One of our favorite applications for video editing on a Windows computer is Pinnacle Studio. Each new version has added new features and has become easier to use. Unless something went tragically wrong during the last development cycle, Studio 9 should be the best one yet. We ran the newest version through its paces on a half a dozen machines, old and new, to see how it performed. NOTE: This review is based on the 9.1.2 patch, which is a 48MB download.
Overall, Studio 9 has a wonderful user interface that, although more complex, is even better than iMovie. Complete novices will have no trouble with fundamental tasks such as capture, storyboard editing and output to DVD, even if they aren’t quite sure what really is happening. For example, by simply hooking up your camcorder and hitting the record button in Studio (which is intuitively placed on a virtual camcorder), the application will automatically capture video and break it up into scenes and put them in an album. The "Diskometer" and settings screens are simple and follow enough of Windows’ conventions (e.g. click the yellow folder icon to set the capture location) to be useful.
That is not to say that the program is intuitive. There is nothing intuitive about editing video on a computer, no matter what the marketers tell you. That’s where Pinnacle’s 262 page printed manual comes in. The app has so many features, however, that the manual is only enough to get you started, which is fine.
Beginner-level apps have so many features that they can rapidly get complex. There are so many filters and effects, that it can be a bit baffling as to exactly where features are hidden and the Toolbox metaphor doesn’t always work. Although each feature’s interface is well designed, panels swoosh in and out as various buttons are clicked. This is definitely something you’ll have to get used to. We also found that these animations really dragged and stuttered on our 1GHz test machine, the slowest we tested.
We really only liked about half of the new features, with the other half being the equivalent of a 700x digital zoom on a camcorder. The automatic white balance (color correction) tool is completely awesome. Image stabilization is decent, but it degrades the image significantly. Other "video cleaning" filters were nothing but empty promises. Likewise, the audio noise reduction filter is basically only for constant, low-level noise. It’s not that these filters are bad, so much as we are unhappy with the unrealistic expectation that most people will have based on marketing claims. There is no substitute for good shooting. Trust us: Hollywood doesn’t have a whole bunch of magic effects that you don’t have to make its movies look great.
Our favorite new feature is one of our favorite features in Apple iMovie and Pinnacle Liquid Edition: background rendering. Of course, you get real time previews in almost all situations, but background rendering almost guarantees that a high-quality, finished version of your project is ready when you are.
One limitation you might run into after you’ve mastered the fundamentals of editing (don’t worry: we’re still working on that, too) is that Studio only has one video track. This means that you can’t layer your video, such as in a picture-in-picture effect. Probably not a big deal 90% of the time. The titler is very nice and easy to use and, of course, lets you layer titles on top of your video.
Studio does have multiple audio tracks and decent mixing tools, including volume envelopes. A SmartSound module will even let you create custom music for your projects, although the license is only for non-commercial use, so you might as well rip music from your favorite CDs, which you can do with a few clicks. All apps at this level can record from a microphone into a track, but Studio does a particularly nice job, complete with a three-second pre-roll countdown. Studio also has a surround mixer thrown in, which is certainly fun to play with. Without a surround sound encoding codec (or even a stereo AC3 encoder), you can’t output surround mixes to your DVDs. Again, it’s another feature that looks good on the box, but isn’t really useful in the real world.
There are so many features in Studio that it is not entirely surprising that some people just can’t get it to work on their computer. We installed the application on a handful of machines, including a 1GHz machine and a laptop, and burned full two-hour projects on each and only had one major problem on one machine. The machine that it bombed on (regularly) was a 2GHz Windows XP machine with an nVidia GeForce4 card. This is a well-maintained older machine (e.g. no virus, no extra tasks running) that has dozens of other programs on it (including games and other audio and video editing applications), but we did not have time to track down what was causing the problem. The manual does have 20 pages of troubleshooting, which boils down to: update, close unnecessary programs and reinstall.
This is all good advice, but it did not solve our problem. Will you have problems on your computer? There is only one way to find out: download the demo version and try it yourself. It’s large, so you should find a fast connection and burn it to a CD if you don’t already have broadband. If the demo works on your computer, we’re sure you’ll love Studio 9.
Patch: 9.1.2 (48 MB)
Operating System: Windows 98SE, Me, 2000 or XP
Processor: 800MHz or equivalent
Hard Disk: 500MB
Other: disc recorder, DirectX 9 sound card
Printed Manual: 262 pages
Demo Version: 180MB, restricted, 30-days
- Great user interface
- Background rendering
- Solid audio tools
- 48MB patch
- Single video track
Studio 9 is a huge application with a wealth of features, but it fundamentally performs well as an editor.
D. Eric Franks is Videomaker‘s Technical Editor.
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