Pinnacle Studio 16 -- an excellent video editing and DVD authoring program for Windows -- is the first release of this software package since Corel Corp.'s acquistion of Pinnacle. As we'll see in this review, Studio 16 is amazingly capable, competent, and stable, suitable for professional use but accessible to beginners.
Corel's recent acquisition of the Pinnacle software lineup from Avid Technology is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, Corel also continues to offer its own branded line of video editing software, coincidentally named quite similarly. Corel VideoStudio Pro Ultimate, for example, is one product in that lineup. That raises the potential for confusion for users. Also, this is now the second time the Pinnacle brand has changed hands, after Avid's own acquisition of Pinnacle Systems a few years back.
Regardless of what's been happening behind the scenes, though, Corel's new Pinnacle Studio 16 is an exceptionally solid video editing and DVD authoring program, well worth considering by anyone, at any level, who is interested in creating videos.
Though priced for consumers in the hundred-dollar ballpark, Pinnacle Studio 16 is also sophisticated enough to be worthy of professional use. Beyond the basics of selecting frames as edit points and assembling the timeline and mixing -- more on those editing essentials in a moment -- the program offers many advanced features for both consumers and pros. For enlarged views of the screenshots at right, please click on the images.
A Boatload of Features
Features include the ability to work with 3D video (including display using nVidia 3D Vision); to burn Blu-ray as well as DVD discs; to quickly post to Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo; and to export to Apple iPad, Xbox, and other devices and file formats (such as Flash, DivX, AVCHD 2.0 and MPEG-4). You can also export in MOV HD file format (Apple compatible) with AVCHD, MPEG2 or H.264 encoding, as well as a wide variety of AVI format codecs and Windows file types.
To improve rendering speeds, the program is designed to take advantage of Intel Quick Sync and NVidia CUDA technologies, as well as 64-bit processing. (Unlike previous versions, though, Studio 16 will not run on Microsoft Windows XP.)
New capabilities include the ability to turn "snap to" editing off on the timeline for more professional control and placement of audio and video elements, along with the ability to change overall project format settings after editing has begun. This is useful for delivering the same project in multiple file formats, such as one to watch on a big screen and another for YouTube, or to burn DVDs for international audiences.
Perhaps most unique is the ability to import video editing projects from a separate iPad application, and then continue with more advanced editing in Studio 16. Also included now is cloud storage, especially useful to enable multiple people to work on a project by starting it on one computer and finishing it on another.
The program is available as packaged software and as downloads. It comes in three editions: Pinnacle Studio 16, Pinnacle Studio 16 Plus, and Pinnacle Studio 16 Ultimate. If you want to save time on installation, purchase one of the packaged versions with installation from a DVD-ROM disk. Then, full installation shouldn't take more than about 30 minutes.
After installing and launching the program, the welcome screen suggests you set up watch folders (where content will automatically get imported) and scan drives for media. I declined these options, because I do a lot of video editing and I have tons of files already stored on the hard drive.
As with most video editing programs, most of the action in Pinnacle Studio 16 revolves around a timeline, on to which video and audio segments, or clips, are placed. A storyboard view is also available for beginners; this shows the sequence but hides the details. (Also for beginners, "Smart Movie" and "Smart Slide" automated editing options are available, too.)
When you first launch the program the timeline is not empty -- rather, it has a sample editing project already loaded called "The Sky Is The Limit." This can be very useful for novices to help them get a feel for how the program works (although some might find its complexity intimidating).
The five main tabs along the top of the screen are Import, Library, Movie, Disc, and Export. Most of your time will typically be spent in the Movie tab, where the timeline is edited. The Import menu lets you quickly take an entire collection of video clips, or photos, and bring them in, or capture video from a camcorder.
You can also set up watch folders that will automatically import new files from places such as a camera every time you copy photos into them. The files are all represented by thumbnail images, and it took me a little while to see the little check mark boxes in the corner of each thumbnail, where you decide whether or not to import.
No Drag and Drop
Unlike with previous versions of this software, you cannot drag video, photo, or sound files directly to the timeline from Windows Explorer or any other file manager. Instead, you must use the Import mechanism. Though relatively minor, this was my biggest disappointment with Pinnacle Studio 16, because it makes the process of quickly assembling a timeline slightly slower.
The Library tab helps you organize projects, as it should. (In previous versions of Pinnacle Studio the Library tab contained transition effects; this new organization makes much more sense.) When you first click on this tab, be careful. As with many other editing programs, if you're not careful, Studio 16 will attempt to catalog every single video, audio, and photo file on your hard drive.
The Movie tab is the main editing area. It includes a compact version of the library, in addition to "Creative Elements" menu choices to bring up transitions; title creation; DVD menus, sound effects and customized background music; and "montage themes" (templates with pre-built effects for projects such as sports, tribute, seasons, photo albums, etc.).
Regardless of frills and features, the bottom line for any video editing program is the ability to locate specific frames of video -- or edit points -- and to manipulate their arrangement. Pinnacle Studio 16 also excels in these basic abilities.
The program includes a software jog/shuttle wheel that lets you smoothly move through frames and accurately select edit points, with accompanying sound. This is a fantastic, pro-style feature that's a big improvement over systems where you need to keep repetitively clicking a mouse to move frame by frame.
For arranging video and audio segments on a timeline, Studio 16 is also superb. True to its name, the Ultimate version allows for an unlimited number of tracks. The tracks themselves are quite flexible as well, in that they can contain video, audio, photo, or titles materials.
