Pinnacle had told us it was planning a facelift for its troubled Studio line of budget video capture, editing and authoring, following the assignment, by new owner Avid, of a new project-development team. More importantly, for users of versions of Studio 8 and upwards, we were promised a more stable and reliable editing platform with fewer bugs and niggles than we’ve become used to in the past. So, does Studio 11 deliver on its promises?
Design and layout
The first thing you notice is that Studio 11 has been given a complete visual makeover; the screen interface now has a light and airy appearance, while retaining the overall layout characteristics of previous versions. Pinnacle has adapted the interface to make it suitable for larger widescreen displays, and it’s a lot easier on the eye.
The workflow remains the same: the Capture, Edit and Make Movie tabs make navigating around the screen very easy; the horizontal timeline offers two video tracks, one for your video clips and the other for special effects overlays, pan and zoom, etc; a titles track and two separate audio tracks so you can add a commentary or sound effects alongside a music track. Three alternate timeline displays – Timeline Mode, Storyboard or Text Listing – are available as before.
The new Studio 11 line-up contains three basic products: Studio, Studio Plus and Studio Ultimate. The entry version enables users to capture footage from DV camcorders, tidy it up and publish the finished videos to Yahoo! Video for online sharing. It has virtually all of the functionality that a beginner will require, and has simple, no-nonsense workflow through to DVD and beyond.
In the middle is Studio Plus, which has a few more enhanced features, including support for native HDV and AVCHD HD editing and also HD DVD disc burning. Users can burn discs on a standard DVD burner, using standard DVD discs and, depending on the format, can play them on the latest HD DVD players. We’re told that support for Blu-ray drives will follow as a free update in the very near future.
At the top of the line, Pinnacle Studio 11 Ultimate includes an audio cleaning application, BIAS SoundSoap, ProDAD VitaScene dramatic lighting and ‘film look’ effects, and also a great program called StageTools MovingPicture, which facilitates precision panning and zooming actions within imported still pictures. As part of the Ultimate package is a Chroma Key green screen backdrop for chromakey effects, too.
The most notable feature about the new Studio 11 Plus is that it provides support for AVCHD, the high-definition format pioneered by Panasonic and Sony. AVCHD uses heavy MPEG4 H.264 compression and is notoriously difficult to handle – especially by budget applications. When installed on a faster (preferably dual core) PC, Studio Plus 11 and Ultimate cope reasonably well.
Studio Plus 11 and Ultimate will import from HDV (tape-based) high-def camcorders, too. For the top-of-the range bundle, Pinnacle now includes Scorefitter, which works by enabling users to specify a particular range of video that requires music and then telling Scorefitter how to fill it – a wide variety of music genres, style and tempos are available. The choice of musical styles and moods is much greater than the Smartsound installed on versions up to and including Studio 10.
Also built in to the Studio workflow is the DVD menu system, which includes the ability to set Chapter Marks with static or motion thumbnails. This module is unchanged since Studio 7 and includes no additional menu templates that we could detect.
There’s no doubt that Studio 11 is a lot more fluid and responsive to use than previous versions. Even using a modestly specified Windows PC, MTS format widescreen 1440x1080 resolution clips shot with a Panasonic HDC-SD1 AVCHD camcorder (and imported directly from an SDHC card into Studio 11) responded well to timeline manipulation, although there were some periods when the program would go into pauses as background work took place. We put this down to the fact that the PC wasn’t quite up to the spec and the pre-release software wasn’t yet optimised.
The most annoying part of Studio has long been the DVD menu-creation system, and this is one area that hasn’t received any attention from the developers. Chapter Mark setting is a very hit-and-miss affair, and on two occasions we lost all our chapter-name data due to stupid errors. This requires urgent attention from Pinnacle if it’s to compare with equivalent (and better) products from Adobe and Ulead.
Pinnacle Studio Plus 11 is deserving of a cautious welcome, simply because it works straight from the box. However, anyone contemplating using Studio Plus 11 or Ultimate for HDV or AVCHD editing, needs to ensure that they install it on a machine that exceeds (by some considerable measure) the minimum specs quoted on the box. Though our modest test computer – a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 HT with 1GB RAM on Windows XP (SP2) – met the spec for standard-definition editing, it didn’t come anywhere near supporting AVCHD editing to a reliable extent.
However, the ability to export to a variety of formats, including HD DVD and (very soon) Blu-ray disc is a major leap forward, and full marks to Pinnacle for getting there first with a consumer product that facilitates this. Time will tell whether Studio 11 holds up to its maker’s promises, but on the face of it we think it might just do that.