One of the few mainstream software markets with several applications of roughly equal weight is home-video editing.
There's Adobe Premiere Elements and Corel's Ulead VideoStudio 10 Plus, as well as the subject of this evaluation, Pinnacle Studio Plus 11. Pinnacle was purchased a couple of years back by the professional video software and hardware company Avid, and some of the pro code is said to have found its way into this enthusiast product.
Pinnacle Studio Plus 11 comes on two DVDs, one containing the program itself and some sample files, and the other with extra goodies, such as transitions and video clips. There's also a 300-page manual to get through, which unusually doesn't mean 30 pages written in 10 different languages. It's well written and well illustrated, though in places a little technical for the beginner.
HD for all
There are three distinct phases to preparing a video and these are reflected in the tabs across the top of the screen: Capture, Edit and Make movie. The Capture screen deals with uploading video clips from a video camera, DVD or disk file and highlights one of the main innovations in the program.
Pinnacle Studio Plus 11 is completely HD compatible, so you can load material in HDV format, but also in Advanced Video Codec High Density (AVCHD) format, designed for Blu-ray discs.
Rather than using any system of proxies, and assuming your PC has the specification to handle it, the software can capture, edit and burn HD video. Even without an HD or Blu-ray drive in your system, you can burn 20 minute HD videos to standard DVDs, in much the same way you could burn short, standard-definition videos to CDs, before the mass adoption of DVD writers.
HD video demands a reasonably capable PC and a dual-core processor with 1GB of main memory (2GB for Vista) and a 128MB graphics card is recommended. Storing and burning HD video takes around 12.5GB per hour, so you'll need substantial hard drive storage, as well.
The bigger picture
Pinnacle Studio's main editing screen looks superficially similar to previous versions, with a preview panel on the right, thumbnails of video clips on the left and a storyboard at the bottom.
The thumbnails can be overlaid with other panels, specific to the work your doing, so there's one for soundtracks and another for transitions, for example. The storyboard can be exchanged, too, for a multi-channel timeline or a simple file list of video clips, in running order.
You can work with whichever view feels most comfortable, though we suspect most people will choose the timeline.
Pinnacle has decided to take advantage of a recent hardware innovation - widescreen monitors - by making the Studio screen expandable. If the screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio, you can extend the timeline and display more thumbnails, to take full advantage of the extra desktop space; a good bit of literal, lateral thinking.
Soundtracks have been a weaker area of Studio in the past, with the ability to load music tracks, but little other than fades available to tailor them to the length of a scene or section. Version 11 rectifies that by introducing Scorefitter, a third-party add-on which cuts real music, to length.
A good range of music files in a number of different styles are provided and these can be trimmed to fit. This is action completed simply by dragging the Scorefitter music track to the length needed.
Once the video is complete, you can give it a full DVD menu front-end, including motion backgrounds, but there are other destinations possible. Improved support of web video means you can add the results of an edit to a website or send them as an attachment with an email. There's also support for iPod and Sony PSP, increasing the ways you can use Studio videos, outside as well as within, the home.
These aren't exactly revolutionary features but they extend Studio Plus outside of its meagre price tag. It does the job of 10 cheaper applications for a single low price. Excellent!
Pinnacle continues to be a main contender in the home video market with Studio Plus 11. Its improved support of HD video, in all its forms, should provide a degree of future proofing, even if you haven't made the switch yet.
Support of wide-screen monitors and improved soundtrack design are also welcome, as are the numerous little tweaks to the interface. It's clear that some significant chunks of Studio have been completely recoded. Check your PC specification, though, as there's been quite a hike in requirements since version 10.