Review: Pinnacle Edition
Posted Nov 1, 2002

Synopsis: With Edition, Pinnacle's first-release version of the mature FastStudio software they acquired from Fast Multimedia, DV video producers in particular have a new, very affordable tool that can work on anything from a desktop to notebook with professional functionality and results. Edition is a new tool in today's digital studio, and part of a new trend of capable, yet affordable tools. It stands rightly a notch above Premiere and is priced and positioned aggressively against the real competition from editing solutions like Final Cut and Avid's XPress DV. That alone should give you reason enough to take a look.

If you've never heard of Pinnacle Systems' EditionDV non-linear editor, don't feel bad. It's just been released and is hoping to fill a void for a professional-grade, DV-format editing software that's a step up from Adobe Premiere and comparable to Apple Final Cut Pro, on Windows. Yet if something seems familiar about this first edition, it's because Edition is no typical Version 1.0. It's Pinnacle's re-release of its recently acquired FastStudio DV version 4.

You'll notice a couple of minor differences in this re-release if you know FastStudio, but none more important than Pinnacle's new price of $699. It stands rightly a notch above Premiere and is priced and positioned aggressively against the real competition from editing solutions like Final Cut and Avid's XPress DV. That alone should give you reason enough to take a look.

If you need another reason, consider this: Edition is the same software that drives much higher-end hardware-integrated editing workstations. While it's Pinnacle's Web and Video Division (which sells both the prosumer DV500 and ProONE hardware cards) that markets Edition, the same software drives Pinnacle's new "Liquid" series of editing stations, which are sold by Pinnacle's Broadcast Division. These systems are effectively what Fast Multimedia used to call Blue, Silver, Purple, and Ivory. In other words, it's a professional tool with professional features, available to DV pros sans expensive hardware for $700.

Naturally, there are some hardware-related features that separate the Liquid line from EditionDV; for example, more flexible analog and digital I/O, enhanced color correction, hardware-enhanced InTime rendering, and network support. But Pinnacle has a lot less to lose than a company like Avid from putting high-end features in a low-cost product, and Pinnacle's two divisions are autonomous and don't need each other's permission to add features. That has made Edition very strong and able to offer a new caliber of editing tool to the burgeoning sector of DV video producers, corporate users, and "DV filmmakers."

A Serious Editing Tool

There's no more overt statement, however symbolic, that Edition is a serious tool than the manner in which it launches. It literally takes over the Windows desktop, including replacing the Windows Start button with an Edition-specific Start menu. (You can't help but wonder if Microsoft might not take issue, were they not in such legal trouble.) You can still Alt-Tab to other applications like Photoshop or other graphics tools, or minimize Edition to return to the main Windows desktop. However, by taking control immediately, Edition effectively says, "This is no longer simply a Windows desktop; this computer is a digital studio." And it's not all bravado either; Edition leverages the desktop for editing.

A few other editing applications have a storyboarding feature, including Premiere, but few as truly helpful as Edition's. Here, you just drag clip icons onto a open area of your desktop (the Edition-controlled desktop), then position them, group them, put them in stacked piles, and reposition them in true storyboard fashion. It's just as if you were re-arranging physical hand-drawn pictures on an office wall 50 years ago, except here you can also set in and out points right there on the desktop. You can preview any series of selected storyboard clips and even send to another processing application like Discreet Cleaner Pro or QuickTime Pro without ever moving to the Timeline. Of course, you can then drag the whole rough-cut collection directly into Edition's Timeline for fine-tuning.

If you have a larger project, you can drag multiple Storyboard groupings from the desktop into multiple Edition Timeline windows, fine-tuning each section as you go. Edition allows multiple Timelines to be open at once within a project and generously supports dragging compositions or sections of compositions between them. And Edition also effectively copies Avid's "nested" tracks feature that groups multilayer or otherwise complicated edits under one Timeline icon for visual simplicity, but allows them to be re-opened for further adjustments.

And how is this for serious editing: Edition never loses your work. Sure, computers can crash—although we had no such trouble during our testing—and that usually means lost work and wasting time. However, thanks to the smart programmers at the former Fast Multimedia and the clever-marketing "InstantSave" label, Pinnacle Edition is constantly saving all your work—constantly! If your system crashes, or even if the power goes out, you'll waste a couple of minutes re-booting, but none of your work is lost. You can start right where you left off, even if that was half way through a long render. That's just phenomenal in a $700 piece of editing software.

The Full Edition

Edition's interface now has a slightly lighter blue tone to it than the older FastStudio, although much remains the same. The Timeline windows support an unlimited number of video layers and the usual array of professional editing features, like track locking, turn track on and off for preview, sync locked tracks for editing, and three-point editing. You can drag and drop clips from the bin directly into the Timeline window or the Source window for trimming. From the Source viewer, Edition offers a handy icon to add clips in either Overwrite or Film-Style mode. It doesn't look much the same as Final Cut's semi-transparent pop-up, nor does it have the numerous options, but it's a similar and smart shortcut.

Interestingly, you move clips from the Source window and into a Timeline only by clicking on a big Add to Timeline arrow. New clips are placed at the location of the Timeline cursor. This method is common to higher end interface, but likely to be foreign to Premiere users or others who are new to editing and it will take some getting used to. Of course, since you can mark in and out points directly in the bin, or on the desktop, then drag and drop into the Timeline, any adjustment in work habits should be fairly minor and easily overcome.

