The EMC2 non-linear editor

2009 is the 20th anniversary of PC based non-linear video editing. In the summer of 1990 I launched Holland’s first postproduction company specialized in NLE. Non linear basically means you can add footage in the middle of a show, or take it out. For film that was routine. When editing video however, your had to copy your shots from one video tape to another using a frame accurate controller. And then, if you wanted to change something in the middle, you either had to re-edit from that point on or loose a generation by copying your edited show to a new tape. The EMC2 was the world’s first non-linear editor, running on a 286 processor and introduced at the SMPTE exhibition in 1987. Together with my partner Joke Treffers I entered the adventure of revolutionizing video editing in The Netherlands. Quite many thought we were idiots, viewing video in big jubilee post stamp size window. With a $125.000 investment, the first years were hard as we attracted a few customers that went bankrupt before they paid…

Back then, the output of non-linear machines was not used as a final result. In stead they generated an Edit Decisions List (EDL) on a floppy disk. That was used to do an auto-assembly with your original tapes. Today I found the original EMC movie on YouTube, which we dubbed in Dutch at the time and went out with to do our publicity:

I was EMC editor until 1997. About one year earlier, I got the opportunity to take over the EMC source code. With my company Broadware, we have been serving the EMC community for about 3 to 4 years with many innovating features.

In 1990, non-linear video editing was not entirely new though, only PC based was. In 1971, the company CMX introduced the very first NLE, the CMX-600. Now that was something, with dishwasher size hard disks and not to forget Ampex or RCA 2″ video tape recorders for the initial recording. These were like helicopters: all moving parts wanted to destroy each other.  Therefore they required helicopter style maintenance. If you still have one, I’ve got a friend who can repair them. CMX referred to their system as “RAVE”: Random Access Video Editor. Here’s the NAB demo movie:

Now think of that doing your next i-Movie project. Actually, non-linear editing of video tape was sort of possible in the beginning. On these 2″ Ampex tapes, magnetic video tracks could be visualized with iron powder, allowing to cut the tape precisely. See the video below. With the later formats such as 1″ C-format, Betacam, DigiBeta, VHS or similar, this was impossible. As slicing videotape was tedious, copying segments from one machine to another was introduced pretty soon, as this video shows as well:

The last EMC update was in 1999. My friend and former EMC evangelist Alan Ravick in Los Angeles still rents them out today. Last year I visited him after NAB 2008. At our first diner in Malibu, Alan told me about this feature we implemented: the ability to sync the EMC playback to external timecode, intended for audio postproduction.  As we also gave the EMC timecode out, Alan was able to sync a series of EMCs to manage a different versions of shows that needed to run simultaneously. With that feature he was able to acquire a huge project that allowed him to pay for his mother’s treatment in an elderly home just until she died, which else would not have happened. And then he said “Thank you”. Not being prepared for emotions I quickly moved on: “Oh well, it was not that difficult to do… we wrote that code in an afternoon…” But I can tell you, if there was anything making me feel good about my entire EMC venture: this was it.


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2 Responses to “The EMC2 non-linear editor”

  1. Frank Alsema Says:

    Yes, those were the days! I was one of the first directors working with great editor and inventor Martinus on my projects. Half of the broadcast professionals from Hilversum came to look, and said we were crazy. But I loved it, as a former film student used to non linear film editing, happy to do the same in video at last. And yes, it would only take a few years to broadcast from a computer.
    Now the next step ?

  2. Jay Coley Says:

    Great Stories.
    I enjoyed meeting you with Alan in 2008.

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