Pinnacle Studio 16 Ultimate Review
Corel takes the look of Avid Studio and underpins it with faster code in this full-featured, fast-performing nonlinear video editing program.
- Attractive interface design
- Tons of video effects
- 3D import, editing and output
- Direct upload to Facebook, Box, YouTube, and Vimeo
- Disc authoring with lots of menu templates
- Decent audio correction and content
- Fast rendering performance
- Multi-track preview is sluggish on AMD graphics hardware
- Some interface procedures less intuitive than in other apps
- No 4K UHD support
Pinnacle Studio, long a video-editing enthusiast favorite, with 13 million customers, has been bounced around over the past couple of years in terms of ownership. After existing as a standalone company for 19 years, it was bought in 2005 by Avid, a force in professional audio and video production software, bought it and put out Avid Studio, a video editor that was supposed to lie between the pro and enthusiast tiers. When Avid decided it wanted out of the consumer market, Corel snapped up Pinnacle last year, restoring the name Pinnacle Studio to this more powerful product that’s the topic of our evaluation here.
Corel is keeping Pinnacle a separate entity for now, with its own branding and website. It even seems to compete with Corel’s own excellent VideoStudio line of video editing software. Let’s see how the relaunched Pinnacle Studio can stand up against the likes of Adobe Premiere Elements and CyberLink PowerDirector.
Editions and Setup
The new application is available at three levels: the $59.95 Pinnacle Studio 16, which does offer 3D and HD editing and 1500 effects, but limits you to just 3 audio+video tracks and doesn’t allow keyframe timing or green screen chroma keying; the $99.95 Pinnacle Studio 16 Plus, which removes those limitations and adds 300 more effects and Blu-ray disc authoring; and the $129.95 Pinnacle Studio Ultimate, which ups the effect total to 2,000 (including pro-quality Red Giant effects) and throws in an actual green screen.
The Pinnacle software runs on Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista (SP2)—no XP or Mac—but there is a $12.99 Pinnacle Studio for iPad app that can round-trip your video projects. That app will be the subject of a separate review. To really take advantage of the PC program, you’ll need a computer with at least 2GB RAM and at least an Intel Core Duo 1.8 GHz, Core i3 or AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ 2.0 GHz CPU. You’ll also want a decent graphics card that supports DirectX 9 with Pixel Shader 3.0 support. I tested on a 3.4GHz AMD Phenom II X4-based PC with 4GB of RAM.
For anyone who used Avid Studio, Pinnacle Studio will look strikingly familiar, right down to the reel icon at top left. Despite this superficial similarity, though, the company has implements over 300 workflow improvements and built the whole thing on top of a much faster code base that includes more hardware acceleration. The same main app modes remain, too—Import, Library, Movie, Disc, and Export. You even see the same Welcome dialog on first run offering a guided tour and initial settings such as which folders to watch for new media. It’s a well-designed interface with a dark gray tone that’s easy on the eyes.
It’s also logically laid out; similar to most NLE apps, your source content—clips, images, sound files—are in a top-left panel. To the right of that is your video preview window, and across the bottom are your timeline tracks. All the panels are resizable, but they can’t be undocked, the way Sony Movie Studio allows. The Preview window can be popped out to full screen or split into a side-by-side layout. Navigating the timeline is easy enough, but I’d like to see more (or any) use of the mouse wheel to move back and forth and to shrink and expand its timeframe.
All media organization is done inside the main app—there’s no need for a separate app like Premiere Element’s Organizer. The Library mode shows media and effects in groups separated by dark gray dividers, and it lets you search its contents and filter the view by star ratings or tags. You can group items into Collection, which lets you work like a pro, keeping all the clips effects, and other assets for a project together.
Import and Organize
Pinnacle Studio can handle most any video file type you throw at it, including MPEG-1/-2/-4, WMV, QuickTime, and MKV. A new trick is that it can import from the Cloud, in this case from the popular Box web service. You can also import from an attached camcorder, including AVCHD, DV, HDV, or Digital8 models. Capturing from analog sources is possible if you have Pinnacle or Dazzle video hardware. The software recognizes and imports 3D video clips and still photos, too. But one thing not yet supported by Pinnacle Studio is the new Ultra HD 4K format, which PowerDirector can handle.
Webcam import is also an option, with an excellent stop-motion importer tool, similar to that in Corel’s VideoStudio application. The stop motion tool Scene detection during import can divide your clips by sudden changes or by time increments.
After an import, you’re taken to a new tab showing just the clips from this last import—a helpful touch. Pinnacle doesn’t offer Premiere Elements’ ability to analyze the imported footage for faces, brightness issues or shakiness. But you can apply tags and ratings, just as with most photo software, to help organize and retrieve relevant media later.
