLE software to make this a rapid process. The more complex the combinations on the timeline, the slower this may be. This is one of the main advantages of using a 'better' card/software combination. 

19. Making VHS Video on video cassette recorders (VCR)

VHS video is the most common format to distribute and view  video, using a VHS video player. The way to transfer the video from the computer hard disk to the video tape in the VCR, is to play the video using software on the computer and output it as composite video to a tape in the VCR. Not all graphics cards can output composite video, so this has to be checked first. Simply play the video back full screen on the computer using a program like Microsoft's Media Player and press 'Record' on the video recorder.

20. Making CDs and DVDs containing digital video

CD writers are common now and they are being used to store digital video, which can then be played back on standard CD and DVD players. Because a 654-MB CD can only hold about 2.5 minutes of high quality digital video in AVI format, higher compressions are usually used: MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. Many modern video editing cards and software can be used to prepare MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 compressed versions of digital video. For example, 'TMPGEnc' is free MPEG-1 and MPEG- 2 encoder software. It has a home page in Japan. The MPEG-compressed files are then written to a CD with a CD writer (CD-R), using a program such as Nero

'DVD' provides excellent quality video, sound and data on a CD-sized disk, which can be played on home DVD players and on DVD-equipped PCs. Video and audio are compressed to MPEG-2. There are 'DVD Writers' and DVD FAQ web sites with information on the different types of CD, DVD formats and drives. John Beale has detailed advice on creating DVDs using a Pioneer DVR-A03, from AVI files created with a Sony TRV900 miniDV camera, Canopus Raptor, Premiere and TMPGEnc MPEG-2 encoder. A DVD contains about 4.7-GB data and is able to store over 2 hours of MPEG-2 video. A 654-MB CD-R disk can contain about 18 minutes of MPEG-2 DVD video.

Software for creating DVDs

  • Ulead's 'DVD Workshop' 2 costing £130.00. I use this for authoring DVDs from AVI files created with Canopus EDIUS and Imaginate.

Hardware for creating DVDs

  • The Pioneer 'DVR-103/A03' is one of the first DVD-R writers designed for consumers. It is supplied with G4 Power Macintosh computers. It is a DVD-R / DVD-RW /CD-RW/CD-R drive, that writes and rewrites to CD and DVD media.
  • A Panasonic unit is being sold under several names, that can read and write DVD+RW (yet another DVD 'standard'), DVD-R and DVD-RAM. It can read, but not write, CDs. Fortunately, DVDs created from DVD-R and DVD+R drives can be read by any DVD player.
  • The Philips DVDR890 DVD recorder costs less than £500 and is the first of a new generation of DVD recorders designed for general users. I have been told (3 November 2002) by a user, that DV tapes can be recorded in both 'high quality' (one hour) and 'Standard (SP)' (two hours) and the results were virtually indistinguishable from the originals. The user has also recorded from SVHS tapes at SP+ (21/2 hours) with good results. The machine plays CD, VCD, SVCD, DVD+R and DVD-R and commercial DVD's. Although it can only write to Philips DVD+R or DVD+RW DVD discs, but these can be played on most modern DVD players.

'SVCD' is digital video stored in 480 x 576 pixels with MPEG-2 compression and a maximum bitrate of 2,600 bit/sec at 25 fps with up to four subtitles and with audio from 32 - 384 kbit/sec MPEG-1 layer 2 or MPEG-2 with up to two audio tracks (for PAL). SVCD on a 654-MB CD can contain up to about 35 minutes of video. It contains about twice the number of pixels as VCD and so is of better quality. The quality is also affected by the type of encoder used and in high motion scenes the video can be 'blocky'. Some people store the video footage from their DV cameras as SVCD. Encoding SVCD can be slow: up to 10 minutes for each minute of digital video. Viewing SVCD: SVCD plays back well on nearly all PCs, with a suitable CD player and MPEG-2 codec.  Some DVD players can play SVCD, including models by Wharfedale, Sampo, Apex, Pioneer 333 and Afreey with a software DVS/SVCD player. SVCD can be recorded onto VHS tape for those who do not have a PC or do not have a DVD player or one that can play CDR/CDRW.

Software from Cinemacraft will capture D1 serial video and convert it to MPEG-2 in real time. Canopus 'Amber' and 'DVRex Pro' are hardware encoders with the same functions.

Nero has a SuperVideoCD 'template' for creating 'SVCD' CDs. Commonly, the MPEG-2 file is first created with 'TMPGEnc'. Select 'Create SVCD' and not 'VCD'. Ensure that the video format is interlaced in the 'MPEG configuration' dialogue box. This ensures optimal playback on TV screens. The 'Advanced' tab in this box should be 'Interlaced', '4:3:625 line (PAL)', 'Fit to frames (preserve aspect ratio)'. Click on 'New compilation | Super Video CD | File Options tab | ISO Level 2 | ISO 9660 | Allow path depths of more than 8 directories | Allow more than 255 characters in path | New'. Drag and drop the previously prepared *.mpg file from the file browser window to the track window then 'Write CD'.

'IAuthor' is an expensive product that cab producing interactive SVCDs with multi level menus. The SVCDs it generates do work on the majority of DVD players.

LSX-MPEG Encoder 3.5 is a Premiere plugin that can output SVCD from an AVI timeline, but costs US$180.

