Pinnacle Edition 5 is like a brilliant but bratty teenager. Half the time you want to send the program to its room for silly idiosyncrasies and needless interface faux pas and half the time you want to hug it for its brilliant architecture and unparalleled interface. Frequently, we found ourselves smiling in appreciation of the sheer elegance of this product. Unfortunately, more often, at least initially, we found ourselves shaking our head in frustration.
During our testing, we spent about a week with Edition, editing a 60-minute gymnastics exhibition down to about 17 minutes, in addition to several other projects. Had you asked on Day One, we would have advised to stay away at all costs. Day Three, it was "serious users only." By the end of the week, however, it's "send the kids to camp and the spouse on vacation, then call in sick for a week and dig in." It will take that long to learn the program, but once you get it, you'll be sold for life.
Edition is first in its class of prosumer video editors with built-in DVD authoring, providing authoring capabilities similar to business-oriented DVD tools like Ulead's Workshop, and more extensive than Sonic Foundry's DVD Architect. Between its core editing functionality and its newfound authoring capabilities, Edition is an extraordinarily potent tool.
Pinnacle sells two versions of Edition: a software plus FireWire card configuration for $699; and Edition PRO ($999), which features the software with DV and analog I/O plus a 2D and 3D graphics chip on an AGP board that replaces your graphics card. According to Pinnacle, the PRO version accelerates analog preview, but no other effects. Nonetheless, to ensure apples-to-apples results in time trials with Ulead MediaStudio and Sonic Foundry/Sony Pictures Vegas, we eschewed the PRO version and tested Edition with an NVIDIA NV200 graphics card.
As with the last two software NLEs we reviewed, Vegas and MediaStudio (June and July 2003, respectively), we tested on a Pentium 4 3.06gHz PC with HT Technology and 512MB RAM running Windows XP Professional, capturing to a freshly formatted 120GB 7200RPM Ultra ATA Seagate Barracuda drive. Our source camera was a Sony VX2000 camcorder, connected to an NTSC monitor to test Edition's preview out the FireWire port. A surround sound-capable Sound Blaster Audigy rounded out the relevant equipment list, though Edition has no surround functionality.
Have You Hugged Your GPU Today?
Anyone familiar with video editing knows that "real time" is an extraordinarily slippery term to define, except in its absence. Previous versions of Edition offered no real-time effects, so you had to render completely before even previewing an effect, a severe competitive disadvantage against other software-only products and hardware-assisted, Premiere-based real-time solutions from Pinnacle, Matrox, and Canopus.
Edition 5 offers two classes of "real-time" effects, those rendered by the host CPU (e.g., the Pentium 4 in our system) and those rendered by the GPU, short for graphics processing unit, the chip that drives the graphics card in your system. Real time means "real-time" preview, as opposed to real-time DV output, a feature on many hardware-based editing solutions. As with all editors, it also means "real time so long as your system is fast enough and you don't layer too many effects on the timeline at once."
GPU, CPU, Schme-PU, I don't really care, and neither should you. All software-based video editors claim to have real-time effects, under the right circumstances. What Edition does differently is this: When you apply a real-time effect and preview, Edition will display the preview in real time if possible. In our tests, virtually all single effects displayed at 30fps on the computer monitor according to the meter Edition displays on the bottom of the screen. Had we used the PRO version, these would have previewed in real time on an analog monitor as well.
Stack up enough effects, and Edition degrades gracefully, displaying less than 30fps. In our most stringent test, which involved four picture-in-picture streams displayed in 3D frames, Edition displayed about 24fps; in truth, reasonably similar to numbers posted by MediaStudio and Vegas.
But here's what Edition does differently. After you preview and move on to the next edit, Edition renders the previous edit in the background. On our hyperthreaded Pentium 4 computer, which could dedicate one process to background rendering, and one to foreground editing, we felt no delay or sluggishness while editing.
In the background, however, Edition was busy rendering, fast enough so that when it was time to write to DV tape, all necessary renders were complete. Your mileage may vary, but we're not talking cuts and transitions here, we're talking chroma key, color correction, and image pans. When it was time to push the button, Edition was ready to roll. That's impressive, and as illustrated later, translates to real efficiency gains over competing software-only products. It's also the most purely brilliant use of HT technology to date.