Simplified, clean interface. Can edit 360-degree VR content. Fastest rendering performance. Tons of effects. Multicam editing. 4K and H.265 support. Searchable effects. Tagging and star ratings for media. Good audio tools. Solid output options.
Motion tracking issues on one test PC. Occasional crashes. Uneven 360-degree VR implementation.
- Bottom Line
Pinnacle Studio is a fast, full-featured, near-professional-level video-editing application with support for 360-degree VR, 3D, and multicam. It's a pleasure to use, though its most advanced features could use a bit more polish.
Pinnacle Studio, now in version 21, has become steadily more powerful and speedier over the years. Corel develops both Pinnacle Studio and VideoStudio video editing software. Pinnacle is the higher end of the two product lines, aimed at near-professional-level enthusiasts, though the latest versions of both lines offer excellent editing features and effects such as stop-motion, multicam editing, and motion tracking. Pinnacle is also one of very few apps that support 360-degree VR content, and its rendering speed is tops. The latest version sports a simpler interface and adds some interesting new effects and capabilities.
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For the veteran Pinnacle users out there, here's the short version of what's new in this year's update:
- a simplified yet more-customizable interface,
- a new keyframe-centric editing panel,
- motion 3D title creation,
- wide angle lens distortion correction,
- video templates,
- painting effects, and
- morph transitions.
I'll go into more detail about these new features throughout this review, but first I'll cover the basics.
Pricing and Starting Up
Like most video editing software product lines, Pinnacle Studio is available in a trinity of good, better, and best levels, with the entry level Pinnacle Studio listing for $59.95, Plus for $99.95, and Ultimate (reviewed here) for $129.95. If you need to edit 360-degree or 4K content, you'll need to spring for Ultimate, which also adds high-end effects from NewBlue and unlimited video tracks. Unfortunately, there's no free trial version.
Pinnacle Studio runs on Windows 10, 8.x, and 7, and it works best on 64-bit versions of those OSes, as you might expect. First you download a small installer stub app, which then downloads the massive full program. It weighs in at 1.7GB, so you'll want a fast internet connection. You'll also want plenty of space on your hard drive. Of course, if you're editing 4K video, you'll need a big disk in any case.
Importing and Interface
When you first run the program, you're invited to the program's new User Experience Improvement Program, which sends anonymous usage data back to the company; turning that off is straightforward, if you're not interested. Next, a dialog tells you that the Import feature lets you record and open media files.
Import now takes up the full program window, which makes it easy to switch among the types of importing you may want: from DVD, computer folders, stop motion, snapshot, or multicam. The software can import 4K content, and you can star-rate and keyword-tag content at import, which facilitates searching for it. The search bar also helps you find content you haven't marked in this way, searching instead for words in the filename.
The latest version of Pinnacle sports a greatly simplified interface. The design has flat, 2D icons, and a pleasant black and gray color scheme. Pinnacle Studio uses the concept of Project Bins, in which you stash all the content for a given movie project—clips, photos, and sound files, but not effects and transitions. This is a common approach for pro-level apps such as Final Cut Pro X, and it's a feature that Corel's other line, VideoStudio, does not offer.
The whole program window is topped by three mode-switching buttons: Import, Edit, and Export. The first and last of these replace previous versions' Organize and Author modes, which may throw longtime users, but they can still accomplish the former modes' tasks. If you're a longtime user of the program who's stuck in your ways, you can revert to the legacy interface view in Settings by choosing Legacy Authoring Mode.
Edit mode uses the standard three-pane editor interface, with source content occupying the top-left quadrant of the screen, the preview window at the top right, and the timeline across the bottom half. The Ultimate level allows an unlimited number of tracks, as mentioned earlier. Plus limits you to 24 tracks, and Standard to six. You can change the relative size of the panels, add a source-video preview, and switch the movie preview to full screen.
New for version 21 is the ability to pull panels off and change their positions, as you can in some other editors, such as Sony Movie Studio. The preview window includes detailed controls, such as jog and shuttle, frame advance, and rewind. You expand and contract the timeline (either the main one or the one in the preview window) with a clever mouse-drag action, but I wish there were a mouse wheel option for resizing the timeline.
