Video is moving to high definition faster than a dog to a doughnut. So which do you buy first: a new HD camcorder, or a powerful new computer on which to edit its footage? If you choose the camcorder, Corel's US$100 VideoStudio Pro X2 video editing application may be able to help you stave off the PC purchase for a while.
VideoStudio's new trick? Its updated Smart Proxy editing feature lets you create a lower-resolution version of a project that you can use to make edits, apply effects, and create menus, and when you're satisfied with how it looks, you tell the application to pull in the high-resolution source files to create the finished movie. Of course, when you do that with an underpowered PC, you'll have to take a walk while the PC struggles to process the huge files, but it's still a nice compromise.
While the image quality isn't great in Smart Proxy mode, you can see well enough to apply effects; in addition, you can scrub back and forth in the timeline with no lag, and files play quickly and smoothly. In other words, you can use the program just as easily as you could with standard-definition video (and perhaps even more easily, because the proxy-mode footage is at a lower resolution than most standard-resolution footage). Even in the middle of a project, you can easily enable and disable the Smart Proxy mode by clicking a button on the timeline.
Corel says that it increased the Smart Proxy feature's speed by 300 percent over the preceding VideoStudio 11.5. Furthermore, VideoStudio X2 is supposed to be optimized for quad-core CPUs and to take advantage of newer Intel CPUs that recognize SSE4 instructions, thereby providing a big performance boost on systems using them.
However, on my test system--a Dell XPS M1730 laptop with a 2.8-GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 CPU with 2GB of RAM and a 400GB RAID array--high-resolution AVCHD clips played back very slowly, at perhaps just one or two frames per second, and they looked jaggy even with Smart Proxy disabled. On a more powerful system, a workstation with dual quad-core Intel Xeon processors, the performance improved markedly in both Smart Proxy and default modes. Corel says that it is working to ensure smooth high-definition playback in future updates to the application.
In spite of these playback issues, finished projects looked fine. VideoStudio Pro X2 imports HDV, AVCHD, BDMV (files from Blu-ray camcorders, but such devices haven't yet arrived in this country), and it exports to BDAV, BDMV, and AVCHD formats. For comparison, Adobe's Premiere Elements 7 outputs only to BDAV and BDMV. (Corel says that 25 percent of its customers already import and output to AVCHD.)
It's also now easier to upload directly to YouTube; the feature was in VideoStudio 11.5, but X2 requires fewer steps. You can create iPod- and cell phone-friendly files too, though you have to take care of getting them onto those devices yourself.
Create With Paint
A new tool called Painting Creator lets you create and record amusing, moving overlays for your movies. Within a window, you choose from 11 types of paint brushes (you can customize their size and orientation), 38 different textures, and a full color palette, and then click a button to start recording.
You then paint on the canvas (which is either blank or one of your clips) while the tool records. Once you drop the result into the timeline, the recording will play back as an overlay. It's a fun, easy-to-use tool, but it's not terribly sophisticated. You can, for example, stop drawing, change the color and size of the brush, and resume drawing, but the transitions are abrupt, because in this tool, you can't use keyframes, the selection of a specific video frame where an effect begins to work and another frame where it stops.
VideoStudio Pro X2 also includes some fun Flash animations that you can drop in over the top of your video. The application has an import function, but you can't download new animations from within the program, and Corel doesn't offer any on its site, either.
Dialog boxes and filter and effects controls have been enlarged, making them more accessible and easier to see than the controls in Premiere Elements; you can adjust the size of some thumbnails, too. But some controls still seem a bit small. The interface also lets you resize some windows--about the same level of customization afforded by Elements, but nothing too exciting. For the most part, the interface is pretty functional; however, you won't see many options in the timeline. I prefer seeing, for example, a representation of the transparency level for video tracks and the volume level in audio tracks, and keyframes in each so that I can see exactly where those levels change, as Elements provides; VideoStudio makes you open a dialog box. This is one area where I consider Elements easier to use.
But I did find one timeline feature in VideoStudio that I really like: When you drag one clip into the timeline on top of another, VideoStudio will automatically insert your default transition, and you can set the length of the transition by adjusting the clips' overlapping points. It's a neat new time saver.
VideoStudio X2 has a slightly better range of features than Elements, and VideoStudio's tools are easier to see than Elements'. Elements still has a few unique features that I like--for example, better timeline features. I'd say VideoStudio X2 is the better choice if you have an underpowered PC, and Elements gets the nod for those with fast PCs.