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Pinnacle Liquid Edition 5.5

COW Library : : George Avgerakis : Pinnacle Liquid Edition 5.5
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Pinnacle Liquid Edition 5.5
Creativecow.net Product Review

Pinnacle Liquid Edition 5.5, a review by George Avgerakis

George Avgerakis
Vice President, Creative Director
Avekta Productions Inc., New York, New York

©2003 by Creativecow.net. All rights are reserved.

Article Focus:
Throughout his review, George Avgerakis (author of the "Desktop Video Studio Bible”) looks at many features that make Liquid Edition a powerful, yet reasonably priced system for professional editors. Of one of his favorite features, George observes: "Let's face it, most of us are trying to get busy enough to keep one machine busy, let alone a network, but Liquid Edition is equipped for this important step in your growth. One machine may be set up as the key editing bench, while others can act as animation or compositing stations. Using Liquid Edition on each machine, the resources on the main desk can be accessed, changed and stored back from any networked machine. Even on a humble 100 base T system, you can obtain 2 simultaneous streams of video and a stream of graphics." What are some of his other favorite features? Read on...




Pinnacle Systems began as a computer peripheral manufacturer in 1986 specializing in video and as of the time of this writing, they have gathered nine Emmy® awards for their efforts. In the late 1980’s, the company started to develop Non-Linear Editor (NLE) software, making them one of the few companies to currently produce both hardware and software for NLE (the others being Leitch, Media 100, Apple and Avid). Pinnacle aggressively markets its products to the full spectrum of user from the rank amateur, with the entry-level Studio 8™ NLE software (street pricing at about $79), to systems used by major networks, like the top-end Liquid blue, selling upwards of $100,000.

Just above the Studio 8 level, and still in the “consumer” category, Pinnacle introduced an NLE product, Edition, in 2002 as a bridge from the amateur to professional level. My initial review of this product a year ago found it to contain an incredible array of features, hamstrung with only one or two shortcomings that prevented it from competing with some of the best NLEs, selling for nearly twice as much. These shortcomings were the color correction module, analog VCR control and networking.

Comfortably fitting in a niche between Studio 8 and the beginning of Pinnacle’s professional and broadcast line of NLEs, Edition represented a kind of curious compromise that suited many users. Priced at $699 for the digital-only version and $999 for the digital/analog version, the product enjoyed much popularity with prosumers who were migrating upward, and professionals who were looking for a price break. I believe many more pros would have considered Edition had it featured better color correction and analog machine control. I'm happy to see that Pinnacle has now added these functions –and others – in a recent relaunch/renaming of the product.

Apparently, Pinnacle has done some serious rethinking of its product line, pulling Edition from “consumer” to the “professional” category, renaming it “Liquid Edition 5.5” (after the entry level professional line, Liquid), and including ten serious professional features that had previously been offered in Pinnacle systems costing significantly more. The best part of this news is that Pinnacle has not added a penny to the price and is offering existing owners of Edition a $49.00 (yes, you're reading it right) upgrade!

But before we get into the new features, how about a quick rundown of what Edition always had, for those of you still new to the brand.


Overview

Not wishing to push any user into a box, Pinnacle Edition starts you off with a choice of several default layouts. These layouts and the overall design philosophy of Edition support the three principal styles of nonlinear editing; mouse intensive drag-and-drop, three-point editing and storyboard editing. Whichever way you want to edit (or learn editing), Edition provides the interface – and the ability to combine interfaces for combo styles, such as building a quick edit in the storyboard mode and then refining it with drag-and-drop routines.

On first launching Edition, you'd think your Windows desktop had suddenly been hijacked!. There is a new Start button – which starts all of Edition’s basic functions. Many of the functions of the editor have cleverly emulated most of Window’s concepts making it easy for the user to adapt. Instead of pull-down menus or “twirlies,” simply right click on any area of the screen to access the available functions therein. For instance, clicking in “Control Panel,” opens up the “User Settings” where you can drag and drop various functions onto a virtual keyboard for establishing shortcuts or emulating your favorite NLE.


