The Cutting Edge

In the earliest days of nonlinear editing, programmers attempted to regain traits of film editing, such as grabbing a clip from a flannel-lined bin and feeding it into a Steenbeck or Movieola edit machine. Today, many nonlinear editing systems (NLEs) still feature drag-and-drop (D&D) editing to a timeline. Later NLEs, emulating online video editing like the CMX, retained a keyboard-intensive interface. Terms like “D&D” and “keyboard” distinguish the style of NLE editors discussed here—Apple’s Final Cut Pro, Avid’s Media Composer, Sony’s Vegas Pro, Grass Valley’s EDIUS, Harris NewsForce’s Velocity ESX and Interactive Video Systems’ ivsEdits.

What are the criteria by which to compare NLEs? Sadly, the first is brand recognition. Which NLE has the most advertising and buzz? Answer: Final Cut Pro—hands down. And although great buzz won’t guarantee your NLE’s quality, you can be assured that by owning it, you’re one of many. That’s important when responding to ad-buzzed clients.

Chris Blair, Creative Director of Magnetic Image in Evansville, Ind., has professionally used nearly every current NLE. He sees no advantage to brand recognition. “I’ve never understood the industry’s love affair with Final Cut,” says Blair. “Its underlying engine, QuickTime, is the quirkiest, flakiest, most inconsistent format I’ve ever worked with. Trying to create a project in Final Cut and work with other designers, compositors or editors who are working on PCs is an absolute nightmare because of the proprietary, closed codecs that FCP uses.”

So what criteria besides mass-market share might we apply to gain an edge? How about:
• Ease of learning curve. Can you start editing intuitively?
• Speed of editing vs. the ability to make complicated effects. Can you meet the deadlines?
• Compatibility with various cameras/codecs. How easily can you acquire, edit and distribute?
• Tech support, the best being free 24/7/365.
• Cost. Can you afford it and the hardware?
Using these criteria, you’re invited to consider five current challengers to the FCP throne.