Green Screen Program Software Review

There are many video-editing platforms available to the first-time producer. The question is: do you buy something simple with the intention of starting over when you outgrow the program, or do you purchase one of the big guns and pray you can grow into it? Fortunately, several manufacturers have revamped their entry-level products and endowed them with power and simplicity. A case in point is Pinnacle’s Studio series of video editing software. With the new Pinnacle Studio Plus Version 9, the power is yours to capture, edit and create finished videos with an ease rivaled by very few competitors. Let’s sneak a peek at the latest version.

Review Redux


Sharp-eyed readers may remember we reviewed Pinnacle Studio 9 just a few months back. Rather than a complete ground-up review, we’ll touch on the basics covered in our previous article, then focus on the new enhancements.

Using Studio Plus Version 9 for basic video editing couldn’t be easier. To begin capturing, connect a FireWire cable to your camcorder, load a tape and click the Capture tab. Running video plays in a preview screen at the upper right and thumbnails of the video clips appear in a virtual album on the left. Automatic scene detection was flawless on our test tape. Once your video is captured, click the Edit tab where you’ll see a simple storyboard interface. Simply drag the clips to the storyboard, rearrange as needed and click the Play button on the preview monitor to see your video. If you prefer a little more control, choose the Timeline option where you’ll see a more traditional editing environment with two video tracks (with audio for each), a title track and two additional audio tracks for sound effects or narration. Dragging a clip to the timeline is a simple process and you can even insert clips between other clips — Studio Plus will scoot them over for you automatically. Trimming clips is simply a matter of grabbing the beginning or end of the clip and dragging to find the perfect in and out points.

Transitions are easy to include by selecting the Transition tab on the Album, then dragging your choice between two clips. All the standard wipes and dissolves are there, plus some very nice organic and 3D effects. Want a longer or shorter transition? Just grab the end of the transition on the timeline and drag it to the preferred length. Titles for your video are created quickly with a version of Pinnacle’s excellent Title Deko program, built into Studio Plus. Use one of the pre-made templates or choose a text style from the library to create professional titles in just a few steps.

Plus Means More


Pinnacle has added some significant goodies to Studio Plus. First is the addition of an overlay video track specifically for picture-in-picture and chroma-key effects. Drag a video clip or still image to the overlay track and you’re presented with an edit page to fine-tune your image. Picture-in-picture is very easy to use — choose your screen location and size, then decide on an outline color or bevel to accent the inserted image. By shooting your video against a green or blue chroma-key screen, you can easily create something as simple as a TV meteorologist or as complex as composited scenes like big-budget movies. There are several controls for choosing the key color and maximizing its elimination from your production. In our tests, this feature worked almost instantly by using Pinnacle’s green-screen preset. A few tweaks made the illusion almost seamless, with only a few stray hairs and our lighting to give the effect away.

The other major upgrade in Studio Plus is the addition of a still image manipulation. This isn’t just a simple import-and-rotate function, but a serious video tool that fully embraces still images in video production. In addition to the rotational and red-eye reduction tools, you can easily zoom and pan across an image with just a few clicks.

Studio Plus supplies authoring with a different twist. Rather than launching another program, Studio Plus incorporates DVD menus in the main timeline. Simply choose from the pages of templates and drag your choice to the timeline at the beginning of the video. Studio Plus analyzes your video and automatically places chapter points at significant scene changes. The default menu system is also updated to reflect these chapters. You can manually create your own chapter points or allow the software to make them at specific intervals. While there isn’t much control over the design of your DVD menu, the supplied templates are excellent — many including motion backgrounds. Burning a DVD is as simple as clicking the Make Movie tab. The user interface shows how much space your video will take on the disc and the default settings yielded a nice DVD that played on all our machines.

But Wait, That’s Not All


Space doesn’t allow an adequate review of all the goodies included with Studio Plus, but nice touches abound. For instance, placing a dissolve transition between two video clips not only fades from one video to another, but also seamlessly fades audio, too. If you’ve been dying to try surround sound, Studio 9 Plus supports that with an audio pan control that makes it a breeze to put noises in the rear channels. The inclusion of SmartSound music creation software is icing on the cake.

Pinnacle has cleverly slimmed the user interface for the beginning user but, as you grow in skill, Studio 9 Plus grows with you. Many more advanced functions are “locked” until you choose to use them. Additional transitions, music, menus and even a portable green-screen fabric are among the many upgrades available for download or purchase at the site.


So Many Features, So Little


Pinnacle’s Studio Plus Version 9 is a significant upgrade to an already mature product. If you’ve used any of the Studio series in the past, you’ll be right at home with Studio 9 Plus. If you’ve never edited video in your life, but are ready to start, Studio Plus offers a clean, simple user interface and a logical path to creating your video.

Contributing Editor Hal Robertson is a digital media producer and technology consultant.

TECH SPECS


Platform: PC

Operating System: Windows 98SE, Me, 2000 or XP (MicroMV and Dual-layer DVD support requires XP)

Processor: 800MHz or equivalent, 1.5 GHz recommended

RAM: 256MB, 512MB recommended

Hard Disk: 500MB

Other: disc recorder, DirectX 9 sound card

Demo Version: 214MB, restricted, 30 days

Upgrade: $40

STRENGTHS

  • Great user interface
  • Excellent titler
  • Significant upgrade

WEAKNESSES

  • Only one overlay track
  • Limited menu creation capabilities

SUMMARY


Studio Plus Version 9 is a significant upgrade that offers a wealth of features for the beginning or hobbyist video editor.

$100

Pinnacle Systems

280 N. Bernardo Avenue

Mountain View, CA 94043

(650) 526-1600

www.pinnaclesys.com

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