Most people will probably be content to use the single viewer system to watch the video material. A tab at the top allows you to switch between watching the timeline (your assembly of the material) and viewing individual clips from the library.
For professional-style editing, though, I prefer two-viewing area systems where you can simultaneously view your raw footage on one screen and the timeline on a second screen or window. (I almost wrote this paragraph as a complaint, until I discovered the two-viewer option button in Pinnacle Studio 16, which enables precisely such a setup. This is truly editing nirvana on the cheap.)
A customizable toolbar at the top of the timeline provides convenient access to functions like voice-over creation, adding transitions and special effects, grabbing still images from video, audio mixer, and surround sound mixing.
There are so many special effects included that it's mind-boggling. Most filmmakers really just use the basics -- dissolves, fade-in, fade-out. But if you want to make wedding videos, music videos, or movies in other genres where you might go to town with dazzling effects, you'll be quite satisfied here.
The chroma-key (green screen) overlay effect is particularly accessible in the main Movie (editing) screen. A green background sheet is included with the Ultimate version.
The DVD and Blu-ray menu creation process is part of the main Disc tab. It contains many templates with many more background options, along with complete customization of titles and chapter appearances, including easy selection of frames from the timeline to use as chapter thumbnails in the DVD menu.
Another thing that I really like about Pinnacle Studio 16 is the fluidity with which you can switch between authoring a DVD and editing video. Back in the day -- and even now, at the professional level -- these tasks have been handled by separate programs. With Studio 16, however, you can be putting the final touches on the DVD menu, notice a problem with the video or audio, and go right back in and fix it. There's no changing programs or switching between modes.
The audio mixing ability in Pinnacle Studio 16 is outstanding, too, especially in the Ultimate version, which offers unlimited tracks. Audio mixing is extremely important for achieving professional results, and this is often the biggest problem with low-cost video editing programs, including the no-cost Windows Moviemaker program (free with Windows.)
As soon as your level of editing sophistication gets past adding opening titles and credits, you see the need for background music, sound effects, and voice-overs, and Studio 16 facilitates these flourishes well. A sound effects library and background music generator come built-in too; these are nice touches and provide great value!
The Export tab is where you actually burn the disc, create a file, or upload to YouTube, Facebook, cloud storage, etc. The incorporation of Flash, MOV, and DivX output formats -- along with 3D formats for both YouTube and Blu-ray, and the more common Windows AVI variations and Windows Media formats -- is excellent.
Pay Attention to System Requirements
Yet does all of this editing power require a powerful computer? Yes. I first tried testing Studio 16 with an inexpensive Acer Aspire One notebook running Windows 7 Home Premium with 2GB of RAM and an AMD C-50 dual core processor (1GHz). After hours of installation, I discovered it wouldn't work.
That surprised me, because this notebook has been able to run every other video editing program I've tried. I kept getting a message saying "NG Studio has stopped working" (with no explanation of what NG Studio is). After numerous attempts to re-install, I finally Googled this error message and saw that it meant the program couldn't run. Looking through some old Avid user forums confirmed that system requirements might be the issue. OK.
Next I tried a fairly powerful video-editing computer that's still running Windows XP. Then, I immediately got an error message that Vista or higher is required for installation. Well, at least I didn't have to wait several hours to get the bad news. Because this PC actually met all the system requirements (it had an Intel dual core processor, 4GB of RAM, and a nice graphics card) except for the operating system, I decided to take the plunge and install the free version of Windows 8 that Microsoft had been giving away just prior to the official release.
Sure enough, I got Studio 16 working. For the record, the official system requirements call for an Intel Core Duo 1.8 GHz, Core i3 or AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ 2.0 GHz or higher. Intel Core2 Duo 2.66 GHz, Intel Core i5 or i7 1.06 GHz or higher is required for AVCHD.
Take these system requirements seriously -- and if you're upgrading from an earlier version of Pinnacle Studio, you might actually need to upgrade your computer, too.
If you're new to video editing, Pinnacle Studio 16 is not the easiest software program to learn, but it's well worth the effort. If you're experienced, you'll find this product to be an incredible value and quick to figure out. (Take my mediocre "Usability" rating with a grain of salt, because no sophisticated video editing program could earn a 10 in my view. There's an inherent conflict between capabilities and complexity.)
As for which edition of the product to choose, the basic Pinnacle Studio 16, at $59.95, is limited to just three audio tracks, and I wouldn't really recommend it for this reason. (Even an intermediate-level editing project might require mixing two different background music tracks while simultaneously running dialog and sound effects, for a total of four tracks.)
Pinnacle Studio 16 Plus, at $99.95, includes the ability to mix up to twelve audio tracks (as well as twelve video tracks, which is an unlikely need but terrific if it comes up, such as for a multi-image special effects.) Studio 16 Plus is a fantastic deal. Also, you can download a free 30-day trial version of Studio 16 Plus from Corel's Web site.
The Ultimate version, at $129.95 is a great deal, too. The add-on features in Ultimate, compared with Plus, include an unlimited number of audio and video tracks, a green screen background sheet, 200 more effects (up from 1800 to 2000), and "Red Giant" plug-ins (filter effects).
However, unless you're planning to start doing green screen work for the first time -- or you need very elaborate audio mixing ability -- you'll probably do fine with the Plus edition.
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