CyberLink PowerDirector 5 review

Price when reviewed

CyberLink is determined to make something of its PowerDirector video-editing software. The company has now developed the application through five versions, despite never having achieved the brand awareness of competitors such as Adobe, Pinnacle and Ulead.

Version 5 doesn’t look like it will change this situation all that much, though, despite pushing many of the necessary buzzword buttons. Of course, support for high-definition video is high on the list of new features. You can capture from HDV camcorders, although we found this unstable with our Sony HDR-HC1E. HDV is captured in its native MPEG2 format, and the software now supports the 16:9 aspect ratio – essential for HDV.

But the core editing interface hasn’t changed much since PowerDirector 4. You can still apply only one filter at a time, which is layered on top of the primary video track. So, you can’t apply this to the picture-in-picture layer at all, although you can use the colour correction, Magic Clean and Magic Fix tools. The picture-in-picture is also rather limited, with no motion keyframing, borders or shadow effects available, just a static inlay. You still can’t create chroma-keying effects either.

Of more interest than the high-definition support will be the new Magic tools. Magic Style is similar to muvee autoProducer. It takes the video and applies one of 12 different styles to it, adding an opening title sequence, transitions between clips and a filter in some cases. It doesn’t have the clever clip and music analysis of muvee’s technology, but it can get your video edited in a very rudimentary way without user input.

The Magic Fix tool is actually an image-stabilisation filter. We found it pretty effective with even our shakiest test clips, and processing was fast too. However, all image-stabilisation filters crop into the frame to perform the panning required to reduce shake, so there’s an inevitable loss in image quality. The Title Designer has also been improved, and now supports multiple text layers, each of which can have different beginning and end animations.

Editing performance is always a concern with HDV, so we took particular care to put PowerDirector through its paces. The software was incapable of previewing two streams of HDV at once, unless you toggled low quality. It then became much more responsive, although inevitably the onscreen image then looked poor. However, we found we could place HDV, standard definition MPEG2 and DV all on the same timeline without mishap, and two streams of MPEG2 or DV at standard resolution could be mixed quite smoothly.

Although support for MPEG4 AVC and SP is now available for outputting to mobile video devices such as Sony’s PSP, you need to purchase an optional codec pack. The MPEG4 SP pack for PSPs costs $29.95, and the MPEG4 AVC, $19.95. Considering that Pinnacle Studio 10 Titanium includes PSP support as standard, this pushes up the relative cost of PowerDirector still further.

It’s reassuring to see PowerDirector embrace new developments such as HDV so quickly, and there are one or two nice features. Magic Fix, for example, offers more control than the image stabilisation included with Pinnacle Studio 10. But the overall editing ability is severely limited. When you put this up against what Pinnacle Studio, Adobe Premiere Elements 2 and Ulead VideoStudio 9 are now capable of, it’s hard to recommend PowerDirector, particularly at the current price.

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