You can search and sort any content, which is more than I can say for some video editors, such as sister Corel application VideoStudio. You can also very easily hide and show items by content type—video, audio, photo, and project. There's an enormous and customizable assortment of keyboard shortcuts. You can also choose which buttons you want to display on the timeline toolbar, including things like Split, Add Marker, Trim Mode, Multi-Cam Editor, and Audio Ducking.
For those who want the ultimate control, Pinnacle now lets video editors time every kind of effect and adjustment with keyframes. That includes position, size, rotation, opacity, borders, corrections, filter effects, pan/zoom, transitions, and time remapping. Keyframing lets you evenly increase or decrease an effect over time. Once you've got a video set up the way you want, you can save it as a template from the File menu. You specify which clips should become placeholders, which you can fill in subsequent projects with different clips.
The interface makes no specific concession to touch input, which I find useful for scrubbing, changing value sliders, and tapping control buttons. That said, scrubbing the timeline by finger did work acceptably. A few elements displayed tiny on my 4K touch screen monitor in testing. And rather than integrated help, you get an online PDF. In general, however, I like the interface changes in version 21, which make it more accessible than a lot of competing video editors.
Basic Video Editing and Transitions
Pinnacle uses a magnetic timeline, so any clip you drag and drop into it snaps to any existing clips, but you can turn that behavior off, if you prefer. Dropping a clip inside another splits the original one, and a razor icon offers clip splitting, as well. The Trim Mode button (or just double clicking a join point) opens a second preview window so you can see the first and second clips' states at the trim point. This is supposed to help with effecting slip and slide trims, but I find it less intuitive than other programs' trimming windows, such as those of CyberLink PowerDirector and VideoStudio.
Dog-eared corners of adjacent clips let you adjust transition lengths between them. You can also enable dynamic-length transitions, or just stick with transitions of set lengths. Cross-fades are accessible right on the timeline via the transition dog ears, but the place from which you get your fancier transitions is somewhat hidden, compared with how other video editors present it. They're also not as simple to add to timeline clips, with no automatic duration option. Sometimes I dragged a transition between clips in my testing and the app didn't add anything. There is, however, a very full selection of transitions, grouped as 2D-3D, Artistic, Alpha Magic, and more.
The new Morph transition is worth calling out. It lets you draw guides in the first and second videos to affect the transition. It's not quite as impressive as Final Cut Pro X's Flow transition, which blends jump cuts, for example, making an edit in an interview appear seamless. The Pinnacle Morph transition is pretty much a crossfade that lets you add blurry motion between clips.
Also new for version 21 is Wide-Angle Lens Correction. Simply double click on a source clip, and then choose that option from the top menu. There are six GoPro presets, but you can also manually adjust the geometry, making sure lines that should be straight are indeed rectilinear—an issue with GoPro's wide angle lenses.
You can get to Pinnacle Studio's Motion Tracking tool either by right-clicking on a track or by double-clicking on the clip in the timeline to open the Effects window. First you mask the object you want to track, and then you actually have the program track it. Its sounds simple, but in truth the process is a little dicier than in some other software. On my all-in-one PC with a 4K display it took a few tries to get it to follow my masked biker, and after many attempts, I still couldn't achieve reliable tracking. On a system with a standard HD display, the tracking worked fine.
All such tools have difficulty tracking objects when the background confuses the issue, but in my tests Pinnacle's lost the tracked object more often than the competition—even Corel's own VideoStudio. Some type of step-by-step wizard would help. The tool does offer Mosaic and Blur options, something you'll often want to do in a video for things like obscuring faces, license plates, branded items, or naughty bits.
360-Degree VR Video
Like CyberLink PowerDirector, Pinnacle Studio now lets you work with 360-degree video, from cameras like the Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K and the Samsung Gear 360. You can either do some basic editing while maintaining the 360-degree aspect or convert the 360 to standard 2D view. I tested footage from the latter. Confusingly, you have to add the 360 clip to the timeline first and then right-click on it and choose Add as 360 or 360-to-Standard.
When editing 360-degree content, you see two windows with two tabs, a 360-degree source and a preview window with the 2D end result. You can pan around the scene either in the source window with a crosshairs control or just click and drag the mouse pointer around in the preview window to change the viewing angle.