If you are working in the Source viewer, or in any viewer window for that matter, you might wonder at first about the lack of scrubbing controls or shuttle knobs. Don't worry, the functionality is there, and perfectly obvious once you know it. Click and hold the mouse anywhere within a clip preview window, then just move the cursor to the right to shuttle forward or left to shuttle backward. There's no finding and latching on to some tiny mouse control button. You just do it. It's convenient and fast.

Indeed, with a few awkward exceptions, most of the buttons in Edition's interface are nice and large so you're not feeling like editing is a video game. For better and worse, though, there are a lot of them, spread widely across different areas of the screen for different functions. Thankfully, holding the cursor over any of these buttons yields an identification balloon, which you'll probably use frequently at first. It's not that anything is in the wrong place, and you can customize much of the interface to suit yourself, but there are some slightly different conventions to become familiar with. That makes Edition less ideal for the infrequent or casual editor, but gives serious folks more power and speed once they've caught on.

We love Edition's trim mode, which follows the standard practice of switching the Source and Program viewer windows into incoming and outgoing clip viewers. From there you have the typical buttons that shave a frame (or ten frames) off one of both of the clips. And, you can preview the cut from within the trim mode. However, Edition's trim preview constantly loops from a second or so before the cut to a similar amount after it so you can really see the changes. Better still, you can make further trim changes while the preview is looping, so without stopping and starting several times, you can immediately line up outgoing and incoming images for the perfect cut.

Effects and Export

Any editing interface today needs to have effects capabilities beyond anything you'll ever really use and Edition certainly isn't lacking there. Edition comes with dozens of 2D and 3D effects and transitions and any of them can be edited in the effects editor in a wide variety of ways, including keyframing, transparency, positioning, etc. Edition also includes a key editor, color correction, a wipes editor, and a filter editor, and more. There's also a plug-in translator that allows you to use common plug-in effects from other vendors. Pinnacle bundles its own Hollywood FX effects tool; Commotion 4.1, a compositing and retouching tool; and Alpha Magic, a custom wipe creator.

Of course, with just the software version of Edition, all effects and transitions need to be rendered. Fortunately, today's faster processors make render times far less painful than they used to be and Edition's multithreaded, background rendering makes them even less so. In Edition, you never have to tell the software to render anything because once you add a transition, or commit to changes to an existing transition, Edition sets to work immediately rendering in the background with whatever process resources are available. There's no interruption to any other work in the foreground, so you can go on with other work without interrupt. As soon as the renderer is finished, it inserts the newly created media and lets you preview it along with anything else in the timeline.

It's all very fast, particularly if you're doing straightforward transitions like dissolve and basic wipes. In fact, on several occasions during our testing, the render was finished before we when to preview it. However, there will certainly be times when that is not the case and for the impatient, Edition offers a render viewer that will show the progress of a render including the images that are being created. At least if you decide the look isn't right, you can abort and start again.

Of course, Pinnacle, a hardware company, also has dual-stream hardware for real-time transition preview and the same Web and Video Division has already released the drivers for both the DV500 and Pro-ONE. There is a caveat, however, for Pro-ONE users: Edition will not leverage Pro-ONE's 3D engine and multilayering hardware acceleration and will therefore decrease performance in that area compared to using Pro-ONE with Premiere. What's more, Pinnacle says there are no plans to incorporate that support in the future. That's because the company believes the combination of Edition's smart rendering, better pending graphics technology, and ever-increasing CPU speed will soon handle those functions. However, Pinnacle promises an aggressive upgrade path for Pro-ONE users.

Pinnacle is one of just a few companies with both editing software and DVD authoring software and the two are clearly coming together. While Edition can output to any traditional delivery format—back to tape, to streaming media file, etc.—it also includes an integrated function to print your finished project to a DVD disc.

Make no mistake, this output feature is not an authoring interface with menu and navigation creation options, but rather a very straightforward way of rough-"publishing" your finished linear video straight from your Timeline to a DVD disc. Edition does control an attached DVD burner and writes the disc, but if you'll want anything in terms of fancy menus, chapter marks, or user navigation, you'll need to turn to Pinnacle's Impression (the Pro version is bundled with Edition) or some other authoring tool. On the other hand, Pinnacle has already fully integrated DVD authoring into an editing interface in the consumer-level Studio editor and it's almost sure to happen with Edition in a future software release.

The Final Edition

There is, of course, much more to Edition and that's really the main point. This is a $700 piece of software that in many ways was a bonus for Pinnacle when it acquired Fast Multimedia. Not having to have paid for and amortized the R&D, Pinnacle is effectively free to leverage Editor's value in the marketplace at below a true market price for the features and functions. Of course, Edition is entering a market that is already well-populated with established names like Adobe, Avid, and Apple, and attempting to enter that market as a major player right out of the gate is no small marketing feat.

But that's Pinnacle's problem. As for Edition's target users—DV video producers in particular—they now have a new very affordable tool that can work on anything from a desktop to notebook with professional functionality and results. Edition is a new tool in today's digital studio, and part of a new trend of capable, yet affordable tools.

Pinnacle Systems, Inc.