Pinnacle MovieBox USB test and review

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Pinnacle MovieBox USB

In the market for external video editing hardware, Pinnacle has been outshone by a number of competitors, most notably Dazzle. The company has addressed that little problem in two ways - launching a new generation of products, led by the Studio MovieBox USB, and buying up Dazzle!

Capturing footage through analogue channels may be thought of as old-fashioned and somewhat limiting. But there's lots of analogue video footage out there that needs editing (and quite a bit still being produced). Pinnacle aims to meet that need, and in style, with the launch of its FA Porsche-designed external editing solution, Studio MovieBox USB.

Although consumer-level hardware/software solutions for analogue capture don't offer the convenience of device control of camcorders or tape decks, they do typically have one significant advantage over digital - they offer control over the brightness, hue and contrast of incoming footage (and of audio levels, too) and all in real-time.

Pinnacle's MovieBox USB allows these picture and sound adjustments, and is equipped with inputs and outputs for composite video and higher-quality S-video. A major selling point is that captured footage is encoded in real-time to MPEG-2 or MPEG-1. This should mean that footage captured with the MovieBox is already compliant with the standards for DVD, SVCD and VCD discs, and needs no further substantive encoding for use in such projects. In addition, the compressed nature of MPEG video means that substantially more footage can be stored on the same amount of disk space than when using the DV format - nearly five times as much with MPEG-2.
Previous analogue capture devices we've looked at have left us unimpressed. Pinnacle's Linx device had serious installation troubles, as well as no S-video input; and Adaptec's VideOh! DVD had problems working with the supplied software.

The quality of encoded MPEG-2 footage from the MovieBox is excellent, and the level of real-time control over the incoming feed is good, as well. But, to get the best out of the package when using S-video from Hi8 or S-VHS, it's important to use a USB 2.0 connection, rather than 1.1, because the faster data rate of USB 2.0 is required for the real-time capture and encode to MPEG-2. Trouble is, although USB 2.0 is now standard on modern PCs, older units only have 1.1, and would need to be opened up to fit a USB 2.0 card - negating the plug-and-play appeal of this external editing solution.

Studio 8 is undoubtedly simple to use and very well featured for the price but, even with the latest version, where captured footage is treated as DVD-compliant, discs take an unreasonably long time to burn. We'd like to have seen the product also offer DV in and out, but Pinnacle has a separate, more expensive, external solution for that, MovieBox DV, which connects via FireWire rather than USB. However, since the included program, Studio 8, is equipped to capture via FireWire as well, all that's really needed is the addition of a FireWire PCI card - and these can be had for under £20.

The MovieBox USB offers analogue editors an easy to use and affordable way to burn decent quality discs (and that's a major accomplishment). But, at the moment, there are issues with the editing software, Studio 8 - including its taking much longer to burn discs than it should.

Hugo Frazer

Read the full review in December 2003's Computer Video magazine.



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