A Brief History of Television Post Production

When I started work after leaving Ravensbourne College in 1986 all professional video editing was done on 1 inch video tape. Each recorder cost in excess of £50 000 and for a basic edit suite 3 of these were needed. In addition a video mixer, sound mixer and caption generator would be required. A basic edit suite would have cost at least £250 000.Understandably there were far fewer suites than there are today, and these were mainly in London. Around 1990 Sony launched Betacam SP, although the picture quality was not quite as good as that from 1 inch machines, the fact that it was a cassette based format and much cheaper and more reliable meant that it soon dominated the industry.  Sometime around 1997 Sony further cemented their place in post production history when they introduced Digital Betacam. There had been digital tape formats before, but Sony already had the market and the new machines were backwards compatible. Digi Beta was the last tape format to truly dominate the market. The machines were incredibly reliable and relatively cheap. 

 

Without me really noticing it non linear (or computer based) editing systems started in the early 90s with Lightworks and Avid fighting it out. The picture quality on both was terrible, so initially they were used for “offline” edits only. (a frame accurate but low resolution edit) These offline edits were later “conformed” (remade in broadcast resolution) in an online tape suite. We Online Editors thought that computers would never have the bandwidth to store television pictures at full broadcast quality. We thought that a keyboard and mouse could never replace the tactile feel and precision provided by jog wheels, switchers, audio mixers and DVE's. We thought that you could never judge audio levels accurately without PPMs, or video levels without expensive waveform monitors. On every count we were completely wrong, computer based systems gave greater control and improved visual feedback, than the old tape based systems. 

In 2005 I started work at Chiswick Park, in Discovery Channels new “tapeless” facility. The truth was that initially, nothing worked. The tapeless transmission system crashed constantly and the edit suites were isolated from the media library. Discovery had installed Avid Media Composer edit suites. Media Composer was, and still is the most expensive and most trusted editing system around. It is still used for 99% of all feature film editing and most high end drama work in both the UK and the US. It is known for being esoteric and difficult to use. Luckily for me, Discovery sent me on numerous courses on its use, and to me its other edit software that seems idiosyncratic and difficult to use. However, I have to admit that it took around 10 years to fully understand this vast piece of software. In addition to the basic training Discovery sent me on certified courses on Avid Effects, Colour Grading and Adobe After Effects. Towards the end of my time at Discovery I was mainly involved in grading promos. The colour correction built into Avid had not been updated for years and was nowhere near as good as the best available. The best being Baselight and DaVinci Resolve. Discovery opted for Baselight as it was available as a plug-in for Avid Media Composer. It was brilliant for the work we were using it for, intuitive and very fast.  

 

In a repeat of my ignoring the development of computer based editing at the start of my career, Black Magic seemed to develop Resolve without my noticing it toward the end of my career. Black Magic brought DaVinci Resolve grading software in 2009 adding Maya Fusion compositing software in 2014 and Fairlight audio post post production 2016. In 2018 they integrated these components into Blackmagic Resolve 17. The integration is total, all sharing one timeline with no need to “round trip'', as is the case with Adobe Premiere and Avid Media Composer. Unbelievably they then offered the complete package with very few limitations as a free download. 

As a one man company Resolve is obviously very attractive to me not only because it is free. Even if I had to pay for it, I would probably still use it, as it takes the basics of Avid Media Composer and improves upon them. The Colour Grading software is probably the most widely used in the industry, Fusion is immensely powerful and capable of very sophisticated effects. Fairlight provides more options for audio mixing than any Video Editor is ever likely to need. The integration of these packages into one piece of software results in a very creative platform, allowing an Editor to swap between compositing, editing, audio mixing and grading without any time consuming delays. It seems incredible to me that with my relatively cheap PC, I have an edit suite at home which is far more powerful than ANY edit suite from the 1980s and the software was downloaded free.

A typical late 1980s edit suite