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Non-linear editing is a type of new high-tech edit process where editors can access any frame in a digital video clip in order to add, alter or remove segments without starting from the beginning.
It's been characterized as a ‘cut and paste’ technique that can really innovate how video makers approach videography.
In detailing how non-linear editing works, it's important to contrast this with similar but different technologies often called “non-linear editing systems” where edits may be “specified and modified by software.” Some of these systems include features like a pointer-based playlist or other similar methodology.
However, the term non-linear editing more commonly refers to the simple idea of being able to parse and clip bits of video, regardless of where they are in the linear piece of footage in question.
Essentially, non-linear editing is a consequence of taking what used to be an analog process with a single tape or reel, and making it digital, where you can really manipulate film and video differently.