Pinnacle Systems DV500 Real-time DV NLE

The introduction of affordable digital video (DV) cameras has revolutionized the way both budget and broadcast productions are assembled. Equipment cost is no longer the main factor inhibiting competition with the big production houses. Now it boils down to talent, experience and storytelling.
Fast FactsApplications: Nonlinear editing

Key features: Premiere 5.1RT (now Premiere 6.0); real-time 3D effects; native DV I/O and processing.

Price: $995


Pinnacle Systems

Sure it’s nice to have a full-blown Avid system at your disposal if you know how to use it. But for many projects, simpler, less powerful and less costly tools are often more appropriate. And the folks with talent understand that often less is more.

However, owning the right equipment can go a long way in helping you hone your skills as a producer, editor and good all around storyteller.


The Pinnacle DV500 goes beyond an entry-level IEEE1394 I/O card and offers a good software bundle for the project studio. It includes both FireWire ports for direct connection to DV gear and a breakout box with RCA jacks for digitizing other media sources such as older video cameras, VCRs or audio.

The DV500 features native DV support, which means no data loss from camera to PC and back out to camera. Drivers are now available for Windows 98, NT and 2000.

The DV500 comes with detailed directions that advise installing the hardware and software in a specific order; otherwise, things may or may not work. I had the best luck with Windows 98 and NT on the higher-end system. For most of my testing I used the high-end system running NT.

Depending on which editing package you use, the real time effects provided by the DV500 can come in really handy. A large group of standard transitions are included. And let’s face it, despite the fact that most folks get a little transition happy at first, cuts and dissolves are pretty much the bread-and-butter of storytelling. Beyond that, the overuse of effects becomes more of a distraction than anything else. So the DV500 has plenty to distract you right out of the box. Visit Pinnacle’s Web site to read about DV500 specs and the generous software bundle.

Let’s face it, when it comes to video you need all the power you can get. If you build your own system for video editing make sure you use a top-quality motherboard, memory and video card. Most manufacturers will list recommended systems on their Web sites.

And I highly recommend a multiple hard drives in a disk array for the best performance. At the very least you’ll need a separate drive for your video capture, unless you prefer to pull your hair out on a regular basis.

I usually stick with ASUS and Intel motherboards and Micron memory. IBM’s 75GXP line of IDE drives in a disk array are a cost-effective solution for storage. Forget about the brand name on the outside. Make sure you are getting the good stuff on the inside of the case.


I installed the DV500 in three separate systems with a wide range of technical specifications, from a Pentium III 450 MHz with IDE drives to an Athlon 1 GHz running SCSI. And I tried all three operating systems. In general, installation was pretty standard. Pop the card in, install the software and off you go.

The first step in the editing process is to digitize or batch transfer your material into your PC. You may or may not use your editing program to do this. I use both Adobe Premiere and Sonic Foundry’s Vegas for video editing. These programs don’t care what utility is used to move your media from the outside world to the PC as long as it’s in a recognizable format.

However, sometimes you may not be able to grab media directly while in these programs. So the easiest way to import media, in this case DV material, is to use the tools that come with the DV500. Because the FireWire standard is evolving, and hardware and software won’t always recognize each other, it’s mandatory to have a quality video utility written specifically for your card.

The DV500 capture utility allows you to capture DV in real time by simply hitting a record button as you scan your video. Or you can make your selections more precise by setting in and out points. The software controls the DV camera or DV deck you are using remotely. This is pretty standard for any editing solution. In fact, most basic FireWire capture cards are supposed to work this way. The difference is many of them come with half-baked versions of utilities that are flaky and crash.

The DV500 had no trouble digitizing and batch transferring my video. On my lower-end system, performance was slow and it locked up a couple of times. But on the Athlon the DV500 captured without crashing or dropping frames. The worst problem I experienced was a hard drive that died after I digitized about 40 minutes of video. That was bad but I couldn’t blame the failure on the DV500.

The quality of my digital captures was fine. Audio was nice and clean and the picture looked great. The analog inputs also yielded a clean signal. Noise and interference from inside the hostile PC environment was kept to a minimum.

The breakout box is made of plastic, and looks and feels cheap. It moves easily when cables are attached – move your camera and you yank the breakout box off the top of your PC. At least it comes with a generous length of cable and, more importantly, works as advertised.

The DV500 comes bundled with a full version of Adobe Premiere 5.1RT. Premiere is a popular program with a long history in desktop video production. Personally I think its age is really starting to show and I have never found it intuitive to use. However, I’ve been spending more time with Sonic Foundry’s Vegas Video program and find it a nice complement to the DV500. If you like Premiere, you are in luck with the DV500. If not, be prepared to drop some change on additional software to produce your projects. (Editor’s note: Adobe recently announced Premiere 6.0, which Pinnacle Systems will ship with the DV500.)

The DV500 is an interface with some hardware acceleration and drivers that actually work with DV cameras. Like a good soundcard, if it’s working correctly you really shouldn’t notice it.


Aside from a slightly quirky installation and the occasional crash, the DV500 worked very well. It’s an appropriate solution for those on a budget who need good quality with plenty of bells and whistles for most projects. Producers of corporate videos, weddings, interactive CDs and other small-to-medium budget projects should take a close look at the DV500.

That said, the DV editing market is crowded with lots of affordable solutions that compete nicely with the DV500. Now that Apple is selling its new G4s at a very competitive price, a Mac with a copy of Final Cut Pro is becoming a very attractive solution. And with the speed of processors currently hovering between 1 and 2 GHz in the PC camp, software-only editing solutions are starting to catch up with hardware-accelerated systems such as the DV500.

But as FireWire matures and becomes standard on more PCs, add-on solutions like the DV500 will be forced to offer even more exotic features or risk becoming redundant. At any rate, video editors everywhere will benefit.