Pinnacle Studio Ultimate 11 is a video capture, editing and output studio that sits in between the more prosumer packages such as Adobe's Premiere, and more consumer (but limited) "fun" packages like Windows Movie Maker. It supports a raft of standards and outputs -- everything from HD Video down to lowly iPod and PSP profiles -- and in the Ultimate version, comes with a slew of bonus content, ranging from additional transitions, special effects and audio editing tools. Space prohibits us listing them all, but the essential upshot is that Studio Ultimate is a very feature rich video editing application from capture to output.
We were in for a shock when we opened the Studio Ultimate 11 box. Pinnacle's broken from a very longstanding tradition in big box software products. That's right -- there's actually more in the box than just a CD or two and lots of (presumably very expensive) air. For a start, you get not one, but four discs -- three install discs and an update disc for the third DVD. There's a moderately chunky Studio manual, which is also a break from recent traditions, which have seen annoying PDF manuals becoming de rigueur. Lastly, and not all that incongruously, there's a large green sheet, for compositing special effects into your movies. We suspect that the inclusion of the sheet will lead to many Studio Ultimate users experimenting with dodgy special effects and overlays. Remember, it's all fun and games until somebody posts it up to YouTube.
Installation of Studio Ultimate was a rather tortuous affair. We installed it on a Windows Vista Ultimate machine (the outside of the box proudly proclaims that it works with Vista) that was well above the recommended specification. On our first attempt, it took around 30 minutes to install, and then it crashed. Our second attempt took around 10 minutes to process the first disc, and that worked fine, but then it crashed on the "bonus" DVD, so we started all over again. Finally, after what amounted to a number of hours trying, we were able to get everything installed and we fired up Studio Ultimate to give it a spin.
At that point, it jumped in and demanded that we activate it online. We're not great fans of online activation, especially for products such as Studio Ultimate that don't necessarily revolve around online functionality. Studio's buggy activation gave us no reason to suddenly start loving it. After a number of aborted attempts -- wherein Studio Ultimate resolutely told us we had no Net connection even when we did -- we got angry and did a complete (and slow) reinstall. That did the trick, and eventually, after many bad words were uttered and a couple of reboots, it was finally actually installed, activated and was ready to run.
The basic workflow of Studio Ultimate 11 doesn't differ that greatly from many other video editing and creation packages -- you're still working with importing or capturing video from a number of sources (including AVCHD Camcorders if you're lucky enough to have one) -- editing it together and then choosing an output destination and style.
Where Studio 11 really impressed us was in the way it intelligently laid out projects such that nitpicky prosumers could use it to tweak their projects down to the last keyframe, while offering enough intelligent tools for less experienced shooters to quickly create video packages, along with custom soundtracks and lots of easy to use effects. There is a risk here -- our experience suggests that if you give people too many choices when it comes to effects and transitions, they'll use them all and end up with a stylistic mess -- but that's a human problem, not a software one.
We're yet to hit a video editing package that wasn't prone to the odd crash here and there, and sadly Studio Ultimate 11 joins that not-so-august pile of applications. It's somehow even more annoying when a video editing application crashes than any other. This is probably down to the fact that most video packages are very slow to run -- rendering does take time -- and tend to eat every system resource they come anywhere near, rendering your PC lifeless while they get on with it. Studio Ultimate crashed a handful of times during our testing process, mostly when doing a final render. It's thus a good idea to save your projects regularly in order to eliminate needless extra work, but wouldn't it be nice if video editing packages just worked instead?