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Pinnacle Studio 18 Review: Great Interface and Controls

Pinnacle Studio 18 Review: Great Interface and Controls
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Who It's For: Video editors who want everything within reach.

Pinnacle Studio 18 is designed for an experienced video editor who wants precise control and powerful performance from a program. With a well-organized layout and an army of tools at your disposal, the $60 Pinnacle Studio 18 delivers a lot of features for the money.

Setup: Long Download, Quick Install 

It took 20 minutes to download the 1.68GB installer for Pinnacle Studio 18 over my 18.4-Mbps broadband connection. That file is bigger than CyberLink's PowerDirector (793MB) and Sony's Movie Studio 13 (463MB), but smaller than Adobe's 4.2GB whopper for Premiere Elements 13 and VideoStudio Pro X7's 1.9GB.

The Pinnacle Studio package extracted in a minute and a half, then took just over 5 minutes to install. My test laptop had a dual-core 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM, a 5400-rpm hard drive, an Nvidia GeForce GT820M GPU and the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1. 

You'll need Windows 7 and up to run Pinnacle Studio 18 on a device with at least a 1.06-GHz multicore Intel Core i5 processor for optimal performance. Corel also recommends using a 64-bit version of Windows, and at least 4GB of RAM, as well as a DirectX 9 (or higher) graphics processor with 256MB of graphics memory. There is no Mac version.

MORE: Best Video Editing Software

Corel offers three versions of Pinnacle Studio 18 — Studio, Studio Plus and Studio Ultimate. The $100 Plus version comes with 3D support, customizable keyboard shortcuts and more effects than the $60 basic version. For $130, the Ultimate version adds support for 4K resolution, XAVC-S video files and Dolby 5.1, Blu-ray authoring and a third-party music-and-speech filter.

Design and Interface: Intimidating But Organized

Pinnacle Studio may put off beginners due to its somewhat intimidating interface. On startup, you'll see the Organize interface, which shows all the media in your computer's various folders. The program pulls files from locations that you designate on first launch and puts them in this library for easy access in the future.

In Organize view, lists of folders, collections, projects and content line the left panel, while thumbnails of your media, effects, transitions and sound effects are displayed in a grid layout on the right. While it's well-organized, I felt overwhelmed by the wealth of material in front of me.

Tabs at the top of the screen let you navigate interfaces such as Organize, Edit, Author, Import and Export. Author is a confusing moniker — clicking it launches the DVD creator, which lets you set up chapters and menus in your disc, and burn your project to a DVD. 

Once you get acclimated, you'll realize that Pinnacle Studio's layout puts most important controls within easy reach. A bar above the timeline holds 20 buttons that let you set markers, adjust volume, lock clips in position and add effects with one click. 

I especially loved the preview panel with Source and Timeline tabs that let you play the selected file in your library and the project on your timeline, respectively. Other programs, such as Corel's VideoStudio Pro X7 and Sony's Movie Studio 13, show a preview of your source video in a pop-up window, which can get in the way of working on the timeline. 

Another nice touch is the star rating and tagging system that lets you organize your media. This is especially handy for those who have hours of footage to choose from and want to go through it and flag which clips are good, all right, bad or unusable

It took me a while to figure out how to zoom out (see more) of the timeline, since there isn't a clearly labeled tool as on competing programs. You'll have to drag the horizontal scrollbar below the timeline to zoom.

Double-clicking clips on the timeline opens a window that lets you add effects, transitions and enhancements to your selected footage. I was wowed by how well-organized this feature is. Tabs at the top let you choose what to edit — Transition In, Correction, Effects and Transition Out — and each of these sections has its own comprehensive set of tools. (More on those features later.)

Overall, Pinnacle Studio 18's plentiful knobs, dials and tabs may be confusing at first, but they let you do more with fewer clicks once you get used to the layout.

Features: Everything You Need and More

Pinnacle Studio 18 offers a comprehensive bag of tools that provide plenty of control over your project.

Comprehensive tools for power users

You can do a lot with Pinnacle Studio 18. The program lets you perform basic adjustments such as rotating videos, enhancing your footage and adding titles, as well as more advanced functions such as creating green-screen background effects and turning your project into stereoscopic 3D video.

To add transitions, simply drag them from the library in the top left and drop them onto the timeline between clips. I shortened each transition by pulling the ends of each block on the timeline.

When editing individual clips, you get an impressively wide variety of options. There are more than 100 effects in Transition In/Out and dozens of 2D and 3D filters in Effects. Under Corrections, you can edit settings such as brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity, haze, aspect ratio and even selective brightness or selective saturation. The latter two options let you adjust very specific parts of your image, such as just the dark tones (shadows) or the brighter portions (highlights).

I liked Pinnacle Studio 18's render-as-you-go feature, which automatically generates the effects and transitions you've applied to your clip for playback. Other programs, such as CyberLink's PowerDirector 13 and Adobe's Premiere Elements 13, require you to periodically press a button to render what's on the timeline. It's fun and satisfying to watch a yellow bar above the timeline slowly turn green as Pinnacle Studio renders new effects in the project in real time.

Though its $60 price tag might be alluring to beginners, Pinnacle Studio 18 targets consumers who need more advanced tools. With each purchase of Pinnacle Studio 18, Corel is offering a free six-week pass to its online training program on StudioBacklot.tv, which provides video tutorials and a royalty-free stock media library.

SmartMovie: Simple and effective, but hard to find

Pinnacle Studio 18 also has an automated movie creation tool, called SmartMovie, under the Organize tab. With SmartMovie, you select the clips, music and images you want to include in your final piece, and the program stitches everything together for you.

I picked four video clips of varying durations, added a 2-minute-long music track, then set SmartMovie's clip length to Medium (decided by SmartMovie based on the length of your clips) and checked the "Adjust length to music" box. The program impressed me with how accurately it selected the most interesting parts of my footage and spliced them together with elegant transitions and a fun title effect. 

Performance: Speedy, Above-Average Rendering

Corel added Intel Quick Sync optimization to Pinnacle Studio 18 to make the program work faster with PCs. On devices with a discrete graphics card, the software also uses hardware acceleration to speed up performance.

We tested the program with a 2-minute-long package of five 1080p 60fps AVCHD clips, transitions, title screen, text and graphics. On our test laptop, Pinnacle Studio 18 took just 3 minutes and 25 seconds to convert that package into a 720p 30fps MPEG-4 file.

That's faster than Adobe Premiere Elements 13 (4:12), Corel's own VideoStudio Pro X7 (4:52) and Sony's Movie Studio 13 (8:52) did on the same laptop with a similar set of clips and effects. CyberLink's PowerDirector 13 was faster though, producing the file in just 2 minutes and 47 seconds.

From time to time, Pinnacle Studio 18 lagged when rendering effects I added, especially when I tried to stabilize a shaky 30-second clip. It also takes awhile for the application to start up, likely because it has to load a large library of files. Selecting fewer folders for Pinnacle Studio to load shortens the startup time.

Exporting and Sharing: Many Formats, Friendly Interface, Pricey Apps

When you're done working on your video, clicking Export at the top of the screen launches Studio Exporter. In this window, you select from one of four output channels — File (storing locally), Disc, Cloud (Facebook, Vimeo or YouTube) and Device (iPhone, iPod, Xbox, PlayStation, etc.). After picking one of these options, you can choose a file format for exporting. Pinnacle Studio 18 supports a comprehensive variety of file types, including MPEG 1/2/4, AVI, AVCHD, WMV and 3GP.

The Studio Exporter also shows a preview of what your finished project will look like and the amount of space used and remaining in the selected output folder on your computer.

Corel also offers Pinnacle Studio apps for iPhone ($9.99) and iPad ($12.99). You can share your work in progress from your iOS device to your PC for further edits. CyberLink and Adobe's mobile companions to the company's PowerDirector and Premiere Elements programs are free. 

