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Editing Video ... is your computer fast enough?
Last updated 5-13-03

You no longer have to have a powerful computer to edit video. Most current desktops (and even laptops) have more than enough power to edit home videos. In fact, I do much of my own editing on my 600mhz laptop. That’s not to say that fast systems aren’t useful … it’s much faster to generate previews and output videos on my 3ghz desktop.

Hurdle One: Is your hard drive fast enough?
When first attempting to edit video on your home computer, the biggest technical hurdle you have to overcome is actually importing DV video from your camcorder and saving it onto your hard-drive. You see, digital video is very large -- about 200 megs per minute. When you connect your firewire cable and start transferring digital video, your computer needs to be capable of writing data at 200 megs a minute to keep up. If your hard drive can’t handle the load, it will bring your system to its knees.

Now, most systems hard drives can easily handle 200 megs/minute … in fact, your hard drive may average write-speeds of more than 1000 megs/minute. However, that’s only an “average” of the write speed, and your hard drive may periodically slow down “spike down” for a split second … causing you to lose some of your video. You’ll get “drop frames” in your video file, and all the video after the dropped frames will mess up (the audio won’t sync up). This is a real pain, and often occurs near the end of a long capture, forcing you to recapture the clip multiple times until you get one without any dropped frames … if you can!

How can you speed up your hard drive so this won’t happen? Well, the first thing you can do is defragment your hard drive. This will give the hard drive a blank slate on which to write your video. Another thing you can do is to install a new drive specifically for video, or create a partition on your current drive specifically for video. If you have a really old computer, you made need to upgrade to a fast ATA100+ adapter (this adapter connects your hard drive directly to your computer’s motherboard via a fast ATA connection).

Hurdle Two: File size limitations
The next bottleneck you may come across is file size. Digital video is saved as a type of “.avi” video file. When the .avi file format was first created, computers were much smaller, and the creators didn’t envision people creating DV-AVI files that were several gigabytes in size. An hour of DV-AVI is 13 gigs large! So, there is a limit to how big an .avi file can be with older hard-drives … generally 2-4 gigs. This means you can’t capture, or produce, DV-AVI video clips that run over 9 minutes.

Microsoft fixed this problem with later versions of Windows, and hard drives in Windows XP (and possibly other versions after 98) are formatted with the NTFS partition structure. Unlike the older FAT-32 format, NTFS allows you to save huge DV-AVI files on your drive without any problems.

How do you get around these file-size limitations? You can try installing a new hard drive and formatting it into NTFS (I’m not sure if Windows 98 will let you do this). Firewire card manufacturers have created some workarounds, and some cards will split your captured-files into 2gig chunks as you capture. Upgrading to Windows XP can be a pain, but one thing this new operating system does well, is digital video.

Other System Tweaks
There are a few other system tweaks you can try, including:
1. Capturing video onto a different hard drive partition than your program is running on.
2. Decrease your display card’s workload. Decrease your screen resolution to a manageable 1024 x 768 and drop your color depth to 16-bit “high color”

Once you get your video onto your hard drive, you are home free. It’s easy to edit the video at this point! There are a number of great video editing programs, ranging from free to expensive professional packages, that will run on your computer (though some work better on fast systems). We’ll talk about these in future articles.

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