Comparing editing methods

on Monday, February 4, 2008

Video (and audio, for that matter) is considered a linear medium because it comes at you in a linear stream through time. A still picture, on the other hand, just sits there — you take it in all at once — and a Web site lets you jump randomly from page to page. Because neither of these is perceived as a stream, they’re both examples of nonlinear media. You tweak a linear medium (such as video) by using one of two basic methods — linear or nonlinear editing.

If your approach to editing is linear, you must do all the editing work in chronological order, from the start of the movie to the finish. Here’s an old-fashioned example: If you “edit” video by dubbing certain parts from a camcorder tape onto a VHS tape in your VCR, you have to do all your edits in one session, in chronological order. As you probably guessed, linear editing is terribly inefficient. If you dub a program and then decide to perform an additional edit, subsequent video usually has to be redubbed. (Oh, the pain, the tedium.)

What is the alternative? Thinking outside the line: nonlinear editing. You can do nonlinear edits in any order; you don’t have to start at the beginning and slog on through to the end every time. The magical gizmo that makes nonlinear editing possible is a combination of the personal computer and programs designed for nonlinear editing (NLE). Using such a program (for example, Apple iMovie or Pinnacle Studio), you can navigate to any scene in the movie, insert scenes, move them around, cut them out of the timeline altogether, and slice, dice, tweak and fine-tune to your heart’s content.