Electra

The history of editing is well documented elsewhere in this website. From very basic cut editing on 2 inch tape to uncompressed non-linear on server based computers.
There was however a “halfway house” between tape and non linear editing, and this is an account of how this came about.
In the early 90’s, Avid had developed a system of editing, not in a linear way as on video-tape, but of working on whatever section of a programme was convenient. Although an offline low resolution only version, this seemed to be the “writing on the wall” for tape editing, just a matter of time until hard disc capacity was capable of dealing with full bandwidth video. As non-linear developed and did indeed move into the online world, there was one area however it could not deal with in those early days. That was the fast turnaround highlights programme, of which there were a lot on BBC television. Often the highlights were on the air before the event had finished. This was accomplished using multiple recordings so that a tape was always ready to go to the edit suite to carry on editing. Another edit suite was standing by to pick up the edit when the first part had to go on the air. This involved many recording channels and many tapes. The edits were transmitted usually via a studio to join them together although it was also possible to switch between edits using a matrix in VT. This system had been operated for many years, right back to the 2 inch days and certain editors were very skilled in coping with the pressures these highlight shows presented, and errors were few and far between.
A chance encounter in 1997 however was to change all this.
In November of that year, a representative of the American firm Tektronix, brought to Television Centre their new device called a Profile. This was basically a video recorder based around hard drives. Now video servers had been around for sometime and had revolutionised the sports “instant replay”. Stop a tape machine and the possibility of “falling off the end” of your recording was a distinct possibility. The new device was called an LSM (Live Slo Mo), and was developed by a small Belgian company EVS. The device was always recording, i.e. writing and reading at the same time, so no falling off the end. Could this device find a home in Post  Production? Well no, not at the time, as early versions could not hold sound sync for any more that around 30 seconds. There was no way this could help out with highlight programmes.


Profile

Back to November ’97 and the Profile. The demonstrator showed us the machine had basic software displayed on a GUI. It showed 4 separate recorders (see diag) with the ability to start and stop recording on any of the 4 and adjust resolution to suit the end needs. Along with the Profile came a hardware controller, which ran with something called Elephant software. This was an attempt to mimic the LSM. Although there was some resemblance, the end result was nowhere near as fast as the LSM, much more software development would be needed.
A company called Sonytec (no link with Sony) wrote the software in Japan, and despite a meeting pointing out the issues, no further versions were forthcoming.
The big advantage the Profile had over the LSM was it was rock solid sound sync, in fact just like a Digi Beta but with no tape. It seemed a “nice toy” but was very expensive.
Then came the throwaway line!

 “Oh by the way you can control it from an edit controller and use it into a tape edit”.

Just think of that in 1997, no tape changing, no spooling time, the entire recording available with instant “goto” on the controller.
This could revolutionise fast turn round programmes (I thought) but would it really work? So in January 1998 a Profile was delivered to TC for a trial. At the time the Australian open tennis was taking place and highlights programmes were going out every day taken from a “feed” from Melbourne early in the morning. The show had a lunchtime transmission so normally 2 or 3 edit suites made bits of the show, which were “duplexed” on air. Just to prove a point, one day I took the “bull by the horns” and did the whole show using the Profile as a source, and finished the edit with plenty of time to spare. It worked!!
1998 was World Cup year and the BBC’s operation was based around a studio in Paris. Some matches would be live via the studio and some live from a BBC OB. Other games were rounded up in a late night highlights show. The OB obviously had LSMs for the analysis, the question was Profile or LSM in the studio. Although the live element of the Profile was still no match for the LSM, I went with a Profile for it’s other strong point, highlights. After many dummy runs the Elephant Software was persuaded to “play ball” and at the end of the tournament all requested items had gone to air safely.
The big bonus was the server side of the Profile. Editors who had not encountered editing from a server were soon singing its praises, as producing edits became so much quicker, and also resulted in less use of tape stock. There was a hybrid mode where one channel recorded, two were used to mix analysis together and the fourth could be used as a server channel to an edit controller and an edit VTR. As we became more familiar with the device, more options became apparent. You could chop off the front of a recording after that section had been edited (the discs did have a finite capacity) so in effect you could record for as long as you liked. Clips of video could be loaded, selected in a player panel and used in an edit just like tapes. Big difference, tape change = mouse click and 50 mins away in time code = instant goto. This is what I term the “half way house” in editing, random fast access to material and given time the final tape edit could be polished if problems were encountered because you did not need a tape back to do it.
The machine had proved its worth and to me something Post Production should have. So one was purchased and immediately flown to Malaysia for the Commonwealth Games in the autumn of 1998. There more was learnt and the machine was used for a number of previously impossible tasks within post production. Delaying transmissions by anything from seconds to hours, sorting out sync problems from remote commentary positions and much more.
On returning to TC the Profile was installed and this was soon followed by another. They were used for Match of the Day, with editors cueing up “pun intended” to use the Profile as a source rather than tapes. Things moved on and Quantel servers arrived as did online Avid, but editing from server to tape remained for some years, the preferred and most reliable method of getting the “show on the air”.
All this after that throwaway line back in 1997.

Ross Archer
Feb 2018