Pinnacle Studio is one of a very few programs to make it all the way to version 23. The venerable video editing software has become steadily more powerful and speedier with each iteration. Corel also develops VideoStudio video editing software, with Pinnacle positioned as the higher-end of the two product lines. Pinnacle is aimed at near-professional-level enthusiasts, with excellent editing features and effects such as stop-motion video, multicam editing, and motion tracking. Pinnacle also supports 360-degree VR content, and its rendering speed is among the best in our testing.
For those familiar with all the ins and outs of Pinnacle’s interface, processes, and capabilities, here’s a crib sheet of what’s new in version 23. Several are features that professional video editors expect.
- Video Masking. This tool lets you create overlay effects based on shapes, text, and selections.
- Clip Nesting. This lets you group a timeline sequence for easy reuse. Pros commonly use this for things like intro and outros.
- Creation of Animated GIFs. Anyone who’s tried creating an animated GIF from a video in Photoshop knows it’s harder than it should be, requiring creation of hundreds of still images. Yes, there are utilities that do it, but it’s nice to have the capability in your go-to video editing program.
- Color LUT Presets. The program now includes presets from many sources for cinematic looks like dreamworld or horror.
- Selective Vectorscope. This one will appeal mostly to those who have professional video aspirations or some experience in color grading. It lets you show a graphic representation of the colors in your production for just a selected range, for example, in skin tones.
- Batch Processing. Pro users of products like Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro are used to the ability to process multiple projects in batch mode. They, however, have to rely on extra software like Apple Compressor and Adobe Media Encoder for this.
- Enhanced Keyframing, 360-degree Editing, and 3/4-point editing. Pinnacle has implemented subtle improvements in each of these areas. You can also now create freeze-frames in 360-degree footage.
Last year’s update focused on color grading, screen and webcam capture, three- and four-point editing, and enhanced motion tracking and 360 footage support. I’ll go into more detail about these new features throughout this review, but first I’ll cover the basics, along with previously introduced power tools like the keyframe-centric editing panel, motion 3D title creation, wide angle lens distortion correction, video templates, painting effects, and morph transitions.
Pricing and Starting Up
Like most video editing software aimed at consumers to near-professional users (a group sometimes known as prosumers), Pinnacle Studio is available in a trinity of good, better, and best levels, with the entry-level Pinnacle Studio listing for $59.95, Plus for $99.95, and Ultimate (reviewed here) for $129.95. If you need to edit 360-degree or 4K content, you’ll need to spring for Ultimate, which also adds high-end effects from NewBlue and unlimited video tracks. It’s also the only level that includes some of the new features detailed here. Unfortunately, there’s no free trial version of any of the Pinnacle Studio levels. Several competitors, including Adobe Premiere Elements and CyberLink PowerDirector offer free trials.
Windows 10 is recommended, but Pinnacle Studio also runs on Windows 8.x, and 7, and it requires 64-bit versions of those OSes, as you might expect. It also requires an Intel Core i3 or AMD A4 3.0 GHz or higher, an Intel Core i7 4th generation or later or AMD Athlon A10 or higher for UHD, multicam, or 360 video, and at least 4GB RAM, with 8GB recommended.
First you download a small installer stub app, which then downloads the massive full program. It’s a 1.7GB download and takes up 3GB on-disk after installation, so you’ll want a fast internet connection and plenty of space on your hard drive. Of course, if you’re editing 4K video, you need a big disk anyway.
Importing and Interface
When you first run the program, you’re invited to the program’s User Experience Improvement Program, which sends anonymous usage data back to the company; turning that off is straightforward, if you’re not interested. Next, a dialog tells you that the Import feature lets you record and open media files.
Import takes up the full program window, which makes it easy to pick the types of importing you need, whether it’s from DVD, computer folders, stop motion, snapshot, or multicam. The software can import 4K content, and you can star-rate and keyword-tag content at import, which helps you find it later. The search bar also helps you find content you haven’t marked in this way, searching instead for words in the filename.
