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Pinnacle Studio 7 - Unbundled

    by Douglas Dixon

Pinnacle Systems - Studio Interface
Capture: Scene Detection - Smart Capture
Timeline Editing - Transitions and Effects
Audio- Titles and Stills- Make Movie
Studio 7 - References

This summer, Pinnacle Systems announced that it has unbundled its Studio video editing software, which was previously available only with Pinnacle video capture hardware products. 


Studio has been a really interesting editing tool with industry-leading features, including automatic clip creation (by detecting scene changes) and low-resolution preview capture for editing (and then smart recapture of only the full-resolution material required for the final edit). And now this new release, Studio 7, also is available as a software-only product, with sophisticated new features at a quite reasonable price ($129 estimated street price).

In this article, I'll step you through some of the new and interesting features in Studio 7, which provide features that are more powerful than basic consumer video editors, but without losing a clean and simple interface.

Pinnacle Systems

Pinnacle Systems ( has a long history and illustrious reputation (including seven technical Emmy awards) as a developer of video products for the broadcast, desktop, and consumer markets. The Pinnacle "Studio" consumer product line offers a wide range of video capture solutions, including analog PCI boards, 1394 / DV boards, and USB capture devices, some even with TV and FM radio tuners.

While primarily a hardware products company, Pinnacle has gone its own way in software as well by developing its own Studio video editing tool to include with its consumer video capture hardware products, instead of bundling a third-party editing product.

But with the continued success of the Studio software, and with the growing number of PC's with built-in 1394 / DV interfaces, Pinnacle has now unbundled the Studio software as a separate product.

Studio Interface

Studio 7 organizes the video editing process in a main window, which then contains the components required for the current editing step. Unlike some consumer editors, the window does not take over the entire screen, and has a readable color scheme. But unlike higher-end editors, you cannot reorganize or resize the different elements in the window.

If you like using a graphical interface style, you can control the entire process by using the tabs and buttons in the Studio interface. Or you can use the more traditional Windows menus to access the same functions organized in the menus, or use the right-click pop-up context menus.

The Studio interface divides video editing into three steps, represented by tabs across the top of the Studio window: Capture, Edit, and Make Movie. In the top left of the window is the Album, where you collect clips that you are working on. In the top right is the Monitor window, where you can preview and play your work in progress.

     Studio 7 - Capture

In Edit mode, the Album also has tabs to access libraries of Transitions, Titles, Photos, and Sound Effects. At the bottom of the Studio window is the Movie window, where you compose your production in either Storyboard or Timeline mode. The Movie window also has slide-out trays to access the Video and Audio Toolboxes,

The rest of the Studio window changes between the three modes, as you Capture from tape to the Album, Edit from the Album to the Movie window, and then Make a Movie from the Movie window to a file.

Capture: Scene Detection

Previous versions of Studio have really excelled at video capture, especially because they were customized to specific Studio hardware products. But the advent of DV and common 1394 interface hardware means that Studio 7 can do even better, and with any DV device.

Studio already had a scene detection feature, which actually monitored the video frames being captured - in real time - and looked for dramatic changes that indicated a new shot, or scene. In many cases, this can greatly simplify the editing process by automatically segmenting one long capture into a collection of clips, ready to trim, assemble, and edit. But this automatic scene detection can be fooled, either by missing new clips of similar material or by detecting too many changes, for example from a flash bulb or person walking in front of the camera.

With DV video, however, Studio can segment the captured video perfectly. The trick is that DV tapes can include not only an elapsed time code, but also the shooting time, the date/time stamp when the material was shot. If you set the time stamp in your camcorder, and shoot a series of clips with pauses in between them, then Studio can automatically capture them as separate clips. If the input video is analog, or does not include the shooting time, or is one long continuous shot, then Studio can still do scene detection based on video content.

As Studio analyses the captured video, it adds each clip to the Video Album at the top of the Studio window, with each clip represented with a thumbnail of the first frame. You can click on a clip to view it in the Monitor window at the top right, or play through the entire video in the Monitor window, and watch as Studio highlights the corresponding portion of each clip.

Smart Capture

While the use of standard 1394 / DV interfaces has reduced the problems of interfacing to custom capture hardware, just the logistics of storing and managing large amounts of video data can get unwieldy. Studio has been designed to help reduce these difficulties in two ways: providing lots of good feedback to anticipate your disk requirements, and with the Smart Capture feature, which captures low-resolution "preview" video.

Studio is particularly helpful in planning your video captures. To start with, it automatically checks your disk data rate the first time you set up to capture. The Capture interface then displays a Diskometer, a pie chart showing the available space on the selected disk, as well as an estimate of the corresponding remaining recording time, based on the currently selected video compression format.

You can use the camcorder controls in the bottom left of the Studio window to position the tape in your DV camcorder, and view the playback in the Monitor window. Studio offers additional Video and Audio options in slide-out trays, and a Settings button to set capture formats.

But here's the best part: If you are editing down a long tape, you do not need to capture the entire tape at full resolution. Instead, you can capture it a lower "preview-quality" resolution, edit it, and then Studio can use its Smart Capture feature to rescan the tape and capture only those portions needed in your final edit.

This can result in a big-time space savings. Full-resolution 720 x 480 DV video uses 3.6 MB per second of video, or 216 MB per minute, or 12.6 GB per hour. That will fill a disk quickly enough, without additional scratch space required for rendering edits. Instead, with Studio you can capture and edit at a lower resolution.

