Using a computer to create and edit video is not difficult, but setting up a computer system for video editing often is. The information below will give you an idea of what is needed if you want to use your computer to edit video. This is intended purely as an introduction, and advice on the best software and hardware for your computer should be sought from an expert before you start purchasing equipment.

Adding the hardware necessary to capture video and getting it to work properly can be a difficult task. You should not attempt to install the card yourself unless you are familiar and comfortable with the concepts of changing interrupt settings, assigning memory and installing drivers. The cards you add to your system will come with all necessary software and installation instructions, which will vary in quality from misleading to excellent. Ideally, if you do want to install the hardware yourself, find an expert and ask them to assist you in the task. You may find that you are able to have the cards installed at the point of purchase. This is often a good idea, as the technicians installing the cards will be familiar with the problems associated with particular cards and may already have solutions for them.

To make videos you will need a reasonably fast computer, a device for capturing video to your computer's hard drive, and either a video camera or VCR to import your video from. You will also need a good quality video display card. The software needed to create videos is easy to use, and with a bit of effort you can create excellent videos for export to tape, CD or the World Wide Web. The tutorials which come with your editing software will guide you through a step by step process and will often include sample video files to experiment with.

Computer requirements

A faster computer will let you edit and create video faster but it will generally have no effect on the quality of the video produced. A Pentium 133 with 32 MB Ram is adequate, but a faster machine will perform better. AMD K5 or Cyrix chips can often cause problems with desktop video programs, so I suggest a Pentium processor is the best solution. For editing on a PC, I use a PII 400 with 128 MB RAM. I also use a DV edition iMac with 128MB RAM. If you intend to use Final Cut Pro on a Mac you will need a minimum of 256 MB RAM. If I was looking for a professional quality editing computer that was capable of extremely fast rendering of special effects I would use a G4 Macintosh.

Hard Drives

Digitized video takes up a lot of room on a hard drive. A good rule of thumb is to allow 1 MB per second of analogue video. Digital video uses around 12 GB per hour of video. Consider purchasing a fast hard drive to store your video. A 10 GB drive can cost less than $1000 and will give you enough storage to edit a number of small clips. Even with 10 GB you will quickly run out of room! If you have a SCSI card in your computer then certainly buy a SCSI hard drive. It will cost more, but the increase in performance is certainly worth it. Also think about buying an iMac rather than upgrading drives in your PC.

Video Display Cards

Your computer's video display card must support Direct Draw Overlay in order for you to be able to make full use of the editing and playback capabilities of your video editing software. The cards listed below come with DDO drivers. Many others, such as the Matrox Millenium card, may well be capable of using the drivers but are not supplied with them. Check the company website of your video display card for information about.2 whether your card can suport DDO. Without these drivers your computer will not be able to replace information on the screen quickly enough to be able to display full motion video.

  • ATI Expert, Rage
  • Canopus REX fx
  • Diamond Viper 330 or 550
  • Invidia TNT
  • STB Nitro

I have heard, but cannot confirm, that Voodoo and Banshee video cards, designed for games, don't support desktop video editing.

Video Capture Cards

There are a number of cards available, ranging in price from three hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars. The more expensive cards are generally designed for use in the creation of high quality video which will be exported to videotape once the editing is finished. For the sort of video which will be used on the web a cheaper card is probably a better idea, particularly as some of the more expensive cards will only work with extremely powerful systems and will also require very fast hard drives, such as a SCSI II or Ultra SCSI drive.

Cards to consider include the Matrox, Miro/Pinnacle, Canopus and Truevision ranges of cards. Specifically, the Pinnacle DC10+, Matrox Marvel and Iomega Buz are good entry level systems.

Video can be captured either as an analogue or digital signal. The cheaper capture cards use analogue inputs and the more expensive cards often offer a digital input as well. If you are able to use a digital video camera then a digital input will allow you to get the footage into your computer with no degradation of image at all. The finished product can also be exported back to the digital video camera, again with no loss of signal quality. Video imported and exported via an analogue connection will not be as clear as the original footage, but this will really only matter if you are planning on creating broadcast quality videos.

Non Linear Editing software

Most capture cards come with editing software, often a "light" version of the full product. The two most frequently used packages are Adobe Premiere and Ulead Media Studio Pro. Both packages have their advocates but I prefer using Media Studio. Premiere has the advantage of being available for Mac and PC. On iMacs, the iMovie editing software works well for most situations, but for the sort of features found in Premiere or Media Studio Pro you will need to buy Final Cut Pro (around AU$2000). Final ut Pro also allows for variations in colour balance, which is useful if you are editing video for the web or CD-ROM where the intended audience will be using PCs. images made on a Mac tend to be somewhat darker when viewed on a PC and the colours looks slightly different as well, so the ability to change the colour balance and lighten the video is particularly useful.