The program did a good job of straightening out my 4K 360-degree test content in double fisheye format. If you want the content to remain in 360 degrees, you're limited to basic trimming, fade transitions, and titles. After adding titles, you also have to choose Add as 360, if you want that mode retained. I had trouble moving a title, which landed in the center of the video and didn't display in 360 Preview mode. Stabilization isn't an option for 360 video, though it's still available from the menus; trying to use it resulted in a program crash in my testing, however.
Like its stablemate Corel VideoStudio, Pinnacle Studio now lets you simultaneously edit multiple clips of the same event shot at different angles. The base version allows two camera angles, Plus makes it four, and Ultimate gives you six. The tool did a good job of aligning my clips using their audio tracks, but you can also align using time codes and markers. As with all these tools, you switch among angles by tapping a clips box in a grid. There are even boxes for switching to clear and to black, which is great if you want to add B-roll later.
When you hit OK, a new clip shows up in your project, not in the timeline. I like that you can right-click and choose Edit Movie to fine-tune angle shifts in a timeline or even reopen it in the multicam switcher window. Some multicam tools, such as that in VideoStudio, simply create a new clip that's not adjustable after the fact.
Stop Motion is one of the most appealing types of animation, in my book. Just think back to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or more recently to Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit. The Pinnacle tool lets you control a connected camera to take shots automatically at time intervals you specify, and it can even show ghost images of your last shot so you know how to position the next one.
You can then send the captures to the timeline and adjust duration and apply any other editing. You can't, however, create animated GIFs. The tool now includes DSLR support, and circular guides that tell you how far to move an object to have it cross the screen in a specified time period between 0.3 and 10 seconds.
Pinnacle claims to offer more than 2,000 effects. That's more than anyone really needs, and many are duplicates with transitions or, worse, just goofy overlays. Pinnacle would do better to trim out the fat and combine the duplicates to make effects easier to find and use.
There are also many impressive effects among them, though, such as Dream Glow and Old Film. And many included third-party effects, such as NewBlue's Drop Shadow, Shredder, and Photon Blast, are of professional quality. With the Ultimate edition, you get several New Blue plug-in effects. The latest of these to make its way into the program is NewBlue Video Essentials 5, which lets you apply selective focus, selective color and selective tint. Other included NewBlue packs include several geometry-altering effects, along with good auto-contrast, gradient-tint, diffusion, and rolling-shutter effects.
Why should digital photos be the only type of content you can turn into art and prettify with artsy effects? The new Paint tool in Pinnacle's latest version lets you do so with video content. Version 21 adds five impressive Paint effects: Stylization, Pencil Sketch, Oil Painting, Detail Enhance, and Cartoon. You're not actually painting on the image, but the effects make it look painted or drawn. I particularly like the Stylization effect, which looks like graphic novel art. The Cartoon effect uses more of a black ink outline around the object in the video.
Pinnacle Studio includes strong tools for 3D editing, though that's gone out of fashion for the moment. Picture-in-picture is also well supported, though it's easier to manage in PowerDirector, which also has more picture-in-picture (PiP) templates. Pinnacle Studio's latest version adds a dozen of what it calls Split Screen templates. You can drag these onto the timeline and then open a sub-editor to add clips to the PiP layout. The Split Screen Template Creator lets you draw shapes to create your very own reusable PiP layout.
Transparency has a special tool of its own, accessible from a button above the timeline. This provides an easy way to adjust each track's transparency level, in percentages. It's a useful tool for creating an evocative effect, especially to show the passing of time. But I find PowerDirector's masking tool with automated animations more fun.
Chroma-Keying worked well with my test green-screen footage, nearly perfectly removing the somewhat imperfect green background. The Stabilize tool lets you adjust borders and zoom, and you can have it work in the background, as it is fairly time-consuming. My shaky footage came out somewhat smoothed. As with all similar tools, however, it's no substitute for in-camera stabilization or, better still, a tripod.