Studio includes presets for compression with the Premiere PIM1 or Intel Indeo 5 compressor, ranging from 360 x 240 video at 30 frames per second with 16-bit stereo audio at 22 kHz, to 180 x 120 video at 15 fps with 8-bit mono audio at 11 Hz. Across this range, a disk that might hold only 3 hours of DV video can hold 13 to 45 to 120 hours of preview video.

Besides saving disk space, editing with preview video gives you a lot more flexibility, since you can work with more video at one time, and your computer can load and process it much faster.

In addition, Studio's preview settings work well for capturing lower-resolution video for sharing with others and for posting on the web. I was able to capture a 50-minute clip directly in Studio into a file in Indeo 5 format at 360 x 240 resolution, and the resulting AVI file was only 517 MB, or small enough to fit onto a CD.

Timeline Editing

Studio 7 supports both a Storyboard view for quickly arranging clips in sequence to tell a story, and a Timeline view for trimming and coordinating video, audio, and transition tracks. You can flip between views by clicking the icons in the top right corner of the Movie window. Studio also provides a Text view, to review the clips and their trimmed size.

    Studio 7 - Editing

The Timeline provides a fixed number of tracks: Video (with transition), linked Audio, Title, Sound effect / voice-over, and Background music. You can easily zoom the Timeline view in and out by dragging in the Timescale bar.

Studio provides great feedback as you work. Clips that have been used in the Movie window are show with check marks in the Album. As you play in the Monitor window, the corresponding section of the Timeline is highlighted. It also provides a Find Scene in Album

Trimming clips in Studio is as easy as clicking and dragging the edge of the clip in the Timeline. Or for more precise control, you can open the Video Toolbox to edit the trim point by dragging, stepping through the video, or setting the exact time code. Studio includes several more sophisticated tools, including a Razerblade tool to split clips and the ability to recombine split clips, and the ability to lock individual tracks.

Studio also supports "split" edits, a more advanced technique for independently editing the video and audio tracks of a clip. You can perform a "L-cut," where the audio from one clip continues into the beginning of the next, or a "J-cut," where the audio from the next clip is heard before the video is seen.

Transitions and Effects

Studio supports more than 100 transitions under the Transitions tab in the Album window. The thumbnail for each transition illustrates its effect, its name is displayed when you hold the cursor over it, and the effect is animated in the Monitor window when you click on it.

The Studio transition types include Fade, Dissolve, Wipe, Slide and Push, plus a collection of Alpha Magic gradient wipes with interesting shapes. Studio also includes several Hollywood FX 3D transitions, with more available for purchase.

Studio provides access to video effects in the slide-out Video Toolbox. These include color effects such as Monochrome and Sepia; color correction for Hue, Saturation, Brightness, and Contrast; and image processing with Blur, Emboss, Mosaic, and Posterize.

Another advanced feature in Studio is variable speed playback, from 1/10 slow motion to 10X fast motion, with slow motion actually interpolated smoothly between frames. Studio also provides a Strobe effect, which repeats frames for the specified count, and drops the intervening frames to keep the clip to the same length.


Studio provides two additional tracks in the Timeline for Sound effects / voice-over audio and for Background music. For sound effects, you can use the collection of WAV audio files provided with Studio (the Flies sound is particularly irritating), or you can use the Voice-over tool for quickly recording your own audio.

For background music, you can use the Audio CD tool to capture music from an audio CD, or use the built-in to to generate music automatically.

Studio includes the SmartSound QuickTracks audio soundtrack generator for creating background clips to fit your movie. You select the Style (from Classical to New Age to Rock), then a Song in that style, and then a Version, from Soft to Saucy, Guitar to Drums. SmartSound can then generate an audio clip in that style to fit whatever length you require.

Studio also provides basic audio fades, cross-fades, and per-track volume controls

Titles and Stills

Studio provides powerful features for adding titles and still images into your production, both as full-screen, and overlaid on video. For titles, Studio includes a version of TitleDeko, a professional broadcast character generator. You can select from a collection of pre-defined title styles under the Title tab of the Album window, or use the TitleDeko editor to edit your text, including over 300 title styles, alignment, transformations, and graphics. You can animate text with rolls and crawls, or apply transforms for reveals and wipes.

Make Movie

One you have finished editing your movie, click on the Make Movie tab at the top of the Studio window to save it in a variety of formats. Again, Studio provides visual feedback of the available disk space and selected output format. Studio can export in Windows AVI format, standard MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 formats, streaming Windows Media and RealVideo 8 formats, or back out to tape to your DV camcorder.

    Studio 7 - Make Movie

Studio provides instant previews as you edit, but does require a rendering step before exporting. Studio does intelligent rendering, only rendering those parts of your movie where you have added effects. For AVI format it also uses smart recompression, again only reprocessing the changed portions of your movie.

Note that Studio 7 is based on the Microsoft Windows DirectShow architecture and DirectX. It only inputs AVI video files, and does not support QuickTime input or export.

Studio 7

Pinnacle's Studio video editor has a good track record as an easy to use tool with some interesting features. Now with version 7, Studio is available separately from the Pinnacle hardware products, and works well with 1394 / Firewire connections to DV camcorders.

Studio 7 adds more sophisticated capabilities, including split edits, variable speed, and more export formats, plus further user interface enhancements to help you keep track of which clip came from where. Studio includes a undo / redo capability, which can even undo actions such as scrolling and changing the time scale.

If you are looking for more than a very basic video editor, but do not need the complexity of a high-end tool, then take a good look at Studio. The DV scene detection and Smart Capture features make it particularly easy to put together short and even medium-length productions quickly and without a whole lot of pain. Studio 7 even includes great documentation, including a complete Help file and an extensive "Guide to Movie Making" book, with 284 pages and lots of screen shots.


Pinnacle Systems