Pinnacle's Podcast Factory is a real bargain. However, it's only going to be useful if you've got some experience of audio recording and know how to make the most of the hardware and software that it provides you with.
The Factory package includes all the necessary equipment to record, edit and upload podcasts to the Net. The first step in creating a podcast is to record the programme, along with any music or other soundtrack elements that you want to add.
For this stage in the process, the Podcast Factory includes a high-quality microphone and a USB audio interface. The audio interface has inputs for both the microphone and musical instruments, so it can handle all your recording needs.
Along with these bits of hardware, Podcast Factory also includes three separate pieces of software. For your basic recording work you'll use Audacity. This program enables you to record and edit your podcast, and to tidy things up with effects filters such as Noise removal and Bass boost.
Unfortunately, this is where things may start to get slightly complicated. If you already have some experience of audio recording work then you'll probably feel right at home with Audacity. However, newcomers may well struggle to get to grips with the software simply because Pinnacle hasn't bothered to include a proper manual.
We struggled with simple tasks such as importing some standard WMA files into the program and then deleting recordings that we didn't like. There's a skimpy user guide included with Podcast Factory, but this does little more than list the items you'll find in the box. The same is true of the program's online Help files, which tend to list features without explaining how to use them properly. There really ought to be some tutorials to get new users started.
Steep learning curve
This problem becomes even more acute when you look at the second piece of software, Ableton's Live Lite. To be fair, this is an extremely powerful audio production tool that makes it possible to create multi-track recordings that combine speech, recorded instruments and software instruments. Unlike Audacity, it also includes a number of online tutorials and sample projects. Even so, it's such a complex piece of software that newcomers are going to struggle with its many tools.
Thankfully, the final piece of software is a little more straightforward. Podifier is a simple program that can take the final MP3 file for your podcast and then upload it to the Internet as an RSS feed, which can be downloaded by others.
For just £100 there's no doubt that Podcast Factory is excellent value: it would probably cost you twice as much to buy all this hardware and software separately. Yet it's not enough to chuck a load of disks and cables into a box and just leave people to get on with it.
If you already have some experience of audio-editing software and are planning to produce podcasts on a regular basis then Podcast Factory is well worth buying. However, home users who are just getting started might be better off with a simple audio editor such as Avanquest's WebPod Studio and using their PC's existing sound card to do all the recording.