Digital Micro-editing: For Fitting Content To Time

By Jay Coley

Originally, Editware designed Fastrack as a front-end controller and editor for the GVG Profile series of Video Servers. As time progressed, Editware was asked by its users to have Fastrack control just about every type and variety of audio and video source, server and effects device. Fortunately, Fastrack was adaptable. Since it began shipping over three years ago, the number of Fastrack controllable devices has grown substantially. Through Editware’s commitment to meet industry needs, Fastrack has evolved from a simple GVG Profile controller to a hybrid linear/nonlinear editor, controlling seven different servers and hundreds of other devices.

The first step in Fastrack’s development was to incorporate a full graphic user interface. This was accomplished through a partnership with Lift GmbH of Germany. The GUI modernized Fastrack beyond the use of timecode numbers, making editing a more intuitive process. Due to the GUI, Fastrack provided device control and linear/nonlinear editing from a single channel of video to as many as 80 channels from multiple servers, VTRs and other peripheral devices.

The next development step was to become format friendly, allowing for editing with uncompressed or compressed media, including JPEG, I-Frame and long-GOP MPEG, DV25, DV50 and all tape formats, while supporting NTSC, PAL, 1080i, 24p and other HD standards. As Editware strived to meet the industry’s various format needs, they continually added protocol partnerships for switchers, mixers, servers and CGs.

Finally, Fastrack needed to maintain synchronous relationships among 80 media tracks, each with multiple clips or scenes, and up to eight individually controlled audio tracks. Media had to be played out in realtime with frame accurate effects from external switchers, mixers, graphics and effects devices.

By far the toughest challenge came this past year from Prime Image of San Jose, CA, with their mission to meet an industry need to control time.

Prime Image first introduced the analog version of their Time Machine in late 1990. Time Machine was quickly installed by many broadcasters for use in an on-air environment to occasionally fit in an extra 30 second spot or two into an otherwise-full schedule. Eventually, some broadcasters received negative attention from networks, content creators, advertisers and the public for what was considered improper usage of the technology, which led most users to curtail use of the earlier Time Machines.

Today, the latest version of Prime Image’s Time Machine, the fully digital Time Tailor, is purchased for a desirable and acceptable use of this technology. The Time Tailor provides a powerful alternative to the standard procedures used to fit feature films and television programming into broadcast timeslots.

Often the timeslots available for a show in syndication are slightly shorter than those for the original, first-run broadcast. Typically, the content owner will use a combination of methods to fit programming into available slots, including shortening or editing out entire scenes.

Also commonly used is the “varispeed” method, where a source machine is played at, say, 103% of play speed in order to shorten the final show. This yields the extra time for a commercial or promo, but results in decreased quality of the broadcast image and sound. Pitch correction built into the playback machine helps with audio, but missing frames of video cause jumps in motion that are often apparent to the viewer. Also, if the original material includes closed caption data, it must be recreated as a separate step after the recording is completed.

Prime Image’s Time Tailor system makes use of its patented “micro-editing” technology to remove frames from the material. Time reduction from 3-5% or more is achieved in a way that is virtually undetectable to the viewer/listener. Up to eight channels of audio are processed along with video, without pitch correction requirements, and always maintaining synchronization of audio and video along with other vertical interval data such as closed captioning.

Time Tailor checks a sequence of frames to find those which essentially duplicate the information of adjacent frames. These frames are then edited out. Of course, it is not always possible to find duplicate frames, so Time Tailor “blends” the images in frames adjacent to the removed frame to make the change virtually undetectable to the viewer.

A typical theatrical release movie may run 100 minutes; a two-hour (120 minute) television timeslot typically breaks for commercials every 10 minutes (totaling 12 for the two hour slot) with each break consisting of two minutes (4x :30) for a total of 24 minutes. Subtracting these 24 minutes from the 120-minute timeslot leaves 96 minutes for a 100-minute movie. What happens to those four minutes?

Some facilities run the movie at a variable play speed nearing 105%, which yields a vertical wobble in any text on the screen along with a significant pitch change in the audio, which may or may not be fixed with a pitch correction device. Advanced facilities spend valuable time and resources editing out portions, sometimes affecting plot or content, in order to make the program fit the timeslot.

Time Tailor offered a better way to remove those few minutes without affecting content, without the varispeed artifacts and without the need to recreate the closed caption data. However, the Time Tailor’s user interface required realtime manual control, and offered no way to synchronize with the source and record VTRs or to automate the process.

Prime Image contacted Editware to discuss interfacing Fastrack and Time Tailor to meet their need for an easy to use GUI interface and to fully automate and synchronize Time Tailor’s time reduction process.

Editware returned to the lab to create a special user interface now known as Fastrack TT. Through this interface, the operator provides all parameters necessary to perform a complex Time Tailor process in one pass of the source tape. The control process allows specification of every element of the process before it begins, including source timecode, record timecode inserts of black, removal of material, insertion of slate, bars/tone, and the amount of time to be removed from the original show.

The job can be broken into as many as 30 segments, each with an independently specified number of frames to be removed. It can also be programmed for an overall reduction for the entire show, which is applied to all segments proportionately to the size of the segment. In addition, the operator can add up to 30 insert edits (normally to insert black) along with slate and bars/tone, up to 30 delete edits, and start and end of up to 30 “holds,” which are sections of source material where no reduction is to occur. The operator then presses the “Start” button, and the fully automated time reduction process proceeds to completion.

As the application of Prime Image’s Time Tailor system continued to evolve, more complex requirements arose, such as source material with Dolby E audio. Even though the audio decode and encode process requires a digital delay to keep the A/V in sync, the Time Tailor system processes it in a single pass and keeps all steps frame accurate.

Often in the Time Tailor process, there is a need for additional editing capability. Sometimes shows are edited for content or to meet the ratings requirements for certain broadcast timeslots. With its full editing capabilities, Fastrack can seamlessly change between its Time Tailor mode and full editing control.

Jay Coley is co-founder and president of Editware and can be reached at

©2005 CMP Information Inc. All rights reserved.