One option on the Import mode is MultiCam Capture. This opens an external app that lets you record your screen along with any webcams you have connected or built in to your PC. You can use function keys to start and stop recording, and the tool produces separate, synced clips that you can add to your project bin. It lets you adjust lighting and sound sources, and in my testing it worked flawlessly.
Pinnacle’s interface sports flat, 2D icons, and a pleasant black and gray color scheme. The program uses the concept of Project Bins, in which you stash all the content for a given movie project—clips, photos, and sound files, but not effects and transitions. This is a common approach for pro-level apps such as Final Cut Pro X, and it’s a feature that Corel’s other line, VideoStudio, does not offer.
The whole program window is topped by four mode-switching buttons: Home, Import, Edit, and Export. The first is simply a welcome screen offering tutorials, info on new program features, and additional assets and programs for sale. If you’re a longtime user of the program who’s stuck in your ways, you can revert to the legacy interface view in the program’s Control Panel by choosing Setup > Control Panel > Legacy Options > Enable Legacy Authoring Mode.
Edit mode uses the standard three-pane editor interface, with source content occupying the top-left quadrant of the screen, the preview window at the top right, and the timeline across the bottom half. If you’re used to having preview on the left, a handy switcher button lets you move it there without any fuss. The Ultimate level allows an unlimited number of tracks, as mentioned earlier. The Plus level limits you to 24 tracks, and Standard to six. You can change the relative size of the panels, add a source-video preview, and switch the movie preview to full screen.
You can pull interface panels off and change their positions, as you can in some other editors, such as Magix Movie Edit Pro. The preview window includes detailed controls, such as jog and shuttle, frame advance, and rewind. You expand and contract the timeline (either the main one or the one in the preview window) with a clever mouse-drag action, but I wish there were a mouse wheel option for resizing the timeline.
You can search and sort any content, which is more than I can say for some video editing programs, such as Studio’s sister application, VideoStudio. Hiding and showing items by content type—video, audio, photo, and project—is simplicity itself. There’s an enormous and customizable assortment of keyboard shortcuts. You can also choose which buttons you want to display on the timeline toolbar, including Split, Add Marker, Trim Mode, Multi-Cam Editor, and Audio Ducking.
For those who want the ultimate control, Pinnacle lets video editors time every kind of effect and adjustment with keyframes. That includes position, size, rotation, opacity, borders, corrections, filter effects, pan/zoom, transitions, and time remapping. Keyframing lets you evenly increase or decrease an effect over time. Once you’ve got a video project set up the way you want, you can save it as a template from the File menu. You specify which clips should become placeholders, which you can fill in subsequent projects with different clips.
As of version 23, you can now reuse a project as a nested clip. This is useful for intros and outros, which you use over an over again, especially if you produce a social video series. You do this by selecting several clips on your timeline, right-clicking, and choosing Group > Save Group as Project. This collapses all the selected clips into one, letting you edit it as a unit.
The interface makes no specific concession to touch input, which I find useful for scrubbing, changing value sliders, and tapping control buttons. That said, scrubbing the timeline by finger did work acceptably. The software now fully supports high-resolution monitors; in testing previous versions, some elements appeared tiny on my 4K touch screen monitor, but that’s no longer the case. Rather than integrated help, you get an online PDF (that’s still better than Adobe’s unimpressive web help, which shows info for other products and from non-staff users). In general, however, Pinnacle’s interface is more accessible than those of some competing video editors.
Basic Video Editing and Transitions
Pinnacle uses a magnetic timeline, so any clip you drag and drop into it snaps to any existing clips, and you can turn that behavior off, if you prefer. Dropping a clip inside another splits the original one, and a razor icon offers clip splitting, as well. One thing missing is a button to drop a selected clip into the timeline at the current insertion point—most editors have this.
The Trim Mode button (or just double-clicking a join point) opens a second preview window so you can see the first and second clips’ states at the trim point. This is supposed to help with effecting slip and slide trims, but I find it less intuitive than the trimming windows of CyberLink PowerDirector and VideoStudio, among other apps.
Three- and four-point editing offer more in- and out-point precision. You switch into this editing mode from the same button on the right side that switches among Smart Editing, Insert, Replace, and Overwrite modes. With the three-point option, you specify in and out points on the timeline, and an in or out point in the source clip. This way, when you insert the clip onto the timeline it will be fit to your specification.
