The year was 1994 when Fast Multimedia AG (Munich Germany) announced the Fast Video Machine. The Fast Video Machine was a hybrid editor, which is a product category that’s now all but disappeared to the filmmaking world.
Linear Editing was the standard, two or more video tape recorders (VTR’s) connected to a device that allowed you to record video linearly in real time from deck to deck. The new wave, of course, was Non-Linear Editing, which was the full digitization of your video assets which allowed you to cut entirely within the computer. For 1994 though, Non-Linear Editing was impossibly out of reach for most editors, besides the quality of the digitized video was not all that great, and you needed to go back to tape for the online edit. Hybrid-Editing was a crazy marriage of linear deck control, and the select digitization of certain parts of video (such as transitions), which allowed you to use the actual video tape signal for high quality, and married it with the digital transitions for flexibility. It actually worked remarkably well.
Here’s some words of advice at the time from Bob Noyle in Videomaker Magazine in 1994:
“Digital nonlinear enthusiasts will tell you, “Tape is dead!” Don’t believe them. Videotape is cheaper; 10 cents a minute compared to $100 for disk storage of one minute of high-quality digital video. Videotape is higher quality; going straight from tape to tape keeps you free of artifacts from digital video compression. And camcorder videotape itself may soon become digital, with the new DVC (digital video cassette) coming next year. So there will probably be a videotape edit controller in your future.”
I started editing with the Fast Video Machine when I was cutting the Videomaker TV show, and our production was shot on Hi8 tape, and then “mastered” to S-VHS for distribution to our broadcaster (the USA network at the time). Of course now I cringe to think of the quality of second-generation S-Video going out, but hey those were the days… Still let’s break down the Fast Video Editing workflow and see where Hybrid-Editing came into its own.
Editing with Fast was, well fast. What’s amazing to me is that all the way back in 1994 we had actual real time computer based editing. The key was, that your master tape in your edit deck was essentially “online” the entire time you were cutting. The timeline consisted of clips that, instead of referencing digitized media, simply referenced timecode ranges on the tape. If you changed tapes, the Fast Video Machine would remember that too. The really cool part was that if you were doing a transition, like a dissolve, then the editor would actually just digitize the clips involved in the transition, and play only that back from the hard disk. You could also add titles and graphics to the timeline as well.
What would happen at the end was a true assembly. The Fast Video Machine would collect all the data on clips, transitions, and graphics and then assemble them from beginning to end on your record deck. If it was a straight cut, it was a simple tape to tape transfer. If there was a transition it would play back from the hard disk. If there was a graphic involved, the video signal would go through the computer and have it overlaid in real time. The record deck would start and stop several times. Scene by scene your program would be added to the record tape. There would be prompts to switch source tapes, and pre-rolls and post rolls would occur, but at the end you would have a completely finished master. The Fast Video Machine took the actual editing process and made it non-destructive inside the computer, but kept the speed and quality of an online linear edit for output.
The glue that held all this together was frame accurate deck control. Which always turned out to be the major issue we had with the system. It was not uncommon back in the day to have +/- 1 or 2 frames of accuracy in the prosumer VTR’s which lent itself to the occasional flash frames. To really use the system you needed professional quality decks.
The interface is pretty self evident, you had two (TWO!) video tracks and an FX track to work with, as well as audio that made up a timeline, and several selections of transitions. I remember back in the day one of the major selling points of any editor was how many transitions it could do, Fast Video Machine had over 300 transitons and you could roll your own as well.
From the hardware side it was a pretty impressive piece of technology, even for today’s standards. It came on one card and a breakout box. You had six inputs, on a two bus switcher. It had two time base correctors (TBC’s) so you could lock a max of three video signals together, with two separate frame buffers for titles and graphics. At full tilt, this baby could mix three video sources and two separate graphics channels together at the same time.
Because deck control was such a crucial part of the hybrid editing puzzle, the Fast Video Machine supported: Rs-422, LANC (control-L), Panasonic 5-Pin (control-M), Sony ViSCA, and RS232. It had presets for over 250 different decks and camcorders. In addition it was both PAL and NTSC capable and could even do standards conversion!
The Fast Video Machine itself would set you back about $4,000. But you’d need a pretty powerful computer to run it. Our system was pretty top of the line and consisted of:
- Pentium 133MHz with 32 MB RAM
- Windows 95
- Matrox Mystique graphics accelerator with 4MB SGRAM
- NEC Multisync XP21 Monitor
- 4GB Seagate Cheetah Wide SCSI-2 hard drive
You also needed decks of course, and all in, an S-VHS based system would have been around $15,000-$20,000.
The Fast Video Machine died pretty quickly as the forces of computer technology conspired to make complete Non-Linear Editing possible at affordable prices. Interestingly, the editing software itself had an unusually long life and finally passed away completely only in 2010. Here’s the genealogy:
The Fast Video Machine editing software was the basis for Fast’s 1997 high-end NLE called Blue. In 2001 Fast was bought by Pinnacle Systems, who took the software and renamed it Liquid Blue. In 2003 Pinnacle reworked the program significantly and named it Liquid Edition. In 2005 Avid bought Pinnacle systems and renamed the NLE Avid Liquid, where it finally withered on the vine and was end-of-life’d on March 3, 2010.
All in all not a bad run of sixteen years for this branch of the editing family tree.
So raise a glass and toast the Fast Video Machine, and maybe the whole concept of Hybrid Editing as well. We hardy knew ye.
If you have any fond memories or horror stories about the Fast Video Machine, please leave them in the comments below.
Fast Multimeda AG is long gone, but at the time you could contact them via CompuServe, and this new fangled thing called the World Wide Web:
FAST can be reached around the clock at:
CompuServe: GO FAST
The FAST Compuserve forum contains free software updates and TechNotes about
our products. It also includes a forum for directing questions to our technical support
department and for exchanging ideas and information with other FAST customers. The
WWW site only offers software updates and product information.
Some old manuals are still available here: Manuals: http://www.specialeffekter.se/equipment/vmstudio.htm
And I’ll attach the Fast Video Machine tutorial manual as a PDF to this post, if you want to wander down memory lane.