With Corel's purchase of the Pinnacle video editing software assets from Avid last summer, the video editing app Avid Studio is no longer supported. The good news, however, is that the app has been reborn as Pinnacle Studio for iPad.
Unfortunately, existing Avid Studio users don't get a free update to Pinnacle Studio, even though it's essentially the same app. To add insult to injury, the app has been more than doubled in price to £8.99. That doesn't take away from the fact that it's the best, most powerful, and easiest to use iPad video editor around. And this version is even better than its predecessor in several ways, as it boasts for example 1080p output and a voiceover feature.
Setup and interface
Users of first-generation iPads need not apply, as Pinnacle only runs on the iPad 2 or later. The app is 57.3MB and large by iOS app standards, but much smaller than Apple's iMovie for iPad (£2.99), which takes up a massive 496MB.
When you first fire up Pinnacle Studio, you'll see its attractive movie-styled home screen, from which you can start, open, share, or delete movie projects. You can also access help from here (and only here), and set default durations for titles, transitions, and photos you add to movies. Once you open or start a project, you'll see the standard three panel video editing interface, with the source tray and preview window on the top, and a storyboard and timeline across the bottom.
To add a clip to your movie timeline, you drag its thumbnail from the source panel down to either the storyboard or timeline. You get just one video track but up to three audio tracks. Pinnacle's left side toolbar makes common editing options obvious, with buttons for the clips, images, sound, transitions, montages, and text. A record button lets you start recording new video from the iPad's camera.
Pinnacle Studio rearranges the display nicely when you switch from portrait to landscape orientation. It almost fills the top half of the screen with the project video preview, and you can pinch and unpinch to contract or expand the timeline. Neither Pinnacle nor iMovie for iPad lets you resize the interface panels, but Pinnacle does let you view projects in full screen right from the editing area, while iMovie makes you go back to the home project page. As the icing on the cake, Pinnacle displays the current frame's time code at the top, though this information is probably not of interest to the average iPad video editing enthusiast.
For some interface actions, Pinnacle Studio is more intuitive than iMovie. For example, Pinnacle's garbage can icon makes it clearer how to remove a clip, and its razor icon is more intuitive than iMovie's swiping down to split a clip. Pinnacle also shows both storyboard and timeline view, while iMovie only shows its hybrid thumbnail-timeline view – unless you hold your finger down on a clip's entry, when it changes into a movable storyboard thumbnail. Pinnacle's method makes arranging clips much easier.
A couple of minor annoyances, however, detract from Pinnacle Studio's appeal: In order to see a lot of the effects which have been applied in action, you have to wait for a sometimes lengthy rendering process, and when opening a project, you'll often be asked to rebuild its media library. These operations usually took about half a minute on my third generation iPad – though users of the newer iPad 4 may experience shorter wait times. Fortunately, the rebuild library message doesn't appear every time you open a project, and I encountered no crashes during editing in the new app.
Pinnacle makes it easy to trim and split clips. You simply tap the clip you want to edit in the timeline (or its storyboard thumbnail), and drag a handle at the bottom in the direction you want to trim. Double clicking the edit point in the timeline brings up the precision editor. Here, you can actually specify the number of frames to move the edit left or right. The edits are of the "ripple" type, meaning you don’t have to worry about empty holes in your timeline – all the clips move to fill the space.
Pinnacle adds a bunch more transition options over its Avid predecessor. Applying transitions to your movie is a simple matter of hitting the lightning icon and choosing from the four dissolve and 12 push styles. Apple iMovie restricts you to a cross dissolve or to an (often goofy) "theme transition", but a third app, ReelDirector (£1.49), offers the most transition options, with various versions of flash, blur, push, and wipe added to the two basic ones offered by Pinnacle.
When it comes to sound, Pinnacle and iMovie are pretty close, and it now matches Apple's editor and ReelDirector with the ability to record voiceovers. The microphone icon starts up the voiceover tool, with 3-2-1 countdown beeps. After you've recorded, Pinnacle lets you adjust the voiceover volume and fade it in and out – just as it works with all other sound tracks. Pinnacle and Apple also offer sound effects such as applause, barking dogs, birds, and even bear growls! And both apps show you audio waveforms below your clips in the timeline.
Pinnacle Studio's sophisticated montage capability really sets it apart from competing iPad video editing apps. You can simply drag one clip's storyboard tile on top of another, choose Picture-in-Picture to overlay it, and then pinch to resize and rotate the resulting montage. Unfortunately, this is the only way to rotate video, with no simple 90-degree choice.
Pinnacle also supplies 15 presets (available from the Montage button next to the source panel) that can animate the overlaid video(s); some also add artistic backgrounds. Each montage preset demos what it does in the preview window when you click on it. The one downside to this standout capability is that, in order to see the effect on your video, you have to render it by hitting the gear icon, which can take several minutes for even basic montages.
Text is another strong point for Pinnacle, with a lot more font choices than iMovie for iPad. You can choose from over a hundred typefaces, change the size and colour, and even tilt the title or caption. But again, you'll have to wait for rendering to see your results.
Output and sharing
I liked how I could output or share my Pinnacle movie directly from the editing page, rather than having to go back to the project page as is the case with iMovie. Thankfully one important output limitation has been removed: You can now export full 1080p high definition videos, just like you can with iMovie.
Pinnacle Studio lets you not only save your creation to a local video file, but you can directly upload to Facebook, YouTube, Box, and Vimeo. The uploader looks good, takes the video name from your project title, and lets you decide whether the video will be public or private. You can also save your project for use on the desktop version of Pinnacle Studio, via Box, iTunes, or iCloud.
In general Pinnacle Studio didn't feel quite as snappy as iMovie, perhaps the result of its need to render to display some effects. And a video rendering test on my iPad 3 showed Apple's video editor to be faster: My simple 23 second test movie with just two clips and one cross-dissolve transition took Pinnacle Studio 58 seconds to output to 1080p, compared with iMovie's 44 seconds. But both of these vastly outperformed ReelDirector, which took over 5 minutes to complete this simple rendering operation.
Pinnacle Studio may be the most powerful iPad video editor out there, and it's surprisingly easy to use, too. Many will likely prefer iMovie's themes and impressive trailer creation, but Pinnacle leaves you on your own when it comes to creating a feel for your movie.
If you want prefab options that restrict you but are guaranteed to produce a respectable result, Apple's iMovie is for you. But if you want the most control, power, and ease-of-use in your iPad video editing project, Pinnacle Studio is the way to go, which is why it scoops one of our Best Buy awards.