March 7

Video Editing: Historical Perspective on Linear and Nonlinear Video Editing

girl uses computer

Computers completely revolutionized video editing. Before computers, video editing was more expensive and much slower.  It took a whole roomful of high-dollar machines if you got into big-budget production.  Simple productions like news used less expensive edit systems that could only do cuts, so lower-budget productions had to do without any special effects.

The skills and techniques used were completely different from modern computer editing.  For the most part, video editing on these old systems was only done by professionals.  The home video market did not include editing.  Today, computers have brought video editing to the masses, making it much easier and more accessible.  The home video market has exploded and now, all kinds of people use home video production as a hobby.

Editing video on a computer is called digital video editing.  The old-fashioned video editing systems used analogue technology.  Before video was common, film editing used something akin to razor blades and Scotch tape.

To help you realize how much video editing was changed by computers, here are two pictures of old analogue editing systems. The first is a low-budget system and the second is a high-budget system.

Analogue video editing is also known as Linear Editing.  Computer editing then became known as non-linear editing.  That phrase is not too common anymore since analogue editing is now considered ancient.

The first picture is a low-end suite I used for a small freelance business back in 1987.  The total cost of all these components was about 10-12 thousand dollars. The system included:

    • Two VCRs
    • Edit Controller between the VCRs
    • Two Monitors
    • Audio mixer
    • Camera and mixer for graphics recording
    • Multiple video cassette tapes

linear edit system 1990

linear analogue video editing high dollar

This second picture is a high-end editing suite that cost as much as $500 per hour to rent and a minimum of half a million dollars to set up. Obviously, no one did that on a whim. Only serious professionals used these expensive analogue video editing systems

Computers made video editing much cheaper and more commonly available.  Computers totally revolutionized the video editing business.  Each component shown in the pictures performed a different function. Most components only handled one function, so you needed at least a dozen different components for professional-quality.

Each machine needed its own separate monitor, so that is why you see so many monitors.

This high budget system included:

  • A video switcher, which was much more powerful than just an edit controller as seen in the first picture.
  • A graphics generator
  • An effects generator
  • An audio switcher and multiple speakers
  • About fifteen monitors

A video editor today working on a computer still needs the functionality of all those components and monitors. Today however, they are all squished together into one computer program.

Each window in your digital video editing system, all the areas seen on your program interface, roughly translate into the many different components used a long time ago.

Digital video editing has allowed anybody with a computer to edit video. Even free programs can do more than some of the million-dollar systems of yesteryear.  And that my friends, blows my mind!


  • What effect did computers have on video editing?
  • How was video edited before computers?
  • Do computers make video editing easier or more difficult?  How?


Here are some links to other VPT posts on video editing.



analogue video editing systems, computer video editing, history of video editing, linear video editing, nonlinear video editing, video editing systems

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