Instant Movie Making
Pros wouldn’t use Pinnacle Studio’s SmartSlide and SmartMovie tools, but these will be welcomed by hobbyists. They output a finished movie production without forcing you to get your hands dirty with the nitty-gritty editing tools. You start SmartSlide or SmartMovie from the Library view, rather than the Movie view, using the appropriately labeled buttons at bottom. You drag clips and music files into the tool’s panel, and you can choose short, medium, or maximum clip length, and clip volume percent. The same video settings for aspect (standard or widescreen), Size (up to full HD) and frame rate as you get in the full movie editor are available.
The Smart tools let you preview and export their work, though when I did this, it took a few minutes of processing before I could preview. The result was attractive, with a title and transitions added and dull portions cut. Most instant tools like this have a bunch of themes—sports, birthdays, babies, holidays—that you can apply, but Pinnacle has eliminated all that here. In case your results don’t suit you, you can always go back and edit in the full movie and sound editing interfaces later.
Basic Video Editing
Trimming and splitting video on the timeline is intuitive, with a Smart Editing mode and Magnetic Snapping setting do a good job of anticipating how you want to align clips and audio that you insert on the timeline. There’s no separate trimmer window like that in most consumer video editing programs, but you can easily trim clips and add in and out markers in the preview video window. A razor button lets you split clips or the whole movie at the playhead, but there’s no multi-trim tool like PowerDirector’s, which lets you mark multiple ins and outs.
Another thing that PowerDirector makes easier is video rotation. I sometimes shoot with the iPhone’s surprisingly good 1080p camera in landscape, but Windows usually presents these images upside down. After a bit of digging, I found that rotation was possible by opening the clip in the Effects Editor, choosing Camera, and then scrolling across to Rotate. I could also rotate in the 2D editor effect, which also let me change position, size, transparency and more—pretty powerful. I do with, though, that I could double-click in the main video preview window to crop, resize, and rotate, as many video editors let you do this.
The Corrections tab of the Effects Editor let me fix lighting and color—including stuff like Fill Light and Blacks, helpful corrections I usually associate with photo apps. Automatic levels and white balance also did an estimable job of making the image more balanced. In fact, all these corrections do work on still images, too. Corrections also offers a Stabilize tool, which did only a mediocre job of quieting my shaky hands on a handheld shot.
Adding basic dissolve and fade transitions can be done right on the timeline by simply dragging on a clip’s top corners. Another neat timeline tool is Dynamic Length Transitions, which you enable from the right-side toolbar over the timeline. This lets you drag the effect of the more sophisticated transitions you can add from the source panel’s very generous set of 2D and 3D transitions. Some of these are pretty spectacular, like one that collapses you’re a video into an origami bird that flies away to reveal the B video. This gets us a head start on the fancy effects of the next section.
Advanced Video Editing
Pinnacle did an excellent and easy job of creating a mask from my test green-screen clip, even though the background wasn’t perfectly uniform. The app uses the term “montage” where most other would say “PiP”—picture-in-picture—and from the Library’s Montage section you can choose among scores of templates for creating “montage clips.” These combine the PiP effects into a single clip which you build in the Montage Editor. I actually prefer simply to create a montage with multiple stacked clips on the timeline, for more control.
You can still create a custom montage using the 2D-3D Effects on each clip separately, but this doesn’t offer any WYSIWYG resizing or rotating—you’ll have to enter the coordinates manually. But I was still able to animate a clips’ movement across the screen and resizing. There is, however, a performance toll with either type of montage—template or custom.
Remember the Effects Editor? In addition to simple lighting and color, this also offers an Photoshop-like selection of effects like frames, posterizing, blur, swirl, sepia, and even fractal fire. Some more subtle and professional effects are included, too, if you spring for the Ultimate edition. This gets you Red Giant Filmmaker’s Toolkit including Magic Bullet and Knoll Light Factory motion graphics toolkit. I do wish you could see a preview of these on timeline footage, rather than the useless A->B preview. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty amazing toolkit of effects, which would cost hundreds more if bought separately. Austin Powers will be happy to know that there’s even a Mojo effect, with a slider to increase just how much mojo you want to add. Be warned, though, these effects can tax an even relatively powerful PC.
Pinnacle shows waveforms for your clips, and can separate the audio from the video. It also offers, in the Audio tab of the same Effects Editor we’ve already met, an equalizer, compressor, expander, de-esser, and noise reduction. Seven more adjustable effect types can also be found here: a channel tool, chorus, grungelizer, leveler, reverb, stereo echo, and stereo spread. The reverb options include making your dialog sound like it’s in a cavern, church, or restroom.