Gareth Horne has a method for creating SVCDs from DV footage uses a combination of freeware, shareware and commercial software, which are available in trial form.

'VCD' is digital video stored in 352 x 288 pixels with MPEG-1 at 29.97 fps or 1,150 kbit/sec (for PAL). The audio is 224 kbit/sec MPEG-1 Layer2. It has about the same or slightly better quality than VHS video. A VCD CD can contain up to 74/80 minutes (on 650MB/700MB CDs respectively) of full-motion video with good quality stereo sound. A VCD can be played on nearly all standalone DVD Players and all computers with a DVD-ROM or CD-ROM drive, with the help of a software based decoder or player. VCD will playback on Windows Media Player which has MPEG-1 as a standard codec. The CDs can also be played with MPEGPlayer which is free.

  • See VCDHelp, 'FAQ' and 'VCD FAQ'
  •  Try the LSX-MPEG Encoder v 3.0, which will convert AVI to mpeg1, mpeg2, and VCD. It also comes with a Player 1.2, which is a MPEG-2 decoder for Windows Media Player.
  • 'VideoPack4' from 'Roxio' is included in WinOnCD which can create menus and link them as chapters into a VCD.
  • WinDVD outputs either VCD or SVCD to CDs, using a CD writer. AVI files can be output to CDs as VCD and SVCD using WinDVD. 

'QuickTime' There are many programs that will edit QuickTime files under Windows

  • QuickTime Editor Pro from Apple enables the video and sound to be edited.
  • Sorenson Video Pro v 2.2 can also make QuickTime movies. Version 3 will be released in early April 2001 to coincide with the release of QuickTime v 5.
  • QuickEditor for Windows v 6 is shareware.

'Indeo' There are examples on Internet of avi files presented with Indeo compression.  

There are other rarely used options to write to CDs: DVDit! outputs MiniDVD and MyDVD writes cDVD.

To make a CD that will 'autorun' an MPG or AVI file, create a file called 'autorun.inf' with Notepad containing the lines:

open=mplayer2.exe filename.mpg or filename.avi

When you burn the CD, include the autorun.inf file, mplayer2.exe, which is like about 5-kb and the filename.mpg or filename.avi file. You can test it on a CDRW before burning to CDR. Note that 'mplayer2.exe' can not be used for commercial distributions. 

21. Making streaming digital video clips

'ASF' files provide streaming video whose quality is only suitable for casual viewing. They contain video and audio compressed to MPEG-4. One hour of video occupies about 120-MB.

Bandwidth The quality of streaming video clips largely depends on the bandwidth available to view them. It should be at least 200-kbps. You may need to lease server space offering a high bandwidth, in order to achieve this.

Making streaming video clips QuickTime, Windows Media and RealPlayer produce very similar quality clips, at similar bandwidth. Find some clips you do like the look of on the net and examine their properties in the player to see what bandwidth and encoding they are using. On2 provide examples of excellent streaming video, which need an ADSL connections for best results.

Clips in browsers Clips can be designed to be played with video software or within web browsers. Information is available on how to play clips in browsers with plugins: look up 'embed video' or 'embedding' at site-design site. The Windows Media and Media Encoder 7 are free with an 'Encoder 7 FAQ' and MSDN has information on how to use MediaPlayer 7, including a page with the relevant code snippet for web browsers'. It is used on web sites, including free public sites, which also provides information and advice on preparing and importing video to their site. 

Sound in clips Because streaming video is of relatively low quality, good sound quality is particularly important. VideoPublications recommend that you prepare the video using the free software called RealProducer. If you have a video-editing tool, such as Asymmetrix Digital Video Producer or Ulead's 'Media Studio Pro' or Adobe Premiere, you can separate the audio and video tracks in the .avi file, edit these tracks separately, and combine them afterwards. Many of these programs can be downloaded from CNET. The sample rate of the sound should be 22kHz or higher at 16 bit, not 8 bit. Higher sampling rates are not audible after streaming. You can also use GoldWave (shareware) to manipulate the audio track. Make sure the window-size (in pixels) of your .avi video is one of the following formats: 176 x 144, 176 x 132 or 160 x 120. If not, use the Fast Movie Processor (shareware) to resize the .avi video file. (Video is displayed in the 176 x 132 format on VideoPublications). Now make a streaming video file using the free version ofRealProducer. (Only '.rm' files <1-MB bytes can be used at VideoPublications). Finally, make a title picture in .jpg format of your video file. Use for example SnagIt (shareware) to capture a picture in .jpg format and upload the streaming video .rm file and the .jpg title picture file using the Publishing Form on VideoPublications. Microsoft have Media streaming video help.

Specialized streaming video sites Canopus Video provide users of their products with a way to show their video in streaming format, hosted on a Canopus site. It can be used for public or private viewing with Windows Media Player. The input is Canopus DV AVI and the output is Windows Media WMV, default encoded bitrates 100, 250 and 512Kbps and custom bitrates of 28.8Kbps to 3Mbps. At present the storage limit is 10MB or about 5 minutes of 250-kbps video.

Viewing streaming video This can be done with free software. However, the quality may be improved using one of the dedicated players such as 'PowerDVD'.

22. Converting analogue tapes to DVD

This can be done commercially, see SmartTape and Pennylane Video.


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Partly updated 1 July 2021