Pinnacle Studio Deluxe

A full motion, full frame, full 720i video capture card with an impressive collection of easy to use software that allows you to capture, edit, add transitions, add titles, add sounds, add 3-D effects and turn the final project into either a DV, S-VHS, VHS TV, VHS MPEG, Real Video, Windows Media or Intel Indo AVI finished product. All for $300 or less, depending on where you buy it (I got mine for $254 delivered, no ups, no extras). It includes an in/out breakout box with audio, video composite and S-VHS ports attached to a fairly long cable which plugs into the back of the card. The card also accepts the Apple FireWire connector and had a 1/8í audio output connector, plus can handle some USB devices.

So far thatís pretty impressive for a $300 card that includes Pinnacle Studio 7.08, which lets you capture, edit, add simple transitions (wipes, fades, dissolves, etc.) and convert the finished product into a variety of mediums. Hollywood FX (which includes FX Plus and FX Pro, which are normally upgrade items). Which lets you add 3-D rendering effects to the finished product. Pinnacle Express 1.05 which burns DVDs and CDs from your finished files or captures.

The downside is the hard drive requirements, which require a very fast UDMA or standard SCSI drive. My brand new Western Digital 60 GB drive with 7200 RPM only tested out to 60% of what was required in direct mode but did work in UDMA mode (you must have the DMA box checked in the drive properties found in Control Panel) and the software wonít let you capture with less than 4 MB per second safe transfer rate (which is about 80% of the maximum possible rate).

SCSI drives are very expensive - around $500. Forget about USB drives, as USB transfer rates are small! You need a very fast drive with a very large cache and even then the Pinnacle software may not approve your unit! No approval, no DV or VHS capture from external sources.

Also, for some reason my Radio Shack 320 USB Web Cam wouldnít deliver a capture, either. This may also be because of my drive!

Without a fast hard drive you can still work with files internally and create lower grade AVI, MPEG/VHS and Real Video files for streamcasts. You can also edit and add effects. But you can off-load the files to a VHS or DV Mini recorder unless your drive can read at close to 4MB per second (mine did 3MB).

So, the big pitfall here is hard drive and unless you can buy, try and return hard drives or have the bucks to get into a SCSI drive you probably should stay away from this particular capture card, which is a shame as itís a very nice card with easy to use software.

You unpack the unit, which as the BlueBox breakout connections, a PCI card that is not bigger than most video or audio cards, a USB cord, a Mini Plug cord to connect to your sound card (so you can hear the audio track from movies) an easy to read instruction book and 3 CDs of software.

Pinnacle Studio 7.08 is what you must install to get the card to work. The other software can be added later when you are ready to added 3-D effects or burn a CD/DVD (caution: your burner may not be supported or might need new firmware or drivers).

Once the computer has been restarted it will check your drive and render a decision as to if it will let your capture or not capture (there is no provision for less than DV compression files, thus you canít tell the unit screw DV quality, how about AVI 160 9 FPS quality instead - it wonít do that).

The card automatically detects common capture devices, including web cams and any source connected to the breakout box. It automatically tries to sense scene changes (if it can, this process has not warranties) or you can go in and manually cut your imports or capture into individual scenes. You can then assemble this in a variety of formats:

Storyboard (which shows you the starting or key frame from each scene one by one left to right and down in rows) with the transitions (dissolves, wipes, etc.), if any (you can do straight cuts if you want), between the two story board frames.

Time line will be familiar to musicians out there who have worked with any multi-track software like Fruity Loops, Pro Tools, Cubase, Cakewalk, Databecker or N Track.

It shows the video file as a wave type in representative length, with a key image picture above it and transitions between cuts. You can also work with an edit list, which shows scenes and transitions as text words with running times.

You can change saturation, hue, sharpness and contrast. You can increase pixel size and blur the image. I found, however, no ability to chroma key scenes (this allows you to drop out a blue or green background and add a second image as an underlay, which is how your TV weather shows work or how ILM puts spacecraft in front of the planet Earth for a Star Wars movie). You would have to run to a package such as the advance Premier offerings to obtain Chroma Key, which is quite useful to anyone interested in doing serious television or video production.

Image capture (NTSC) is either 160 x 120 14.958 frames (Intel Indeo AVI format for web cast) up to 720 x 480 29.97 interlaced (DV Mini quality) which is better than broadcast quality. The card also works with European PAL (160 x 144 for Indeo format up to 720 x 586 for DV format at 25 frames). The resolution of the final product will have a direct effect on the file size. The free space on my hard drive, 35 GB, would allow only about 2 hours of file space for raw 720i DV capture.

Many cards in this price range only handle VGA resolution of 640 x 480 which is close to DV but not DV or broadcast signal (the $200 Pinnacle card quality), so this new card brings cable and even broadcast television (but not HDTV) standard. If you pull your capture off a high quality source (any DV, most S-VHS or Betacam SP) source the image quality will be above standard television broadcast levels (350 lines of horizontal resolution). Since the image signal doesnít degrade as it would with an analog editing system, you can work with your original materials and return an edited product back to a high quality level (DV or Betacam SP) for transfer to the television broadcast chain or to a compatible format for cable television (generally either DV, DVD or U-Matic).

The HFX Plus allows you to add flying 3-D effects (see examples above) for transition from one scene to another. These allow you to split a scene into several parts, cant them at an angle and slide them off into a given direction leaving the new scene in place. There are a lot of parameters you can play with, including perspective, camera, lighting, shadow, direction of motion (on two planes) and opacity.

The overall package is equivalent to thousands of dollars of analog switching, edit controlling, character generator and TBC equipment. The overall image, resolution, noise and effects quality exceeds what is found in most cable television stations and industrial production houses.

The output is flexible enough to allow you to make DV masters, analog tape masters, VHS copies, DVD or CD-R disks, MPEG, MOV, AVI, WFW and Real Video files. For musicians, wedding photographer and even home users for $300 or less you have a tool that lets your render a high quality, professional looking edited video show with added music (some is supplied), voice over narration, sound effects (some are supplied), color correction, 2-D or 3-D titles, wipes and transitions. The finish product can be broadcast on television, used for a cable access show or reduced in size and frames for a stream video webcast.

Add a quality DV camera (which will cost you far more than this capture and editing outfit) and for under $1500 you have an industrial quality production outfit that can actually be used to make broadcast television shows (the camera will still be the weak side, for serious TV you will need to invest a total more like $3,000 for a three chip camera and your capture/editing), produce industrial, sales training or ultra high quality wedding videos.

Add a low end DV camera and for about $650 you have an ultra home movie outfit that can make broadcast quality tapes of TV news quality, excellent stream video music videos and with some experience acceptable professional wedding videos.

Add a low cost Hi8 or VHS-C camera and for as little as $450 you have a home movie producing outfit that can make adequate internal sales presentations, good webcasts and even marginal cable access masters.

To see a clip of a music video produced by the author on the Pinnacle system in Windows Media Medium Quality format go here:

Just Get With It Video Clip


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