Titling is a strength for Pinnacle, and the latest version adds one of the coolest features around: 3D title editing, like that in Final Cut Pro X. You can change the title position on three axes, as well as choosing light source and angle and material types like metal, plastic. And you can animate it using keyframes. It's an impressive tool. Magix Movie Edit Pro, and PowerDirector have all also added some nifty new title tricks in recent versions, including video mask title effects. Even without the 3D options, Pinnacle offers a good choice of animated text options, all of which you can edit on-screen in WYSIWYG fashion.
Pinnacle Studio's screen-cam capability is something you'll also find in Corel VideoStudio. The tool comes as a separate application called Live Screen Capturing. This worked perfectly in my tests.
Sound for your digital movies is another strong point in Pinnacle Studio. Right from the timeline, you can display level controls, and toolbar buttons take you quickly to a selection of background music and to voiceover recording. You can even raise and lower clip volume by dragging a clip's audio line up and down, as you can in Final Cut Pro.
The Scorefitter options stretch background music of various styles to fit your movie. Just drag its timeline entry to fit, and after processing some rendering, presto, instant background music! The source panel's Sound Effects tab offers a wealth of sound clips, from birdsong to strong wind to all manner of vehicles. There are also audio cleaning tools like the Speech De-esser (to remove sibilance) and a noise reducer.
Audio ducking automatically lowers background music during speech. The tool worked well in a test video, with more control than its VideoStudio counterpart. I found it easy to set the threshold for it to kick in and the amount of reduction in volume of the background music.
Pinnacle takes the rendering speed crown in my tests. It bested the entire field of prosumer editing products, beating the time needed by a previous performance leader, PowerDirector, by more than half a minute. And in general editing use, Pinnacle was responsive on my test PC in normal editing use and even with multiple PiP objects, which slows down most software.
I tested rendering time by creating a movie consisting of four clips of mixed types (some 1080p, some SD, some 4K) with a standard set of transitions and rendering it to 1080p MPEG-4 at 15Mbps, H.264 High Profile. Audio was MPEG AAC Audio: 192 Kbps. I tested on an Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC running 64-bit Windows 10 Home and sporting a 4K display, 16GB RAM, a quad-core Intel Core i7-6700T CPU, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M discrete graphics card.
The test movie (which has a duration of just under 5 minutes) took Pinnacle Studio just 1 minute and 35 seconds, besting PowerDirector, which came in at 2:34. Among other contenders I tested, VideoStudio took 4:20 and Adobe Premiere Elements took 5:18.
However, when using some of the new features, such as advanced 360-degree video editing, the program quit unexpectedly. Fortunately, when this happened, the program offered to let me resume working on the project last open. This is not unexpected in the demanding category of video editng—even Apple's Final Cut Pro crashed occasionally during my most recent round of tests.
Sharing and Output
The program includes a full disc-authoring module with support for Blu-ray discs, along with DVD and AVCHD format. To go this route, you click the Disc Menu Content button, which looks like a disc. A good selection of menu styles is at your disposal; you add chapter markers to taste and preview with on-screen disc controls. After this you choose the Export to MyDVD option, which appears when you click the Export mode-switching button.
As for the more modern output method—sharing online—Pinnacle's Export dialog's Cloud selection offers direct uploading to Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, and Box. When I tried the first, I was thankfully able to set the privacy level before uploading, and I had a choice of video quality, from 360p to 1080p.
You can also simply export to disk in a wide range of file formats, including AVCHD; DivX; MKV; MPEG-1, 2, and 4; QuickTime; and WMV. Presets let you target your output format to popular viewing devices such as the iPhone and Xbox. Happily, the latest version adds the ability to export to H.265 HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) format, which is important for data-hungry 4K and even 8K content, since it doubles compression while maintaining image quality.
The Pinnacle of Consumer Video Editing?
Pinnacle Studio Ultimate impresses with its many powerful video editing tools, and even more with its rendering speed. It's really a near-professional-level product. It's motion tracking needs work, however, as does overall program stability during advanced operations. Its usability has improved, though it's still somewhat behind our Editors' Choices for video editing on the PC, CyberLink PowerDirector and Corel VideoStudio. For macOS, our Editors' Choice is Final Cut Pro X.
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Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine’s lead analyst for software and Web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine’s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of Web Services for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine’s Solutions section, which covered programming techniques as well as tips on using popular office software. Most recently he covered services and software for ExtremeTech.com. More »
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