Acquisition

Edition is principally a DV editing system, but with the optional Liquid Edition PRO hardware (consisting of a graphic card with digital and analog capturing capabilities and a breakout box), the user can capture and record composite and S-Video. Sorry, SDI capability is reserved for the more expensive “Chrome” level of products.

The default layout of Edition is a “source and record” pair of monitors at the top, a timeline in the middle and clip/effects libraries displayed at the bottom. The system works flawlessly as you connect a camera or DV deck to the Firewire port, acquire footage into any number of bins, sort the footage, assign picons or titles to the assets and pass each to the “source” window for trimming.

Edition also supports auto scene detection so that an entire tape may be acquired without operator intervention as the software senses the beginning of each shot and stores it as a separate clip in the default bin. (See recent Sony X-Send addition below.)


Editing

The design of Edition’s interface is very well conceived with button symbols that are so intuitive you needn't wonder about what they do. But if you did wonder, a definition pop-up will tell you as soon as you park the mouse for a second on the button. In between the source and record monitor, just where your mouse will pass on the way to the timeline, there is a button that opens up the insert options (insert and ripple to tail, overwrite, etc.).

Editors who prefer JKL, and other keyboard controls will be happy to know that these professional tools are supported by Edition.

Because Edition is designed to multithread its calls to the computer’s CPU, the program offers some unique editing attributes that I have not seen elsewhere at any price point. In addition to the background rendering, multithreading allows a user to zoom the timeline in and out while the timeline is playing.

As many of you know, most DV editing systems do not allow the user to see actual video playback on a TV monitor during editing. This happens later – after rendering. What many NLEs do show is real time previews – on the computer monitor. Edition 5 broke this limitation by allowing real time previews on both the computer and TV monitor at full DV resolution.

Another multithreading feature is found in the source and record window where the mouse may be clicked and dragged right or left to extend the shot’s tail or head, while playing. The (unlimited) undo list, also allows for an event anywhere in the list to be undone with appropriate ripple of undoes only on the events that are affected by the undo. Some NLEs cannot do this, but demand that the editor undo events in consecutive order.


Colorful Characters

Edition’s character generator was extracted from Pinnacle’s successful FX Deko II software, which has been acquired as the default CG for such in-house sports franchises as the New England Patriots, events like the 2002 Olympics and networks like CNN and Turner Classic Movies. Most NLEs obtain CGs from third party vendors (like Inscriber), leaving the editor with a toss-up on whom to call when things don't work. Edition’s Pinnacle pedigree results in a CG that is as intuitive as the host NLE, allows simple mouse-controlled positioning, scaling, rotating, coloring, texturizing, skewing, even kerning. Unlike third-party CGs, which often require the NLE to halt while titles are produced, Pinnacle’s timeline can be running or rendering while the CG is worked.


Special Effects and Rendering

2-D and 3-D effects are created in Edition’s sophisticated editorial subroutine, which opens to a full screen that features a timeline and a playback window that can be zoomed in and out.

Whenever a composite element is moved, a keyframe is automatically created on the subroutine’s timeline. Keyframes can be slid on the timeline with real time preview. A mouse click opens up elaborate graphic controls, which allow mouse-interactive, acceleration curves and splines. Graphic refinements such as frame borders and shadows with ramped colors can be keyframed to change parameters with time, providing an infinite array of effects.

Edition features background processing of all effects. This means that when your edit is complete and you order the system to “print-to-tape,” most of your work has already been rendered!

Pinnacle has significantly enhanced the effect processing by accessing the computer’s graphics processor (GPU) as well as the CPU, which gives the user up to 16 times more bandwidth for real-time effect processing. This quantum leap in NLE-to-Computer interaction allows Edition editors to assemble highly complex special effects and composites with little or no preview lag and nearly invisible rendering.

