By: Dustin Sklavos
We've spent the past few weeks reviewing six video editing and publishing software options for aspiring videographers and filmmakers. We've had a good run, and by "good" I mean "disappointing and full of heartache except for one or two entries." This rundown is going to be easy, and that's because the competition actually lays itself out pretty clearly.
Going in, our six entries were Adobe Premiere Elements 7, Corel VideoStudio X2 Pro, Pinnacle Studio Plus 12, Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9, Magix Movie Edit Pro 15, and Microsoft's Windows Live Movie Maker Beta.
These are actually really easy for me to rank in terms of which deserve scorn and which deserve praise, but first let's get to the nitty-gritty.
INPUT & OUTPUT FORMAT SUPPORT
Input and output options were basically the same across the board between Adobe, Corel, Pinnacle, and Sony's offerings. Each of these software suites allows output to DVD as well as direct uploading to YouTube, a feature that honestly should be a de facto standard at this point. (As a side note, the trial of Sony Vegas doesn't include the DVD-publishing component, but the retail version does.) All of these entrants also handle importing HDV and AVCHD alongside regular DV just fine, although in some cases (Pinnacle), they may demand more robust hardware. Honestly, though, if you want to do any kind of video editing, you're going to want a decently-powered system anyhow.
Where things start to fall apart is with Magix Movie Edit Pro 15 and Windows Live Movie Maker Beta. Microsoft's entry can probably get a pass here just because it's free and still in beta, but Magix will receive no mercy from me. Their software had issues with my HDV camera and footage, and it doesn't include the ability to upload videos directly to YouTube. Their output options as a whole were downright bizarre (as was the rest of the software). Worse still, at least Microsoft's dismal beta software has a plug-in for uploading to YouTube; Magix gets outdone by Windows freeware.
EASE OF USE
Moving on to ease of use, I actually thought Microsoft's Windows Live Movie Maker Beta was pretty intuitive outside of the ridiculous video capture method (see my previous review). Alongside it, Pinnacle Studio Plus 12 was fairly sensible if a bit intimidating in appearance and Adobe Premiere Elements 7 was also a solid entry.
Sony Vegas is excellent software, but it's almost prosumer-grade. Once you learn it, it's pretty intuitive, but then so is professional grade software like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro. I have a hard time giving Vegas high marks here, especially since the tutorials are so dry, but it's also one of the most powerful and functional pieces of software I've reviewed.
Magix Movie Edit Pro 15 and Corel VideoStudio incur the bulk of my ire due to some incredibly hare-brained decisions on the parts of their designers. Corel splits the video and audio into separate timelines, which doesn't make any sense at all to me given how tightly woven together the two tracks should be, and Magix's software offers stunningly useless multi-camera functionality that only serves to needlessly complicate things and confuse consumer editors. Worse still were the options for exporting from Magix. What the heck is "PC-Show"? Magix just felt too bizarre to me.
FLUNKED OUT: MAGIX, COREL, MICROSOFT
I hate lumping Microsoft's software in here because it's free and there's a baseline for good software and functionality there, but it's nowhere near ready for prime-time. It doesn't even feel like a beta, it feels like an alpha at best. It works, but the bizarre handling of video capture and the stubborn refusal to export to anything other than Microsoft's proprietary formats frustrates me. It's also basically worthless for editing anything other than standard definition, full-frame video. No widescreen for you.
The offerings from Magix and Corel have already had their failures mentioned in big bold letters above, so no surprises here. Magix's software is loaded with boneheaded decisions and, while there are at least a couple good ideas at work, the interface is just too strange and ultimately flunks with its output options. If you can't output your video into something you can use, why edit at all?
Corel's problems seem to exist squarely in the editing stage, with ridiculous choices like the "Clip" and "Project" toggle on the monitor. They would've been better off either using two separate monitors like professional software does or just handling things intelligently and automatically the way the competition -- even Microsoft's Windows Live Movie Maker Beta -- does. Likewise, bifurcating the audio and video timelines and then having their edits affect one another is completely insane. No one wants to rapid-fire toggle between the two. Corel's software is full of basic issues to which they've just applied band-aids, rather than actually fixing.
SOLID ALTERNATIVES: ADOBE, SONY
I wasn't a huge fan of Adobe Premiere Elements 7 when I reviewed it and I still feel it's a little too dumbed-down, while Sony's Vegas software suite has the opposite problem of being very robust and powerful but too intimidating and complex.
Still, Premiere Elements 7 is worth at least checking out. The software's pretty powerful without being too difficult to use and it does abstract a lot of the more complicated settings and processes professional software is all too happy to let you fuss with. I don't like the way Premiere Elements pairs up video and audio tracks, but it's still more logical than a lot of the competition.
Sony Vegas, on the other hand, has a lot to offer the more patient and dedicated user. With the proper time invested in learning it, Vegas could be the most powerful and flexible tool in the lot, and if I had to choose one of these pieces of software for my own personal use, Vegas would be it. That said, I'm also a trained video editor, and the video editing neophyte may find Vegas to be more trouble than it's worth.
BEST-IN-SHOW: PINNACLE STUDIO PLUS 12
Pinnacle Studio Plus 12 comes out as best of breed in our review series by virtue of being the most well-rounded product for the consumer videographer. It's capable of incredible flexibility, similar to Vegas, but without being terrifyingly complex. Moreover, Pinnacle includes helpful tutorials that will actually walk you through the process of learning to edit instead of throwing you to the dogs and letting you determine just what your learning curve is.
By the same token, Pinnacle Studio Plus 12 handles the input and output options you need and keeps things as simple as possible or as complex as you want it. I found the software to be smart, intuitive, and an all-around good show.
Even better, Pinnacle's solution is one of the cheapest -- if not the cheapest -- in the lot, with the well-rounded Studio Plus version coming in at just $79.99.
I confess that when I began this review series, I wasn't expecting the mess of software that I walked into. I thought I'd discover a linear scaling of complexity between similar designs, not a case of every software suite having its own ideas of what video editing should look like.
When I started, I figured Adobe would make a clean sweep. I use Adobe software for my own work, and for PC users it's pretty much the "expected" video editor (Sony Vegas notwithstanding). Imagine my surprise when it turned out that Sony had produced genuine quality software, and that Pinnacle actually produced the most well-rounded software in the lot.
In the end, the only software you can truly go wrong with is Corel's VideoStudio and Magix Movie Edit. Even Microsoft's solution is worth giving a shot by virtue of being free, and it can produce something quick and dirty in a pinch. The same cannot be said of Corel and Magix, and they have higher price tags than the winner of this roundup.
If you're looking to get into more serious video editing on a budget, I'd advise purchasing Sony Vegas and slamming your head against it until something cracks. The learning curve is only a hair easier than professional grade software, but Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 costs $599 on its own, compared to Vegas's roughly $80 price tag. If you can afford to make the jump to Premiere Pro, make it, but otherwise Sony Vegas is a good compromise.
On the other hand, if you're not quite as committed to high-end video editing or you want a baby step, Pinnacle Studio Plus 12 is hands-down your best bet. The $79.99 price tag for the version handled here makes it an excellent value and it is the most feature-inclusive, user-friendly piece of video editing software in this roundup.
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