Two insertion buttons appear on the source window: Keep Speed and Fit to Duration. The second of these stretches the source clip to fit the target area in the timeline. The four-point option lets you specify in and out points on both the source and the timeline. When you use that, if your source selection is longer than the spot on the timeline you’ve marked, you see a dialog asking whether you want to align the source clip with the beginning or end of the timeline points, and whether to trim the source or overwrite the timeline.
If you choose the Fit to Duration button, your source clip is sped up or slowed down to fit the marked area in the timeline exactly. I see how these could be useful options and less haphazard than simply dragging source onto the timeline. In particular, the time stretching to fit a marked area saves you time.
Dog-eared corners of adjacent clips let you adjust transition lengths between them. You can also enable dynamic-length transitions, or just stick with transitions of set lengths. Cross-fades are accessible right on the timeline via the transition dog ears, but the place from which you get your fancier transitions is somewhat hidden, compared with how other video editors present it. They’re also not as simple to add to timeline clips, with no automatic duration option. Sometimes I dragged a transition between clips in my testing and the app didn’t add anything. There is, however, a very full selection of transitions, grouped as 2D-3D, Artistic, Alpha Magic, and more.
The Seamless Transition tool implements an effect that’s all the rage among amateur videographers. As Davonte Douglas explains in this tutorial, you don’t even need software to make seamless transitions, but software can in fact make them even smoother and more impressive. The seamless transitions in Pinnacle Studio work like any other transitions: You just drag them from the source panel down between clips. You get choices for downward, left-to-right, and upward motion between clips, along with variations for rotation during the transition. You can fine-tune the motion by placing similar areas in selection boxes.
The Morph transition lets you draw guides in the first and second videos to affect the transition. It’s not quite as impressive as Final Cut Pro X’s Flow transition, which blends jump cuts—for example, you might seamlessly cut a few words or even a sentence out of a single clip of interview. The Pinnacle Morph transition is pretty much a crossfade that lets you add blurry motion between clips.
With the Wide-Angle Lens Correction feature, you simply double click on a source clip, and then choose that option from the top menu. There are six GoPro presets, but you can also manually adjust the geometry, making sure lines that should be straight are indeed rectilinear—an issue with GoPro’s wide-angle lenses.
There’s a new Mask button right above the source panel offering access to two kinds of mask: Shape masks and Panel masks. The first sort can only create one 2D effect, but Panel masks can be manipulated with 3D motion effects. You can create masks starting from a square, circle, pen, brush, text, or Magic Wand selection. The last option is tricky to get an effective mask with; it took me several tries to get one that worked. Each time you click on the image with the tool enabled, it unselects what you previously selected. Thankfully, there’s an Eraser tool that lets you refine the selection.
Once you’ve got a mask selected, you can use it with an Opacity function with a feathering adjustment. You can also choose Color Correction, Invert Color, Replace Color, Black & White, Zoom & Loupe, or Fill. Alternatively, you can apply any of these functions to the Matte, or the unselected background. Filter options include High Pass, Low Pass, Dichroic, and Color. That last lets you choose a color filter from a color picker. Text masks are a fun option, also available in CyberLink PowerDirector. You get loads of font options, as well as adjustments for alignment, rotation, and positioning. Panel masks, as mentioned, can be manipulated in 3D using keyframes. They differ from regular masks in that you can only have one panel associated with a track, and you choose an Asset—that is, a clip or image—for the mask.
You can get to Pinnacle Studio’s Motion Tracking tool either by right-clicking on a track or by double-clicking on the clip in the timeline to open the Effects window. First you mask the object you want to track, and then you actually have the program track it. Its sounds simple, but in truth the process is a little dicier than in some other software. On my all-in-one PC with a 4K display it took a few tries to get it to follow my masked biker, and after many attempts, I still couldn’t achieve reliable tracking. On a system with a standard HD display, the tracking worked fine.
All such tools have difficulty tracking objects when the background confuses the issue, but in my tests Pinnacle’s lost the tracked object more often than the competition—even Corel’s own VideoStudio. Some type of step-by-step wizard would help. The tool does offer Mosaic and Blur options, something you’ll often want to do in a video for things like obscuring faces, license plates, branded items, or naughty bits.
360-Degree VR Video
Like CyberLink PowerDirector, Pinnacle Studio now lets you work with 360-degree video, from cameras like the Kodak Pixpro SP360 4K and the Samsung Gear 360. You can either do some basic editing while maintaining the 360-degree aspect or convert the 360 to standard 2D view. I tested footage from the latter. Confusingly, you have to add the 360 clip to the timeline first and then right-click on it and choose Add as 360 or 360-to-Standard. Several of my sample 360 clips didn’t play at all in the app, even though I could view them in Windows’ Movie Player.
When editing 360-degree content, you see two windows with two tabs, a 360-degree source and a preview window with the 2D end result. You can pan around the scene either in the source window with a crosshairs control or just click and drag the mouse pointer around in the preview window to change the viewing angle.
The program did a good job of straightening out my 4K 360-degree test content in double fisheye format. If you want the content to remain in 360 degrees, you’re limited to basic trimming, fade transitions, and titles. After adding titles, you also have to choose Add as 360, if you want that mode retained. I had trouble moving a title, which landed in the center of the video and didn’t display in 360 Preview mode. Stabilization isn’t an option for 360 video, though it’s still available from the menus. Luckily, Pinnacle offers to let you continue editing the last project you were working on upon restarting.
As of version 22, you can create tiny planet and rabbit hole effects with your 360-degree content. These are fun effects, and you can even animate things like the zoom, rotation, and even transition from tiny planet to rabbit hole or vice versa. New in version 23 is freeze-frame for 360-degree footage. I confirmed that this works by right-clicking at the insertion point and choosing Time Freeze and then entering a number of seconds in a dialog box.
Like its stablemate Corel VideoStudio, Pinnacle Studio lets you simultaneously edit multiple clips of the same event shot at different angles. The base version allows two camera angles, Plus makes it four, and Ultimate gives you six. The tool did a good job of aligning my clips using their audio tracks, but you can also align using time codes and markers. As with all these tools, you switch among angles by tapping a clips box in a grid. There are even boxes for switching to clear and to black, which is great if you want to add B-roll later.
When you hit OK, a new clip shows up in your project, not in the timeline. I like that you can right-click and choose Edit Movie to fine-tune angle shifts in a timeline or even reopen it in the multicam switcher window. Some multicam tools, such as that in VideoStudio, simply create a new clip that’s not adjustable after the fact.
Stop Motion is one of the most appealing types of animation, in my book. Just think back to Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer or more recently to Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit. The Pinnacle tool lets you control a connected camera to take shots automatically at time intervals you specify, and it can even show ghost images of your last shot so you know how to position the next one.
You can then send the captures to the timeline and adjust duration and apply any other editing. The tool now includes DSLR support, and circular guides that tell you how far to move an object to have it cross the screen in a specified time period between 0.3 and 10 seconds.
Pinnacle claims to offer more than 2,000 effects. That’s more than anyone really needs, and many are duplicates with transitions or, worse, just goofy overlays. Pinnacle would do better to trim out the fat and combine the duplicates to make effects easier to find and use.
Color Grading. The Standard and Plus editions add some basic color adjustments, but Ultimate offers pro-level color grading. Choose the top-left panel’s Editor button, choose Color, and you see four numbered options: Basic, Tone Curve, HSL Tuning, and Color Wheel. Basic offers White Balance, Tone (which includes exposure, contrast, and other lighting options), and Basic Settings (vibrance, saturation, clarity, and haze correction).
The Auto Tone and Auto White Balance options on this panel worked well for my sample clips. You can even apply the very pro-level LUTs (lookup tables) for color mapping. Pinnacle now includes 34 LUTs, letting you make your movie look like Pandora, Moonlight, or one of many black-and-white effects. You can also get LUTs from high-end video camera companies if you shoot with those. I was able to test this with a LUT in .CUBE file type, and it correctly applied a horror movie look to the clip. The Tone Curve tool, like Photoshop’s, lets you change lighting for effects, correction, or contrast adjustments. HSL (hue, saturation, lighting) lets you change the color intensity and brightness separately for eight colors. One issue I had in testing this tool was that I couldn’t see the effect until moving the play head. That’s not a big deal, but it isn’t ideal.
The Color interface also can display a video scope in four modes: waveform, vector, histogram, and RGB parade. Professional editors are familiar with these views of color information, though they’re of less use to amateurs. New for version 23 is the ability to show vectorscopes for a selected range of colors, for example, skin tones. To make this happen, you use a brush to mark the areas of your image for which you want to see the scope. The program reliably crashed when I tried to use this tool, however.
Also new for Color in Pinnacle Studio 23 is the ability to copy and paste color settings. There’s no menu choice for this, but hitting Ctrl-C while the color adjustment panel was active indeed let me copy the settings to another clip.
The Color Wheels view lets you adjust saturation and hue separately for each of three tonal ranges: Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows, as well as applying an overall color shift. It’s pretty pro-level stuff like what you find in Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, but not in Corel VideoStudio or Adobe Premiere Elements. I appreciate that double-clicking the control points resets them to the center. You can use these tools to either fine-tune the colors or to get some crazy effects, as in the screenshot above.
Filters. Many of these are standard, old-school Photoshop filters, but there are many impressive effects among them, such as Dream Glow and Old Film. Many included third-party effects, such as NewBlue’s Drop Shadow, Shredder, and Photon Blast, are of professional quality. With the Ultimate edition, you get several NewBlue plug-in effects. The latest of these to make its way into the program is NewBlue Video Essentials 5, which lets you apply selective focus, selective color and selective tint. Other NewBlue packs include several geometry-altering effects, along with good auto-contrast, gradient-tint, diffusion, and rolling-shutter effects.
Why should digital photos be the only type of content you can turn into art and enhance with artsy effects? The Paint tool in Pinnacle gives you impressive Paint effects: Stylization, Pencil Sketch, Oil Painting, Detail Enhance, and Cartoon. You’re not actually painting on the image, but the effects make it look painted or drawn. I particularly like the Stylization effect, which looks like graphic novel art. The Cartoon effect uses more of a black ink outline around the object in the video. But these effects aren’t as sophisticated as PowerDirector’s AI Styles, which you’re your video the look of specific artists, such as Van Gogh.
Pinnacle Studio includes strong tools for 3D editing, though that’s gone out of fashion for the moment. Picture-in-picture is also well supported, and Pinnacle now has templates like those in PowerDirector, and what Premiere Elements calls “video collages.” Pinnacle Studio includes a dozen of what it calls Split Screen templates. You can drag these onto the timeline and then open a sub-editor to add clips to the PiP layout. The Split Screen Template Creator lets you draw shapes to create your very own reusable PiP layout. With version 22, you can use keyframes to animate these templates.
Transparency. A special tool of its own, this effect is accessible from a button above the timeline. This provides an easy way to adjust each track’s transparency level, in percentages. It’s a useful tool for creating an evocative effect, especially for showing the passing of time. But I find PowerDirector’s masking tool with automated animations more fun.
Chroma-Keying. This worked well with my test green-screen footage, nearly perfectly removing the somewhat imperfect green background.
Stabilization. The Stabilize tool lets you adjust borders and zoom, and you can have it work in the background, as it is fairly time-consuming. My shaky footage came out somewhat smoothed. As with all similar tools, however, it’s no substitute for in-camera stabilization or, better still, a tripod.
Titling. Text is a strength for Pinnacle, with cool things like 3D title editing like that found in Final Cut Pro X. You can change the title position on three axes, as well as choosing light source and angle and material types like metal, plastic. And you can animate it using keyframes. It’s an impressive tool. Magix Movie Edit Pro and PowerDirector have also added some nifty title tricks in recent versions, including video mask title effects, though the last lacks 3D title editing. Even without the 3D options, Pinnacle offers a good choice of animated text options, all of which you can edit on-screen in WYSIWYG fashion.
Screen Cam. Pinnacle Studio’s screen-cam capability is something you’ll also find in Corel VideoStudio. The tool comes as a separate application called Live Screen Capturing. Pinnacle Studio’s implementation worked perfectly in my tests.
Sound for your digital movies is another strong point in Pinnacle Studio. Right from the timeline, you can display level controls, and toolbar buttons take you quickly to a selection of background music and to voiceover recording. You can even raise and lower clip volume by dragging a clip’s audio line up and down, as you can in Final Cut Pro.
The Scorefitter options stretch background music of various styles to fit your movie. Just drag its timeline entry to fit, and after processing some rendering, presto: instant background music! The source panel’s Sound Effects tab offers a wealth of sound clips, from birdsong to strong wind to all manner of vehicles. There are also audio cleaning tools like the Speech De-esser (to remove sibilance) and a noise reducer.
Audio ducking automatically lowers background music during speech. The tool worked well in a test video, with more control than its VideoStudio counterpart. I found it easy to set the threshold for it to kick in and the amount of reduction in volume of the background music.
I tested rendering time by creating a movie consisting of four clips of mixed types (some 1080p, some SD, some 4K) with a standard set of transitions and rendering it to 1080p MPEG-4 at 15Mbps, H.264 High Profile. Audio was MPEG AAC Audio: 192 Kbps. I tested on an Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC running 64-bit Windows 10 Home and sporting a 4K display, 16GB RAM, a quad-core Intel Core i7-6700T CPU, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M discrete graphics card.
The test movie (which has a duration of just under 5 minutes) took Pinnacle Studio just 1:39 (min:sec), coming in just behind PowerDirector’s snappy 1:29. Both of those handily outstrip some other contenders I tested: Corel VideoStudio took 4:20 and Adobe Premiere Elements took 5:18.
When using some of the program’s more demanding features, however, it quit unexpectedly. Fortunately, when this happened, the program offered to let me resume working on the project last open after I restarted it. Such instability has long been an unfortunate hallmark of the complex category of video editing software, but in recent years it’s improved on the whole.
Sharing and Output
The program includes a full disc-authoring module with support for Blu-ray discs, along with DVD and AVCHD format. To go this route, you click the Disc Menu Content button, which looks like a disc. A good selection of menu styles is at your disposal; you add chapter markers to taste and preview with on-screen disc controls. After this you choose the Export to MyDVD option, which appears when you click the Export mode-switching button.
As for the more modern output method—sharing online—Pinnacle’s Export dialog’s Cloud selection offers direct uploading to Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, and Box. When I tried the first, I was thankfully able to set the privacy level before uploading, and I had a choice of video quality, from 360p to 1080p.
Like Adobe Premiere Elements, Pinnacle can now create animated GIFs from your short movies. The choice is a little bit hidden, as it’s not included in the Format dropdown options. You have to change the Extension, and then choose GIF. And the only way to see options like Loop Play and framerate is to click the pencil button. To be fair, the option is no more obvious in Premeiere Elements; that requires you to switch to Custom, then choose an Advanced Settings panel.
You can also simply export to disk in a wide range of file formats, including AVCHD; DivX; MKV; MPEG-1, 2, and 4; QuickTime; and WMV. Presets let you target your output format to popular viewing devices such as the iPhone and Xbox. Happily, the latest version adds the ability to export to H.265 HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) format, which is important for data-hungry 4K and even 8K content, since it doubles compression while maintaining image quality.
New for version 23 is the ability to batch process multiple projects. This is made possible by a simple Add to Queue option and tab in the Export page. Its something that those producing lots of video projects will surely appreciate.
The Pinnacle of Consumer Video Editing?
Pinnacle Studio is an excellent video editing tool, and the latest version adds some new editing tools, most noteworthy of which is its masking tools. Once again, however, some new features are unstable enough that current users may want to hold off on upgrading until Corel updates it. The company generally releases a .5 update halfway through the year. The software still impresses with its many powerful video editing tools, and even more with its fast rendering speed. It’s truly a near-professional-level product. Usability continues to improve, though it’s still somewhat behind our Editors’ Choices for video editing on the PC, CyberLink PowerDirector and Corel VideoStudio. For macOS, our Editors’ Choice is Final Cut Pro X.