Editor's note: The name of Avid's Pinnacle Studio product has been corrected.
Inexpensive video editing applications risk occupying a no-man's land: People uploading videos to YouTube and Facebook rarely want to spend time editing them, and professionals who need extensive controls will use high-end applications. The middle ground is what two new packages--Avid's Pinnacle Studio HD Ultimate 15 and Corel's VideoStudio Pro X4--try to satisfy.
Both applications are pretty close to each other in terms of price, features, and performance. VideoStudio Pro X4 has a slight edge in that it offers Facebook integration and 3D video, features that Pinnacle Studio lacks--for now.
In Your Facebook
Both applications will upload high-definition video directly to YouTube (the Pinnacle Studio package just added HD uploads), but VideoStudio Pro X4 joins Adobe Premiere Elements 9 in uploading directly to Facebook. VideoStudio Pro X4 also uploads 3D video to YouTube, because it also has the newfound ability to convert 2D video to 3D format. It doesn't give you much control over 3D editing, and you have no preview before you upload, but I was able to output a pretty good-looking 720p 3D video, with obvious 3D effects. YouTube recognized that it was a 3D file and showed settings for viewing with special glasses (on a computer) or on a 3D-capable television.
Stop the Movie
VideoStudio Pro X4 adds a new stop-motion video feature (Pinnacle Studio added the feature in its previous version). You can set either app to capture still shots every time you click a button, but VideoStudio also lets you set it to take shots automatically at a regular interval (so you can create a movie of a sunset, for example). The function works simply and well with both applications, though they limit control over the resulting video once it gets into the timeline.
Pinnacle Studio's interface is a bit more flexible than in past versions--you can expand the size of the monitor window and the timeline now--but VideoStudio Pro X4's newly updated interface is far more usable, because you can expand window sizes nearly as much as you want, arrange them wherever you want, and easily dock them; you can save custom layouts, too.
Regrettably, both applications treat keyframing (the ability to set points at which effects start or stop, and at what intensity) as afterthoughts--and they are so important to video editing that they really shouldn't be. Both require that you work with keyframes in a dialog box with small preview windows, and you can't control how effects accelerate or decelerate (as you can with Adobe Premiere Elements 9 and most higher-end apps).
Pinnacle Studio HD Ultimate 15 allows you to work with a maximum of only two video tracks; VideoStudio Pro X4 lets you work with up to seven. Either is probably sufficient for very simple projects--but I'd argue that, if your goal is to get your video online quickly, you won't want to edit at all. And if you want to build the classic, nine-box Brady Bunch opener? Neither one of these can do the job.
Both apps have new project archiving features you can use to copy all the pieces of a project at once so you can use it on a second machine, and they work quickly and simply, though neither of the copies rendered preview files. Pinnacle Studio's user license, however, says that you can install the program on only one computer--so legally, to take advantage of the feature, you seemingly must purchase second copy of the software. However, when I asked Avid about it, a representative said that, "For personal use, installation on two computers is accepted."
Still more shared ground: Both applications are supposed to be optimized for the latest CPUs, though Corel goes a bit farther to claim optimization for Intel's Sandy Bridge processors and AMD's Fusion processors. Corel hadn't released its latest "accelerator patches" for Sandy Bridge CPUs due to Intel's recent problems with them, so I could not test its claims. Both applications seemed very stable--much more stable than some of the versions I've tested in past years--but VideoStudio Pro X4's interface and general operation seemed snappier than Pinnacle Studio's.
Of these two video editors, Corel VideoStudio Pro X4 has a slight edge because of a few extra features and some slightly better-implemented ones. But If you were to ask me which inexpensive video editor I'd recommend, I'd still say Adobe Premiere Elements 9, mainly because it has the powerful keyframing capabilities that both of these applications eschew.