PC video: a wide range of options...
It's been a while since we last looked at PC video options
(see our review of
Dazzle Video Creator ),
and a lot has changed since then. For a reasonably up to
date computer system, there is a plethora of low cost yet
effective ways to get involved with PC video editing. In
our ongoing pursuit of "push-button ease", we've tried a few of
Well, more than a
few, actually. The process of selecting the right
combination is complicated by the wide range of options
available and the interrelated dependencies thereof, all of
which boils down to the standard PC question: what's going to
work with what you have? And, of course, the corollary
question: what's going to work with what you want to use?
The variables in
this equation are the usual suspects- existing equipment,
current skills, and what you're aiming for. With PC video,
there's an added wrinkle in the convoluted path toward acquiring
a working setup- the not so simple matter of personal taste.
Get the right software...
Video editing is sufficiently popular that Microsoft has bundled
a basic application with Windows ME and both versions of XP.
In terms of hardware capability, any computer purchased with
these installed is likely to be adequate for the task. As
with most OS bundled applications though, you'll probably want
something more capable than the Microsoft "starter" software.
bewildering array of offerings to choose from, with interfaces
ranging from business-like and efficient to downright goofy.
Since we can generate a more than adequate supply of the latter
on our own, we prefer the former when it comes to making a
Among all the packages we've tried, the Studio series from
Pinnacle Systems provides the flexibility, features, and
usability we're looking for.
Though shaded, no
doubt, by our experience with other packages, we found the
Studio interface very intuitive, with the placement of options
and commands pretty much where we'd expect them to be.
In contrast, many of
the others seemed to have added certain features as an
afterthought, wedging them into an existing package anywhere
they'd fit, sometimes buried deep in a menu tree or lurking
behind an inscrutable icon.
Not that the Studio
interface is perfect of course, but it's been arranged with an
eye for usability, with the common functions more accessible and
sequentially arranged. The clean, uncluttered result is a
relief after some of the non-linear "post modernist" (to put it
charitably) interfaces we've seen on this type of software.
The only rough spot
we encountered on our initial run was the output selection
dialogue for Internet bound productions, which seemed to favor
Real Player over Windows Media. Closer examination
revealed most of the Windows Media options concealed behind an
This isn't really
surprising, since our version (seven) came bundled with Real
Player. It was, thankfully, an optional install, and we
declined. Like AOL, RealNetworks is too aggressive for our
tastes, taking the notion of "push" content to extremes.
Aside from web bound
output, Studio offers the usual choices including MPEG, AVI, DVD
or CD video, and (with the right hardware), the not-so-usual
choice of output to analogue or digital video tape.
Pinnacle's main business is producing tools for professional
video production, a business in which they've earned several
Emmy awards. The Studio software includes a large
assortment of impressive transitions and effects, with even more
available as an "add-in" option.
Beyond your basic
slice and splice, Studio offers a lot of control over the video
itself, with the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, tint,
intensity, and more. You can easily extract or insert
still photo's, add titles, voice-overs, music, and more.
The software will even create background music in your choice of
everything else we've seen, the editing controls are very
precise and relatively easy to use. Impressively, the cost
of the Studio package is competitive with much less capable
Start to finish...
Studio is a "start
to finish" video environment, designed to capture, edit, and
output your project. Unlike MGI's VideoWave (which would
be our second choice), it does not support a wide range of
import options for existing digitized video. Studio
recognises only the AVI format.
If you want to use
existing MPEG or other format sequences, you would need a way to
convert them first to AVI, and Studio does not provide this
function. This is not necessarily a problem though, as AVI
is a standard output option for many programs, including Ulead's
The Studio package
(software only) works with a wide range of capture hardware,
including internally mounted PCI cards, USB, or FireWire
Although the "Help"
files are remarkably complete, there's nothing like a printed
manual for mastering complex software.
We particularly like the full printed manual (not included in
the USB "Studio LT" version), which explains not only the
software and its operation, but provides a primer on the basics
of good video production, from planning scenes to avoiding
common amateur mistakes.
A variety of packages...
Pinnacle Studio comes in several flavors. The right one
for you depends on your equipment. If you already have a
means of transferring video to your computer, the software only
version is likely to work with what you have.
These could take the
form of a dedicated video capture card, a USB connected video
capture device, web cam, or one of the many TV tuner cards
quality and resolution of your video depends on the quality of
the source video, and the capability of the hardware capture
For quality and
maximum flexibility, the internally mounted dedicated capture
cards are by far the best. If your computer has an
available PCI slot, and you're comfortable with adding or
changing internal components, we strongly recommend this route.
Although we have
several capture devices, we chose the Studio AV package, which
includes a PCI video input/output card designed to work with an
analogue style video source such as VHS or High 8.
For a digital video
camera, there's a DV version with an IEE 1394 (FireWire)
input/output card included.
In the bargain
basement, you can get a "light" version of Studio bundled with a
USB analogue input gadget that works pretty well if you're just
starting out and not prepared to open your computer or invest in
the more complete packages.
Finally, if you're
starting to get serious, there's a combination version which
accommodates both analogue and digital and includes a handy
"breakout box" to simplify connections of a variety of
Any of these will
capture and digitize your video complete with sound, so it's a
matter of choosing what will best fit your source and your