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Video Software

Pinnacle Studio 16 Ultimate review

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Just two months after Corel's acquisition of Pinnacle Systems from Avid Technology comes the release of the latest version of Pinnacle's video-editing software, Studio 16 Ultimate ($130 as of September 4, 2012). This novice-focused application continues Pinnacle's (and its few remaining competitors') approach of packing in as many new features as possible, but it still won't satisfy everyone's needs.

Version tracking

But is this actually Studio 16? Not exactly; it's really version 2 of Avid Studio, a slightly higher-end application that Avid introduced last year. I even found "Avid" references in several places throughout the application. It looks significantly different from last year's Pinnacle Studio 15, though it still has lots of help tools and tooltips, and Corel includes 2 hours of video instruction on the DVD it comes on.

The application comes in three different versions: Studio 16, which costs $60 and allows you to add up to three video and three audio tracks; Studio 16 Plus, which costs $100 and allows up to 12 video and 12 audio tracks; and Studio 16 Ultimate, which allows you to add an unlimited number of tracks. The least-expensive version lacks support for Blu-ray disc authoring, 3D file importing, Dolby 5.1-channel audio, and keyframing; the middle version omits the Red Giant Filmmaker's Toolkit and Motion Graphics toolkit and the green-screen background sheet (to aid in "keying," or knocking out the background in a composition). That you can add as many tracks as you like and use keyframing, which is awkward at best in Studio 16 Ultimate, doesn't make even that version suitable for professional video editing; rather, they merely make it obvious that the least-expensive version is artificially hobbled.

That's not to say that Studio 16 Ultimate doesn't have some features worth considering. The most interesting feature that caught my attention is GPU acceleration, which Adobe Systems has used to great effect in its far-more-expensive Premiere Pro CS6 video editor: With a supported graphics card, Premiere can cut rendering times substantially, so seeing the same sort of technology in Studio 16 is head-turning.

In my tests, though, I did not see a performance improvement. I assembled a Studio project using multiple high-definition video tracks, audio tracks, and only transitions and effects that Studio identified as being GPU-accelerated. I then output the project to a few different file formats, with the application's GPU acceleration feature turned on and then turned off, and in every case, the project required the same amount of time to complete. From an examination of Windows' Task Manager during the operation, my computer's CPUs, rather than its graphics card, were working very hard on the job. Corel also claims that Studio 16 Ultimate has Intel Quick Sync Video optimization, a hardware-acceleration feature offered by some Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge CPUs; I could not test that claim with my system, however. Corel also claims that Studio 16 has "64-bit optimizations," though the application remains a 32-bit one.

The application will scan "watched" folders for usable assets--video, audio, etc. It is set to scan commonly used folders such as My Videos by default. Unfortunately, soon after I installed Studio 16 Ultimate, it began crashing every time I started it up. I figured out that the application was crashing every time it tried to scan an old .mov file on my system. The file is apparently damaged, because it won't play in QuickTime or any other application; when I tried to import the file into Adobe Premiere Elements 10, that application refused to import the file, citing a missing codec. But refusing to import is a far better outcome that repeated crashing--would one of the novice users that Studio is aimed at know to move the file out of the watched folder, and to suspend asset scanning, as I did? Probably not. True, mangled old video files are probably rare, and other than this incident, Studio performed adequately.

Inside the box

Studio 16 Ultimate competes with Premiere Elements, Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD, among many others, and Corel's own VideoStudio Pro (which Corel acquired when it bought InterVideo in 2006; InterVideo had acquired it from Ulead Systems). All of these consumer-focused applications seem to add the same new features, eventually--direct-to-YouTube uploads, a while back, and then direct-to-Facebook uploads. Studio 16 had trouble figuring out how to deal with Facebook's Login Approval security feature, so I had to authorize the application via a Web browser.

But Studio 16 Ultimate is first out of the gate with a couple of new features. It adds 3D video editing, which Movie Studio HD Platimum 11 added about a year ago, and others have followed suit, but Studio 16 supports stereoscopic 3D editing with Nvidia's 3D Vision, which Corel says allows you to edit and preview 3D projects full-screen. However, you will need several pieces of equipment, including an nVidia 3D Vision Kit, a 3D Vision-ready monitor, a compatible nVidia GeForce graphics card, and a powerful PC with Windows 7 or Windows Vista. I did not have all of these pieces, so I couldn't test the feature.

Corel released an $8 Pinnacle Studio iPad app, which offers high-definition video editing on that device (Pinnacle's former owner, Avid, offered the app first, and that version is still available; it costs $5). The Pinnacle Studio app can be used independently, or you can export projects from it to a desktop version of Studio 16. Corel does not offer an Android version.

With the limited amount of storage available on an iPad, how do you get high-definition video onto it for editing? Pull it from the cloud. The iPad app and the desktop application have new-found integration with Box.net, so you can import and export content to and from either kind of device. Studio 16 comes with 25GB of included storage on Box.net, and if you register your software with Corel, that gets increased to 50GB, an amount that would cost you $20 a month if you were to purchase it directly from Box.net. You can use the service outside of Studio, if you like, but either way, the maximum upload file size is 1GB. When I tried it, the service worked fine, though uploads via my cable-modem service were understandably slow, and Studio will not  allow you to upload more than one file at a time or queue files for uploading. In addition, while it's uploading or importing from Box.net, you can't do anything else with Studio.



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