I tested Liquid Edition 5.5 on an HP xw8000 equipped with two 3.06 gHz Intel Xeon processors, 3 gigabytes of DVR 266 mHz memory and a Nvidia Quadro 4 980 XGL video card. Essentially, two factors determine how many real time streams and effects you can expect when operating the software; CPU speed and GPU speed. Roughly 500 MhZ of CPU speed is required for each video track, thus yielding nearly 6 on a 3 gig system. I would further recommend as a minimum, either an Nvidia G-Force 2 or better graphics card, or an ATI Radian 7500 or better, each with a minimum of 64 meg of RAM (which is now pretty standard).

Since 3 D Perspective had been added to all effects in Edition 5 along with Hollywood FX5, you will want as much GPU horsepower as you can afford to kick these features into high gear. I noticed a significant improvement in the lens flare effect from the previous version of Edition, but alas, there is still no motion-tracking feature available in Liquid Edition.


Advanced DVD Authoring

As recently as last September, when my book, “Desktop Video Studio Bible” was issued, there were only two manufacturers of DVD creation software. That's all changed as DVD creation is quickly being incorporated into NLE packages.

Creating a DVD from the timeline required two steps; accessing the DVD author and building interactive menu pages. The creation of menus is also easy, incorporating a gallery of included templates. Although the gallery has dozens of alternative designs, users who want to customize their menus will not be faced with a learning curve. The interface, which displays the template, also allows the user to drag-and-drop-modify any element on the page, retype titles and even drag-and-drop graphics into the design.

The most amazing feature of the menu design software is that video clips may be dragged from the timeline, directly to the menu buttons where they instantly appear as real-time motion menus. For those of you not familiar with this term, motion menus are those cool buttons that feature a looping clip of video on their surface. This feature alone used to cost me an extra $1,000 for a Sonic designer to incorporate in my productions! I call this, “One-Job Return on Investment,” and clearly, this feature alone, makes the decision to purchase Edition a no-brainer In about 20 minutes, you can put together a design that would once have taken 3-4 hours of a very well paid DVD specialist.

However, it saddens me to report that in my lectures around the country, the inclusion of DVD authoring into NLEs does not seem to be causing a big stir. Maybe this is caused by a large percentage editors still seeing themselves as a one-medium practitioners. This is old fashioned thinking! Tomorrows editors (Tomorrows? Check out your competition.) will be multifunctional, taking on video, CD, DVD, animation and even print projects from a single workstation.

Edition 5 currently has what I would judge as the most robust DVD creation engine of any NLE on the market and it's directly integrated in the timeline. You can't pass up this opportunity to EASILY add a new arrow in your quiver. Try the DVD tomorrow at a demo shop and call me a liar.


Now Let's Get Wet: The Goodies of Liquid

The two most important new features of Liquid Edition 5.5 are advanced color correction and keyframe controlled slow motion.

Liquid Edition’s color correction module, borrowed from Pinnacle’s broadcast level Liquid line of products, now includes a fully professional array of controls, featuring both primary and secondary correction. Primary color correction, the adjustment of the entire scene, can be accomplished in several ways. Simple, white balance correction operates like a camera’s “auto white balance” button. Click a white spot on the screen and the entire scene adjusts.

Pinnacle also recovers for us the old linear editor’s color correction tool, based on comparing a known source, like studio color bars, with the tape source, through a split-screen switcher. In Liquid Edition, you can create a split-screen between any two sources (such as tapes from two cameras used on one location), and match them side-by-side, with simple mouse clicks. Wanna see a demo? Go to:

Liquid Edition Advanced Color Correction Introduction
Liquid Edition Advanced Color Correction Part 2
Liquid Edition Advanced Color Correction Part 3


where, as you can surmise, there are three demos for you to watch.

Secondary color correction is a technique that is relatively new to NLE technology. This allows any specific color in the scene to be adjusted, while leaving the other colors untouched. For example, you could change the color of an actor’s shirt from red to green, without changing the skin tones. But get this. In Liquid Edition, you can select and change up to 15 different colors at one time, in one clip. This capability allows you create the elaborate techniques some TV commercials, or the candle scene from Schindler’s List, but making a scene black and white, except for one (or 14) object(s).

