Pinnacle Studio 14 Ultimate ($99.99, direct) is the latest in the Avid-owned company’s long line of content creation software for PC-based audio and video enthusiasts. Pinnacle is firmly committed to the entry-level consumer and doesn’t include the sophisticated automatic editing features of Premiere Elements 8, or the high-end targeted hardware optimizations that characterize CyberLink PowerDirector 8. It concentrates instead on a clean, sensible interface.
Installation and User Interface
There are three versions of Pinnacle Studio 14. I tested the $99.99 (direct) Pinnacle Studio 14 Ultimate, which sits in the middle of the line. The $49.99 Studio HD drops the Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding, Blu-ray authoring, and some effects. The top-of-the-line, $129.99 Studio Ultimate Collection adds a green screen backdrop and four extra Red Giant Software effects plug-ins.
I tested Pinnacle Studio 14 on a Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q850 laptop, which includes an 18.4-inch screen, an Intel Core i7-820QM processor, 6GB of RAM, 800GB of total disk space, and an Nvida GeForce GTS 250M video card running the 64-bit version of Windows 7. Pinnacle says that any Windows XP (SP3), Vista (SP2), or Windows 7 machine with a single-core 1.8-GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and a DirectX 9—compatible graphics card will run the app, though the company recommends 2GB of RAM and a dual-core 2.4-GHz processor for AVCHD.
Clearly, my Core i7 processor with 6GB of RAM should have been plenty powerful, and, in fact, I got good results—for the most part. I made a series of short movies using a variety of transitions. I had no problems exporting a finished product each time. In general, the program felt fairly snappy and responsive—faster than Adobe Premiere Elements 8, but not as speedy as CyberLink PowerDirector 8. There were numerous stability issues, though. Once, the program crashed when I exited the app in Windows 7 and tried to save my work; unfortunately, it lost everything I did. It also crashed in the middle of creating a disc menu, though that time it offered to restore the project when I restarted the app.
The install process was simple and didn’t require a reboot. Starting up with a blank project averaged 24 seconds during the course of the review. The first time I fired it up, the program offered a helpful guided tour and sample project; video tours are also available online. You can also refer to either at any time once in the program.
The main window had a three-square interface similar to Adobe Premiere Elements 8 and CyberLink PowerDirector 8. Pinnacle wisely chose a much smaller default size for its movie preview window—good for lower-performing PCs. You can easily adjust its size with the slider control just above it. Across the top left, three mode buttons let you choose between importing footage, editing the movie, and “making the movie,” which is for configuring and exporting a final product to disc, file, tape, or the Web. In edit mode, the large, colorful timeline was easy to manipulate. Adding clips from a second-generation Flip MinoHD was as simple as dragging scenes over; each time, it split the clip into clearly designated video and audio tracks. The interface felt snappier and more responsive than the one in Adobe Premiere 8, though there are still only two video tracks (plus music, sound effects, and others)—Adobe and CyberLink’s products both offer more editing and layering flexibility.
Importing and Working with Media
Click Import and you’ll see one of the biggest changes to version 14: a new unified capture and import utility. When you first open it, the program automatically fires up your PC’s built-in webcam (if so equipped), giving you the chance to begin creating footage right then and there. The app was also set to the correct aspect ratio for the camera, a feat CyberLink PowerDirector 8 couldn’t manage using the same laptop cam. You can also import from DVD and Blu-ray discs, as well as directly from DV camcorders. Pinnacle also added a brand-new “Stop Motion” import, which makes it easy to capture individual frames from various sources for stop-motion video. This is a niche feature, but it’s a fun niche, and one that kids in particular (of whatever age) will surely enjoy.
Double-click a video on your PC and the program immediately begins detecting individual scenes as it imports the clip. That’s handy for editing, but only if it works correctly. Importing a 3 minute and 17 second 720p clip took several minutes. Strangely, it also broke one clip into 31 separate scenes, despite the fact that it was all continuous footage of driving in a car. On the plus side, plenty of extras are available via a series of icons that adorn the left side in Edit mode. Clicking on each one will alternate between displaying videos, effects, montage themes, titles, frame grabs and photos, menus, sound effects, and music (though the last one is really just a shortcut to your own folder; no royalty-free tracks are included). The program includes 53 standard menus, which makes burning DVDs and Blu-ray discs simple.
More Effects, Production, and Conclusions
The Motion Titler is another new addition included only in Studio Ultimate and Studio Ultimate Collection. It lets you create and edit animated titles and other on-screen graphics, and it comes with a video toolbox full of built-in art and fonts. Adding these animations is simple: You click on the video toolbox icon, click the Title Tab, and then select Motion Title Overlay or Full Screen Motion Title. From there, a box appears showing you various default fonts and styles. Many of these looked smooth, sharp, and pretty comical in practice.
Pinnacle has improved AVCHD encoding and export quality with this version. You can define times ranges to export partial projects—great for previewing clips in progress—or select new High Quality and YouTube 16:9 presets. Bundled effects now include six plug-ins from video effects company Red Giant for Studio Ultimate Collection buyers: Knoll Light Factory, ToonIt, 3D Stroke, Particular, Magic Bullets Looks (an excellent feature we covered extensively in our version 12 review), and Shine. These are top-quality, targeted plug-ins for specific, useful video effects such as animations, transitions, and a Chroma key green screen. But Pinnacle doesn’t provide the extensive automated “Smart” features that Adobe Premiere comes with for correcting more common or typical problems like shaky footage and color correction, or for syncing media files between multiple computers.
How does Pinnacle Studio stack up against the competition? CyberLink PowerDirector 8 offers ultra-fast performance and advanced editing features, but it will be tough for novices to pick up. Adobe Premiere Elements 8 feels sluggish in comparison to Pinnacle Studio 14, but offers more editing power and plenty of automated features for creating videos quickly. But Pinnacle Studio 14 feels faster in operation. Although none of these apps has a truly transparent UI, Pinnacle’s program is the simplest for beginners to get started with. In fact, Pinnacle Studio 14 Ultimate’s feature set and clean interface is appealing especially for novice users—just keep an eye on the company Web site for patches and updates.