Bottom Line

For just $60, Pinnacle Studio 18 puts advanced controls in a well-organized interface. It offers all you need to create a stunning film, and the SmartMovie wizard makes it convenient for those who don't want the trouble of putting clips together themselves. I liked the automatic timeline rendering feature as well as how easy it was to reach all the functions I wanted from the main screen. 

Beginners who want a simpler program to start with might prefer Adobe's Premiere Elements 13 ($100), which offers built-in step-by-step tutorials and a friendlier interface. It also packs a ton of useful features for when you start to go pro. But for the money, Pinnacle Studio 18 packs a punch with its helpful and effective tools.

Supported File Formats

Import:
MVC, AVCHD, DV, HDV, AVI, MPEG-1/2/4, DivX, Flash, 3GP, H.263, WMV, nonencrypted DVD titles, QuickTime, DivX Plus MKV

Audio: MP3, MPA, M4A, WAV, AMR, AC3, AAC, Vorbis, WMA

Image: MPO, JPS, BMP, GIF, JPG, PCX, PSD, TGA, TIF, WMF, PNG, J2K

Export:
AVCHD, XAVC-S, BD Blu-ray, DVD (DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R or DVD+RW, dual layer), DV, HDV, AVI, DivX, WMV, MPEG-1/2/4, Flash, 3GP, WAV, MP2, MP3, MP4, 3D: DVD, AVCHD, AVCHD2 (inc. MVC), Blu-ray

Export Devices: Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad/TV, Sony PSP/PS3, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox

Staff writer Cherlynn Low has been vlogging on YouTube and Ustream since 2009. Follow her @cherlynnlow. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide and on Facebook.

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  • 0 Hide
    cdemiris96 , December 8, 2014 3:35 PM
    Nice review. The iPhone/iPad apps are more expensive than the competitors because they are full-blown editing apps as opposed to simple companion apps like Adobe and Cyberlink
  • 0 Hide
    Damago , January 29, 2015 5:04 AM
    You totally do not mention that Pinnacle studio crashes a lot and has a lot of bugs. I do not believe that you did not experience any bugs during your review. I did own every single version of Pinnacle studio starting with version 9, and I always upgrage NOT because I want more functions but simply in a hope that the next version will be at least a bit less buggy.

    My last experience from yesterday when trying to make a 5 minute movie from skiing holidays:
    * first i couldn't find the simplest fade through black transition (there is a zillion of pathetic amateur looking transitions with all the whistles and animations which makes finding simple transitions very uneasy).
    * than when trying to save the movie: it immediately crashed upon opening the 'Save as' dialog. It is quite normal when you work with this programm for more than 20 minutes so I didn't worry - but it occured that because of this error I cannot change the name of the movie (no possibility to 'save as') I have located the temporrary file (New movie.movie.axp) and changed it's name but Pinnacle studio deleted this file immediately upon opening it.
    I had to start my work from scratch.
    After a few hour spent on re-creating the whole movie I entered the 'export' menu and started export to TS format. It did export 27% and the export process hang. The UI was responsive but export never passed 27%.

    And I can tell everybody reading this comment: such behavior is COMPLETELY TYPICAL for Pinnacle Studio Products. No matter on what hardware and what Pinnacle Studio version you have.
  • 0 Hide
    Reyfox I , February 4, 2015 6:16 AM
    I would have to disagree with Damago. I edit with the software all the time. I do complex, multitrack editing with effects. I edit native AVCHD and Canon DSLR MOV HD footage. I use 18megapixel images (from the Canon) and finish everything I start.
    Are there problems? Yes. But there are problems with every software out there. I export to file (MPG4 1080P) and upload to my youtube channel. Many out there are using the software producing amazing results.
    Because someone does not know how to use the software, nor has bothered to read the manual or watch the easy to follow online video tutorials that Pinnacle offers to everyone (professionally produced by ClassOnDemand) is not the software's fault. Reading your post, you mention looking for a simple fade to black in the transitions. You don't have to "look" for it. Easy to apply and do.
    The behavior might be "typical" on your machine, but not mine. I have the video evidence to prove it and can point to many others publishing their work.
    Have you tried the Pinnacle user forums?
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