External storage devices

If you are planning on creating long videos you will not have enough room on your hard drive to store all of your video "assets". You can keep adding hard drives to your system, or you can add an external storage device , such as a Zip or Jazz drive, or a CD writer or rewriter. A Zip drive, which hold up to 95 MB when connected to a PC, might be worth using if you already own one, but even short clips will use more room than this, so a Jazz drive, which can hold up to 2 GB is a better option. A CD writer is a good intermediate step, as it will allow you to create CD-ROMs which hold up to 650 MB. This is large enough to store a number of clips, and at a few dollars per disc it is probably more cost effective than a Jazz cartridge. If you buy a CD rewriter you will be able to create normal, write-once discs, or use rewritable discs and use it like a big floppy drive, overwriting files as needed. Rewritable discs are not able to be used on all CD-ROM drives, but many CD drives made in the last year or two should be able to use these discs, as well as the CD writer, which can also be used a CD-ROM reader.

Video input devices

Any video device which can play to a television should be able to output video to a video capture card as well. Some cards can only capture using composite or S-Video cables, while some of the newer cards will also be able to capture video via a "Firewire" connection. You should be able to capture video from a VCR or video camera and you could also use one of the new desktop cameras used mainly for video conferencing with a computer. If you are using either a desktop camera or a more conventional video camera you will be able to capture live footage to the computer, going directly to digital format rather than saving to tape first. iMacs make use of a Firewire connection to capture in DV format, giving fast access to high quality video.

If you are planning on creating video tutorials about using a computer or a particular piece of software then you should consider using Hyperionic's HyperCam, Microsoft's CamCorder or Lotus' ScreenCam. These products allow users to capture the output of the computer monitor as a video file. This can then be edited and voiceovers added and output to videotape or used as part of another video clip. This technique can be used to create a series of help files on performing a particular task and can be invaluable when training large numbers of users. Hypercam is a shareware program which costs $US30 to register. Incidentally, to capture a still image of the desktop on a PC running Windows 95 or 98, try pushing the Print Screen key. This should make a copy of the current screen which may then be pasted into a new window in a graphics package and cropped or resized as needed.


As most editing packages display the footage as a series of frames, much like a filmstrip, the larger your monitor, the more of the strip you will see. While a 15 inch monitor is adequate, you will find that a 17 inch monitor is much better, and even bigger than that would be an advantage. Another option is to use two monitors, one for viewing the editing screen, and one for the toolbars and other windows. This is easy to do on a Macintosh and if you are using Windows 98 on your computer you will find that your PC can do it also.

Where to obtain advice about the right system for you

Desktop video is not difficult to create or to edit. The main problems are associated with setting up your computer system to operate with the appropriate hardware and software. The video capture cards which are used to import video from your VCR or video camera are notoriously difficult to make work properly. As they often cause conflicts with other peripherals connected to a computer, you should seek the advice of experts before buying a card for your machine.

A number of computer and camera shops now the hardware and software necessary for editing video on computer. They often have staff who are well versed in the intricacies of the packages they are selling, so ask for and listen to their advice. It is advisable to have the specifications of your computer system and the cards inside it with you when you are asking about specific packages, as this makes the advice given to you more accurate and useful.

If you are contemplating adding RAM, a new graphics card, a faster hard drive and so on, you might be better off looking at a completely new system, built to suit your requirements. This often is a better idea as there are fewer problems with conflicting, hardware and may actually be less expensive than upgrading your current computer. Consider a second computer as well. I bought a DV iMac because of the ability to edit Digital Video and export it back to mini DV tape without any loss of quality.

Some of the shops that are carrying desktop video equipment and software include the following:

  • Michaels Camera Video and Digital. Corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets Melbourne. Phone 03 9672 2211
  • Ted's Cameras and Video. Elizabeth Street Melbourne. Phone 03 9602 3677 Genius Camera Video Communications. Corner Elizabeth and LaTrobe Street Melbourne. Phone 03 9326 5711
  • Most Harvey Norman stores carry a range of editing software and capture cards, and I have found that some staff members have displayed excellent product knowledge.
  • Tecs stores also carry capture cards and software and often have excellent prices.
  • Any store that stocks Macintosh computers will be able to assist you in selecting the right Mac for your video editing needs.

You should certainly shop around for the best prices on products as the variation between stores can be significant. Spend some time reading the magazines which are available. They often have tutorial sections as well as reviews of different hardware and software packages. They are also a great place to find retailers and current prices.

Multimedia and Digital Video and Video Camera and Desktop Video are both published by VideoCamera Publications. PO Box 473, Dee Why, NSW 2099. Phone 02 9972 2594 for information about subscription and availability.

Computer Video and Video Camera are both published by WV Publications and Exhibitions. 57-59 Rochester Place, London, NWI 9JU, UK.

Information on capture cards and editing packages


Digital Video Technologies

Pinnacle Systems


Adobe Premiere

Ulead MediaStudio Pro


Screen capture programs

Hyperionics HyperCam

Lotus ScreenCam