We're all George Lucases now. As digital hardware and software bring professional-grade production values to home video, a whole new class of weekend directors has emerged to create personal TV shows, video series, or just higher-quality family video. You can see much of this pro-am work on Revver, YouTube, and other user-generated video hubs. Pinnacle's Studio 11 series, which comes in three variously priced versions, is aimed at ambitious amateurs who want to add more professional polish to their work but avoid professional software prices. And it largely succeeds.
Most basic video-editing suites have novice-level burning tools, and DVD creation with video effects. Pinnacle Studio offers all of those basic tools in a well-designed movie-making deck. The familiar multi-track editing deck interface can capture clips and drag and drop them into the Timeline. The icon-driven tabs bring up screens for applying titles, audio, transitions and narration. From the storyboard, enhanced video and audio menus pop up to add a trove of overlays, pre-fab audio tracks, volume adjustment, still capture, and more.
Pinnacle did a good job of packing a staggering range of editing options here and making them accessible without clutter. General editing was easy and follows most of the drag-and-drop conventions of other editors. Because video-editing programs are notoriously buggy, and we've had problems with earlier Pinnacle releases, it's important to note that Studio 11 was rock solid for us, even under Vista.
A few newer and more welcome additions include the picture-in-picture device, which superimposes one video or still onto another in a box or split screen. The tools for adding a box and adjusting transparency were not as clear as they might have been, but they did work. There is also a Chromakey tool (paired with a green screen backdrop) that can place a video recording in the foreground onto a wholly different background image or video for that weather map effect. And because synchronizing a soundtrack to a foreground video is among the hardest tasks in video editing, we really appreciated the new Soundfitter technology; it adjusts the duration of a series of MIDI audio backgrounds to the duration of any clip.
The Ultimate Package includes three very valuable plug-ins from third-party vendors that supercharge the program and add a lot of professional-grade value. The StageTools MovingPicture is a very sophisticated still-image tool that provides granular control over that Ken Burns pan and zoom effect. You establish start and end points for zooms, as well as apply pacing and other visual effects. The proDAD Vitascene plug-in includes a large library of advanced video filters that transform clips into black and white, stylish blurs, and other signature looks, and it does the same with titles.
Finally, the BIAS Soundsoap plug-in scrubs background noise like wind and street sounds from a clip. It actually learns the background noise in order to excise it. Each of these tools is powerful, but they're plug-ins, so we found their integration less than smooth. We had trouble getting the Vitascene tool to show the effects in real time when previewing a clip, although it did apply the effect properly. Likewise, the operations in the MovingPicture and Soundsoap plug-ins introduced new interfaces that weren't always clear, and we weren't always sure the effects were being applied. The tools worked, but awkwardly.
Studio 11 comes in a basic $49.99 version that includes the core editor/DVD maker, media restoration tools, Web uploading (Yahoo Video only) and format conversion. The $99.99 "Plus" edition adds HD support and PIP/Chromakey. This Ultimate Edition, at a mere $30 more ($129), includes the Chromakey backdrop, the advanced plug-ins, and Dolby 5.1 encoding. Pinnacle throws in a bonus DVD for the Plus and Ultimate versions that adds tons of video and audio effects that help make an already feature-packed package even more of a bargain. Most weekend directors will find more than they can use in this videography tool kit.
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