Product Review

Pinnacle Studio Version 9 Non-Linear Video Editor

April, 2004

John E. Johnson, Jr.



● Non-Linear Editor (NLE) for
    Consumer Use

● Capture and Edit 4:3 and 16:9
    Digital or Analog Video

● Drag-and-Drop Editing

● Image Stabilization, Color
    Correction, Noise Reduction,
    Special Effects, Background
    Music, Stereo Panning, EQ, Titles,

● Burn to CD, DVD, Tape, Internet (MPEG,
    AVI, RealVideo, Windows Media 9)

● Needs 500 MB of Disc Space,
    512 MB RAM, and at least 1.3 GHz

● MSRP: $99.99 USA


Pinnacle Systems



Pinnacle Studio has released Version 9 of their immensely popular Non-Linear Editing (NLE) software.

This program is designed for consumer use, compared with their professional NLE called Edition (now in its Version 5 Liquid Edition). Edition 5 costs several hundred dollars, while Studio 9 is only $100.

The differences between Studio and Edition are the kinds of things that television producers need for commercial programming, such as very fine control over color balance and sophisticated special effects.

For the everyday consumer, like I am, and probably most of you are, Studio 9 has just the right balance of features and capabilities, but most of all, it is easy to use. This contrasts with the professional NLEs, including Edition, that are very complex and easy to get lost in their myriad of features.

Studio has been around long enough to get rid of most of the bugs, the recent ones being a smooth creation of videos on DVD. This is important because, if you own a digital video camera and a home theater, you will likely want to put your home movies on a DVD and watch them on the big screen in your theater.

Several NLEs have introduced the ability to add Dolby Digital 5.1 sound tracks to your home videos and have them play on the DVD just like the DVD movies you rent or buy. It is because the NLEs can help you make your own home movie DVDs that you can watch in your home theater that we will be reviewing them, along with the cameras, here at Secrets.

The Program

Pinnacle Studio Version 9 (PSV9) is installed from a CD that comes in the box with a huge instruction manual. We won't discuss everything you can do to your videos, because it would be overwhelming. For this review, we will focus on the basic how-to so that you can get the software up and running, capture your videos, edit them, and make some DVDs.

When you boot PSV9, you will get a screen that has three basic choices: Capture, Edit, and Make Movie.

Obviously, the first thing you will need to do is get your videos into the computer so you can edit them. So, let's assume you have taken some video on your vacation, in Hawaii. You have the videos on a digital cassette tape from your camera. You can either capture it from the camera or from a digital tape VCR. Up until about a year ago, I connected the camera to the computer for capturing, but now I use a digital VCR for this purpose (JVC HR-DVS-3U). Either way, you need to connect your source (the camera or the VCR) to the computer via Firewire. Most new computers come with a Firewire jack, but if not, you have to buy a Firewire PC card.

Here is a screen shot of the Capture Page.

I have selected DV Full-Quality Capture (bottom right corner). First, using the buttons on the video camera image, you play the video until it is at the starting point where you want to begin capture. When you click the start capture button, you will be asked to name the file as *.avi. In my case, I selected a separate hard drive (320 SCSI, 143 GB, 10,000 RPM). It is suggested that you keep a separate hard drive on which to capture the videos, but it is not absolutely necessary.

Once you begin capturing, you will see the video play on the screen at the top right corner. Each scene change will register a thumbnail picture that shows up in the editing process. When I get blank digital video tape, I run it through the VCR in record mode, but with nothing being recorded. This lays down a time code over the entire tape. Then, when you record your videos, this ensures a continuous time line code even if you turn the camera off and on a number of times when recording different things. It makes for a smooth capture when transferring your videos to the computer.

After completing the capture, you will have a very large AVI file (it takes about 1 GB of space to store 5 minutes of digital video at full quality capture). Obviously, you may want to capture from several tapes in a session. Each one will have to be named and stored separately.

Now it is time to go into the editing phase. Here is a screen shot for the editor.

The scenes shown below are from a tape that I made, using a digital camcorder on a visit to Maui. The bottom half of the page is called the Storyboard. You can also edit in the Timeline mode, which I will show you later.

So, the next step is to start assembling the video. This is done by simply dragging and dropping the various scenes onto the storyboard. Here is a photo showing two scenes on the storyboard. I started out with a scene of the hotel lobby, followed by a scene of the beach next to the hotel.

The beauty of editing the videos is that you can assemble them in any order you wish, and you can use any part of the scene, but you don't have to use the whole scene. So, when I take videos, I don't necessarily shoot things in sequence. I may go back later and shoot some more footage of the hotel lobby, or some other thing that will end up in a place on the video that is shown before something I took at an earlier time. This is the way Hollywood shoots movies too. If they are on location, they will shoot every scene that occurs there, regardless of when it happens in the movie storyline.

