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A Reflection

By Bob Turner

CMX calls it quits (News Release).

I heard rumors on the Internet. I called Robin Hoffman at their PR firm. It was not as though I hadn't been expecting it for a long time, but it saddened me to hear it just the same. Chyron's President, Edward Greybow confirmed that its subsidiary, CMX will no longer be selling editing systems and while they plan to continue to support those already in the field with parts and any remaining bug-fixes, they will not continue to develop the software.

This news really hit me. While I have not touched a CMX keyboard in years, my resume still states: CMX editor, and boasts of my proud involvement with the former CMX Advisory Panel. To me, CMX was not just a tool. Being a CMX Editor meant you had attained a high level of accomplishment in the profession of video editing. To me, it implied clean EDLs, high numbers of edits per hour, and mastery of an online editing suite with some of the most powerful tools available.

Many believe CMX offered the first edit system. Actually it was 8 years after the 1962 Ampex introduction of Editec that CBS and Memorex formed a group to create an eXperimental editing system: CMX. The first product announced in 1971, listing Adrian Ettlinger as the inventor, was in two parts: the CMX 600 nonlinear offline editing system and the CMX 200 online editing system. Together, the price was $500,000.00! The first commercial application was a made-for-TV movie, Sand Castles for CBS.

Did you know that this CMX 600 was the first digital video nonlinear offline editing system? That system had a removable stack of eleven digital storage platters. Each 29 MB platter held each 5 minutes of half resolution black & white moving images, audio and what would later become SMPTE timecode. Together the 6 drive system cost $30,000.00 and held 30 minutes of "dailies" at a mediocre image quality.

The CMX 600 output a paper tape (folded long strips - sometimes 30' or more long - of paper tape 1" wide with holes similar to old computer punch cards) which was fed into the CMX 200 linear online assembly system. The CMX 200 controlled source and record Quad VTRs and built the program. Besides the paper tape reader, the only other interface was a keyboard on the ASR-33 teletype, which, I am told was "a pain in the *** to use!)

In 1972 with 5 units sold (3 to CBS, one to Teletronics in NYC and one to CFI in Los Angeles), users begged for a direct human interface controller to the online assembly editor and a direct computer keyboard terminal was added. That became the CMX 300, introduced at NAB '72. The high-cost, poor image quality, high maintenance CMX600 nonlinear editing system was discontinued. It was either too radical for its time or just too far ahead of technology. It did not fit in with union rules or job descriptions.

In 1973, with Sony's introduction of the Umatic tape format, CMX introduced the CMX 50 edit controller, then considered the first viable 3/4"VCR offline editing system. In 1974 the decision was made to sell CMX to Orrox, and CMX's Manager of Product Development, Dave Bargen left the company to start writing his own software programs (409 Clean, Trace, and Wizard which went on to become the SuperEdit program). In 1978 the CMX 300 evolved to the CMX 340. Within the next 18 months over 90% of all videotape editing for broadcast was done on a CMX system.

In 1979 CMX was developing a CMX3400 and a radically new CMX 3400 Plus. That latter product was to have voice activation control, a radical new mappable keyboad with LEDs on each key to describe the available functions, a windowed GUI, advanced database management features, and other "space age" technology.

Unfortunately other decisions and directions were also being made within and outside the company. CMX/Orrox saw DBS as the next boom industry and invested heavily (almost 20 years too soon.) In addition, the dream of an electronic nonlinear editing system did not die with the CMX 600 and others picked up the torch and started developing systems. And alternative linear technologies would soon begin development including Adrian Ettlinerger's work on an ED-80 editing system later to become Ediflex, and Dave Bargan's development of ISC SuperEdit which would soon become a GVG product. CMX would soon come out with a laptop controller (in as much as it was promoted to sit in your lap), the CMX Edge. The CMX Edge excited editors but failed for lack of power, expense and because the small built-in CRT kept skewing so that the buttons along the sides of the CRT did not line up with the CRT choices.

In 1984 Montage was announced, followed by Ediflex, TouchVision (later D/Vision) and others. CMX, who closed down its expensive DBS operations, and started laying off employees (including 3400Plus designer Rob Lay who went to work for Lucusfilms to work on EditDROID). They started losing market share to ISC SuperEdit on the high end and many companies at the low end. Convergence, Sony and Paltex edit systems captured market share. The planned 3400 Plus never made it past prototype. A 3400 Plus did come out later on, but is was just a new version of the 3400.

It was during two CMX Editor's Advisory Panel meetings that I saw how much trouble CMX was in. In a 1986 meeting during SMPTE, CMX introduced their nonlinear editing system, the videodisc-based CMX 6000 (later evolving to a digital video CMX Cinema) and it surprised and angered most of the advisory panelists that no input was requested in the design of this product from this loyal group of the most experienced professional editors. Not only was it a slap in the face to this gathering, making them feel superfluous, but it demonstrated a direction CMX was going that the group felt was not the correct course: film editing over video editing for nonlinear technology.

I believe it was the next NY CMXEAP meeting that "the revolt" took place. Instead of a working meeting on how to improve the CMX line, a battle between those who purchased a 3400 Plus on the promise of certain features being included, and CMX who decided that those features would be found on the next model where an extra purchase had to be made. "Sleaze meets Anger" is what I remember from that meeting. I would attend several more EAP meetings after that, but the group was no longer useful and most members just stopped attending.

As the 3500 and 3600 were introduced, I had already edited on GVG SuperEdit systems and appreciated that system’s advanced features. Soon afterwards I discovered nonlinear editing systems and was won over by them. I was excited when the Omni came out, but frustrated by its "buggyness", its keyboard for the right-handed, and its linear direction in a world that was growing more nonlinear each trade show. At the Chyron press conference two years ago, the press snickered at CMX’s proclamation that CMX Omni editing was alive and well. We could see that it was now only a matter of time.

What is really ironic is that the CMX EDL is the communication language that most of today's nonlinear offline editing systems communicate to their online counterparts.

Still, memories flash by. The incredible number of keystrokes it took to preview and then perform a single GPI event on the original 340! My first CMX job where I was told "real editors do not need a GISMO!" System crashes and paper tape reboots. One of the best editors I have ever known, Greg Featherman patiently teaching me what it means to be a true CMX editor. My favorite CMX offline suite at Media 1 with a large window overlooking the Beacon Hill townhouses and the Charles River beyond. There were the CMX people. The enthusiastic Gary Hinterlander and his CMX bulletin board system, the first computer bulletin board I ever accessed. The energetic Denise Gallant with her focus on effects compositing and the wonderful CMX newsletter she produced. She replaced Christin Hardman, one of the most competent and knowledgeable product managers I have ever known. Hardware guru Gene Simon (one of Jack Calaway's Heros). The true Gary Antenasio, an excellent sales rep., and the evangelistic John Shikes - faithful to the end.

It is sad. I will always think of myself as a CMX editor.

Reprinted from 'Videography' magazine with permission

Posted: January 1998
Bob Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor