Pinnacle's Studio has a long and chequered history, and now it has reached the grand old age of version 12. Where Adobe Premiere brought the filmstrip timeline to PC video editing software, Studio introduced the stage-based approach using tabs for each stage. So it quickly became a firm favourite with novice editors, and the tabbed stages have now been copied by most entry-level apps.
For a few years now, Pinnacle Studio has come in three versions - the basic one, Plus and Ultimate, with around £30 separating successive versions. The cheapest option misses out on support for any HD formats, including HDV and AVCHD. Naturally, this also means it can't burn HD video to DVD or create Blu-ray discs. The Plus and Ultimate iterations add these abilities, plus multi-track layering so you can create picture-in-picture and chroma key effects.
The major difference between Plus and Ultimate is the bundle of extras. Ultimate comes with the Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding plug-in as standard. It also includes a selection of third-party apps, and this has changed slightly since version 11. You still get ProDAD VitaScene, but now Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Looks and Boris Graffiti have replaced BIAS SoundSoap and StageTools Moving Picture. If you upgrade from 11, you can still use these, but Pinnacle has obviously changed its relationships, as these are hardly like-for-like swaps. The other thing you still get in the Ultimate box is a square of greenscreen material, which in our experience is pretty good at its job, when lit properly.
There are some worthwhile new features in the core application, though. The headline act is the theme-based Pinnacle Montage, which uses preset designs to create multi-track effects with graphical elements. You choose a design from 11 different categories and drag it to the timeline. This then opens the Montage dialog, which provides up to six slots into which you can drag video clips and images from the library - with Photoshop PSDs now supported. These subsequently appear within the theme design as you scrub along the main timeline.
However, editing these subclips is a little complicated. You can alter the in point by simply clicking the left mouse button within the appropriate theme drop slot and dragging left or right. But if you want to make more elaborate edits and add filters, you need to copy the clip temporarily to the timeline, make your changes, then drag it back into its slot - which is all a bit clunky.