There’s also a decent selection of canned background music you can add to your movie, organized by instrumentation type and mood—a lot more range than you get with most consumer video editors. Some of it’s a little hokey, but it has the advantage of stretching to your video’s time length. And of course, you can add any music files of your own to the source panel. If the built-in capabilities aren’t enough, you can add SmartSound Sonicfire and Scorefitter plugins for customizing music to your project.
Finally, a simple microphone icon takes you to a voice-over recording tool, with a simple interface that adds a new audio track to your timeline.
The text titling and captioning tools in Pinnacle Studio are deep and powerful. You get WYSIWYG positioning, rotation, and sizing. A whole selection of over 30 motion paths for the text to enter, emphasize, and exit on the screen is also available. These motions are prefabbed, but I would like to see some overall preset title, caption, and lower third themes here for common uses, like those you get even with pro editors like Apple Final Cut Pro X.
3D is last year’s 4K, but it’s still pretty much opening table stakes for a self-respecting enthusiast video editor. Shockingly, the top-selling Adobe Premiere Elements doesn’t include it, but nearly every other major player does. As I mentioned above, Pinnacle lets you import all the standard 3D file types, and can even do a passable job of converting 2D to 3D. You can apply all the same adjustments and enhancements to 3D that you can to standard footage. Unlike PowerDirector, there’s no tool for turning 2D into 3D, but Pinnacle does support the popular Nvidia 3D Vision system. Once you’re done editing, Pinnacle can output your 3D project to 3D Blu-ray or AVCHD, and upload to 3D YouTube or Vimeo.
Sharing and Output
Pinnacle ‘s clear Studio Exporter window pops up when you click the Export button at top right of the main interface. It offers four main output options—File, Disc, Cloud, and Device. File formats you can export to include all the likely suspects—AVI; DivX, Flash, MOV; MPEG-1, 2, and 4; Real; and Windows Media. Each format offers plenty of preset options for common resolutions and sizes. You can also target popular devices, including Apple iPhone/iPod, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and Sony PlayStation 3 and PSP.
The new Cloud export rights one of Avid Studio’s omissions when it comes to sharing—you can now export directly to Facebook and Vimeo—missing from the program’s Avid Studio forbear. Another new cloud target is Box. You still get YouTube export, as you do with pretty much every piece of video software; to this is. I could choose the target resolution on the video sharing site, from 360 to 1080p. As with other software that uploads to YouTube, you choose the video category, description, tags, and public/private status before uploading. Log in inside Avid, and you’re off and uploading. The video took a while to appear on YouTube, indicating that Avid doesn’t preformat to YouTube’s specifications the way Corel does.
Disc authoring uses the same main video editing interface, with Menus just another class of assets you can drag down to a target area above the timeline. You can have the program create chapters automatically or use timeline markers to specify them manually. A large selection of over 100 menu themes is at your disposal, for topics like Baby, Winter Holidays, and Sports, just to scratch the surface.
Pinnacle takes advantage of hardware acceleration with Nvidia’s CUDA and Intel’s Quick Sync, but not AMD hardware. Competitor PowerDirector adds OpenCL to this mix, which allows acceleration on AMD graphics boards. I actually tested with an AMD (ATI Radeon HD 4290) graphics card, and performance was nevertheless quite snappy. In fact, on my movie-rendering test, Pinnacle Studio edged out our Editors’ Choice, CyberLink PowerDirector. The feel of general editing is also snappy, and I didn’t encounter the “not responding” errors all too common to this highly intensive computing activity of nonlinear mulitrack video editing.
In my head-to-head rendering performance test, I took a test movie consisting of the same four clips of mixed types (some 1080p, some SD) with the same transitions and rendered it to 720p MPEG2-DVD format in each program. The latest version of Pinnacle Studio, took slightly less time than PowerDirector’s 3:33 (min:sec), at 3:21. Premiere Elements 11 trailed at 4:27 (min:sec). Premiere Elements showed an estimated time to completion, which was useful and quite accurate, while Pinnacle only showed percent done. PowerDirector adds the time elapsed, and actually previews the video being rendered.
The Pinnacle of Home Video Editing?
The new Pinnacle Studio is vastly more impressive than its predecessor, because it’s based on the higher-end Avid Studio rather than on its nominal predecessor. I have no problem giving it a very high rating—Corel has taken the good interface and toolset of Avid Studio and gotten it right, with good performance, new helpful tools, and more output options. It really has all the tools any sophisticated amateur video editor would need, but my Editors’ Choice, PowerDirector 11 goes a step or two further, with smoother multi-track preview performance thanks to more hardware acceleration, its multi-trim tool, and support for 4K video content.
By Michael Muchmore, PCMag
- Type: Personal
- OS Compatibility: Windows Vista, Windows XP