The capability of creating sophisticated TV commercial techniques must also have been on Pinnacle’s mind when they enhanced Liquid Edition with keframeable clip speed control. Have you ever seen the car commercials where the car zooms by the camera and then suddenly slow-mo’s down for a good look-see before zooming off again? I've tried to do this on a $15,000 editing system that did not have keyframing on the clip speed. It doesn't work. Without a smooth gradation between normal and slow-mo, the effect, no matter how much you tweak it with intermediate clips, comes out staggered and rough.

I won't kid you. The tools to achieve this effect in Liquid Edition take some patience to learn and master, but the effect is stunning. You can learn more about how to do it by watching three Pinnacle online demos.

Remember I mentioned the lack of analog VTR control as one of the shortcomings of Edition 5.0? Been there, fixed that. Liquid Edition can control any RS422 device, up to the accuracy of the VCR (in most cases, frame accurately) such as the Sony Beta, JVC or Panasonic decks that beginners are continuing to buy from broadcasters for low cash as broadcasters move up to high end digital, like DigiBeta, SX and D-9. By the way, since many of these machines also have RS422 control, Liquid Edition can also drive them.

Incidentally, those of you with Sony DVCam decks will be pleased to learn that Pinnacle helped Sony develop the “Cliplink” metadata format for the ES3 edit system. As a result, Cliplink (which captures identifying picons in the camera and greatly reduces clip acquisition time) is supported in Liquid Edition.

One of the best tests of a manufacturer’s claims to being “upwardly mobile” is to examine the ways their lower-end systems communicate with theirs and other company’s pricier models, thereby allowing junior editors to smoothly interface with “online” facilities. Edition has always supported simple exporting and importing of compositions with such essential programs as Adobe After Effects, Photoshop and Macromedia Flash, but Liquid Edition now employs “XSend.” XSend allows the user to right click on any video clip to send it immediately into such online Pinnacle products Pinnacle Thunder NLE servers, and Pinnacle DekoCast graphic systems. XSend makes Liquid Edition a perfect “offline” system for teleproduction centers and busy edit houses which have large, multi-editor projects.

The enhanced inter operability of Liquid Edition now allows ALE and OMS project support to and from any other editing system using these standards, such as Avid. Although proprietary effects that are unique to each brand will not transport, you will be pleased to know that audio mixes done in Pinnacle’s recently acquired Nuendo will interchange with Avid’s Digidesign.

MIDI support is also included in Liquid Edition, which allows any MIDI device to be connected to “outboard” many functions, such as audio mixing with JL Cooper’s FadeMaster Professional (about $500). Liquid Edition users can also connect a wide range of external jog/shuttle devices, ranging from the $1,000 Pinnacle option down to the ShuttlePRO ($100) and ShuttleXPRess ($200) devices from Contour Design.

Sending and retrieving clips brings up another attribute worth noting. One of the key differences between broadcast NLEs and anything lesser is the ability to edit over a network. Let's face it, most of us are trying to get busy enough to keep one machine busy, let alone a network, but Liquid Edition is equipped for this important step in your growth. One machine may be set up as the key editing bench, while others can act as animation or compositing stations. Using Liquid Edition on each machine, the resources on the main desk, can be accessed, changed and stored back from any networked machine. Even on a humble 100 base T system, you can obtain 2 simultaneous streams of video and a stream of graphics.


Summation

Pinnacle’s Liquid Edition 5.5 NLE software, available for the same two levels of price as Edition 5.0, is ideally suited to the professional or semi-professional user. It offers a lot of features and real-time capabilities otherwise only found in much higher priced editors.

Buyers should be aware of the necessity for a very fast computer and video card to extract the full capabilities of the software. Liquid Edition might well be a first choice NLE for an editor entering the professional arena, for experienced editors, who wish to break out of the full-time job category and start their own shops, or for serious video hobbyists who have outgrown entry level products.



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