Pinnacle DV500 Plus (Part Two)

In "Pinnacle DV500 Plus (Part One)", I introduced a video-editing system that provides some professional-level features in a consumer-level product. In this part of my review of Pinnacle Systems' DV500 PLUS hardware/software solution for editing video, I look at the software side of the product. But first, here's a refresher on the product's hardware. As I noted in Part One, the DV500 PLUS includes an internal hardware card for your PC as well as an external breakout box device that provides incoming and outgoing analog video and audio connections. The internal card also features two FireWire IEEE 1394 ports for digital camera compatibility. This hardware achieves two goals: The DV500 PLUS is instantly compatible with virtually any video source you need to connect, and its on-card video hardware delivers realtime effects that dramatically reduce the time for rendering special effects such as transitions.

On the software side, the DV500 PLUS ships with Adobe Premiere 6.0, a high-end, nonlinear video editor; Pinnacle Systems' Hollywood FX Copper add-in, which lets Premiere achieve professional-looking 3-D video effects; and several Pinnacle software tools, many of which are useful for controlling and managing the bundled the hardware.

Adobe Premiere 6.0

If you're familiar with other Adobe products such as Photoshop, you'll understand Premiere: It's a powerful all-in-one tool that can perform almost any video-related task. Adobe aimed the product at professionals; thus, Premiere is as difficult to learn as it is feature-filled. However, anyone who has worked with simpler, consumer-oriented linear video-editing systems, including Apple's iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, will recognize the basic UI elements in Premiere and can get up to speed with a few short tutorials.

The Premiere interface, like that of Photoshop, is bursting with windows. In the upper right, a Project window lets you organize movies and other assets such as still images and audio files into logical Bins, in the same way that Windows Movie Maker uses Collections. Unlike simpler products, Premiere provides a dual-headed monitor view: The left-most monitor displays the source video, and the right-most monitor can display the current edit. Along the screen's right side are several other windows, including a History window for multiple undos; a Video Effects window that includes transitions, video effects, and audio effects; and an Effects Control window for controlling nontransitional effects such as video motion, zoom, and distortion.

At the bottom of the Premiere UI is the Timeline, the window in which you'll spend most of your time. The Premiere Timeline is, in my opinion, one of two major functional elements that differentiate this product from consumer-oriented products such as iMovie and Windows Movie Maker. Premiere supports a large number of video and audio tracks, in addition to a discrete track for transitions; this support lets you visually layer transitions between two video tracks. This support for multiple tracks lets you easily work with transitions between video clips and, perhaps more important, gives you fine-grain control over the exact timing and placement of transitions.

Premiere's Timeline sports other pleasant surprises as well. You can separate a movie's audio track, for example, and process it separately from the underlying video. You can expand any audio track, and you have precise control over the track's volume at any point, which lets you easily customize fade-ins and fade-outs. Contrast this feature with Windows Movie Maker, which offers no such control, and iMovie, which lets you toggle Fade-in and Fade-out choices but doesn't let you control where the fades begin and end. Fades are automatic in iMovie, but not configurable.

The combination of the DV500 PLUS's rendering hardware and Premiere software has another major advantage: It lets you perform realtime effects rendering. If you choose a stock Premiere transition-and the program offers many transitions in several categories, including 3-D motion, dissolve, iris, map, and page peel-and apply it to your current project, you'll need to render the transition before you can view its effect on the underlying video. This process can take several minutes, depending on the speed of your machine and the length and complexity of the transition.

But the DV500 PLUS ships with a selection of Pinnacle transitions that take advantage of the bundled hardware; these transitions include band wipes, barn-door effects, and cross dissolves, along with hundreds of Hollywood FX Copper effects, many of which are modeled after the professional 3-D video effects you might see on the evening news or cable TV. The DV500 PLUS immediately renders all these effects, dramatically reducing the time you spend editing your movies. Some transitions and effects are somewhat gratuitous for home use, but they're fun to play with.

A Product for Serious Video Users

Premiere is complicated and has a steep learning curve, but its inclusion in a hardware combination product is certainly welcome; after you've learned Premiere's ins and outs, you might never need to use any other video-editing tool. And when you combine this amazing software bundle with the high-speed rendering and analog/digital video input and output capabilities of the underlying hardware, you have an all-in-one solution that's tough to beat.

Granted, the DV500 PLUS's high price-$500 to $600 retail-is bound to scare off dabblers, but Pinnacle didn't design this product for weekend camcorder warriors. If you're interested in taking your hobby to the next level, perhaps as an event videographer, you'd be hard pressed to find a more complete solution than the DV500 PLUS. I highly recommend it for all but casual video users.

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