To adjust the length of a scene, you click on the thumbnail in the storyboard. This takes you to the following screen. Here, you tag the place in the scene where you want to begin (called "In") and where you want it to end (called "Out"). In this case, I marked the In spot at 1.04 into the scene, and the Out spot at 8.28. The rest of the scene will not be present in the finished video. However, none of the original video material is damaged. Whatever you instruct the NLE to do, it only performs the instructions when the final video is "burned", but does not alter the master video recording. Rather, it will make a copy of the selected scene material, do whatever you asked it to do, such as change the color balance (this is called "Rendering") and add it to the que for recording onto the DVD.

One thing you have to get used to when using NLEs, is that when you assemble the scenes, you have to save the arrangement as a "Project" rather than a file like a word processor document. So, when you start assembling the scenes, save them as a project (for Pinnacle Studio 9, this is *.stu). Then, while working on your project, hit the save project button regularly. NLEs have a nasty habit of crashing computers regularly because of the intense operations necessary, so if it crashes, you will at least retain the project assembly that you saved last.

After you have all your scenes assembled on the storyboard, you will want to add some transitions. It might look like this.

The transitions menu lets you choose among a large number of ways to go from one scene to the next (called the "Transition"). Although you might be tempted to add a wide variety of transitions to your videos, there is a general rule of thumb called the 90:9:1 rule. This says that 90% of the transitions should be simple "Cuts". This means the last frame of one scene is abutted against the first frame of the next scene without modification. Then, 9% of the transitions can be "Dissolves", and 1% can be "Special Effects". If you use too many special effects, it can look like you are preparing an info-mercial to sell that super cosmic potato peeler.

The dissolve causes the last few frames of the first scene to dim while the first few frames of the next scene begin to appear. I have dragged and dropped dissolves between scenes 5 and 6, as well as between scenes 6 and 7 in the screen shot shown above.

By clicking on the dissolve (or other effect) icon laying on the storyboard, you are taken to a menu that will let you change the length of the dissolve, so it could be short or long in duration.

Here are some examples of a cut, a dissolve, and a star special effect. Click on the files to download them and watch, using your Windows Media Player (they are WM9 files, *.wmv). Notice that the effects take some time to occur and use up some of the video, so you need to make sure that the dissolve or other effect does not overlap an important part of the video.

Cut        Dissolve        Star Effect

Next, you can add a title and/or a menu. Here is a screen shot of the titles page. I dragged and dropped one to the beginning of the video and at the end. Then, I clicked on the thumbnail, which took me to a title editing page where I could change the text to suit my particular video. I titled it "Hawaii" at the beginning, and "It Was Great!" at the end. I added a transition between the beginning title and the end title.

If you want to add a menu to the DVD, here is what the page looks like after dragging and dropping the one I wanted, and after editing the text so it said "Hawaii". I moved the buttons around too, as you can see in the second photo below.

The Menus section is the only part of this software that I found difficult to use. Getting the menu buttons just the right size and text fonts is tricky. It could use some work by Pinnacle to make this step easier. Linking them to the spot you want in the video is not easy either.

You can also add background music if you like, either to title pages or included with scenes. First, you highlight the thumbnail of the particular scene to which you want to add the music, then select Add Background Music from the Toolbox menu. Here is what the page looks like. There is a nice selection of music and you can tailor it to specific lengths to coincide with the length of the scene.

How about some video effects? Here is a screen shot of the menu. Like the transitions, it is easy to go overboard and do too much with these effects. Choose them wisely. Play them in the editor to see what you are getting.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, you can edit in the Storyboard mode, as I have done here, or use the Timeline. Here is a screen shot. I find the storyboard mode much easier to use.

So, after you are finished assembling your video, and testing it by playing it in the viewing screen at the top right, you are ready to burn it to a DVD (you can also make CD videos and VHS tapes).

Clicking on the Make a Movie selection at the top, you are taken to the following page.

I chose Disc at the bottom of the left hand column. You can also make MPEGs, RealVideo files, and WM9 files for use on the Internet.

For DVDs, click on the Settings button, which shows the following menu. I selected DVD and automatic video quality. I also selected Burn directly to disc.

Then you go back to the Make a Movie page, put in a blank DVD, and click the Create a Disc button. First, the material is compiled and then it is burned to disc. This can take a long time, so do this when you can go away from the computer while it is burning the disc. Don't minimize the page and go about other computer activities. The process needs your computer's full attention.

Making a DVD is time consuming, but I burn a video to DVD first on a DVD+R/W disc (you can record on the disc many times, erasing what was there before), then check to make sure it is the way I want it, then I go back and burn it again to a DVD+R disc. That way, if the video is not just the way I want, I have not wasted a disc. I keep burning it to the R/W disc until it is just right.


Pinnacle Studio Version 9 is not without difficulties here and there, but is generally the easiest to use NLE out there at the consumer level. It does a good job from start to finish, and is inexpensive.

Pinnacle has regular updates to their software on their website, which fix many bugs, so be sure to visit their site and check from time to time.

This is a long article, and we still only covered the basics. As our NLE reviews increase, we will spend more time on the really fancy things you can do with them. If you have not used an NLE yet, and have a digital camcorder, you are in for a new world experience.


- John E. Johnson, Jr. -

Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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