CyberLink PowerDirector 6 review
In the face of some fierce competition, CyberLink’s PowerDirector hasn’t traditionally seemed a serious contender. It may be a mature application now, but when the options from Pinnacle and Ulead are in their tenth incarnations, and Adobe’s Premiere Elements has its lengthy professional history behind it, it’s always seemed like a wannabe. With version 6, though, CyberLink hopes to turn the tables.
While HDV support was added in the last version, the capture applet is a lot more robust now. The format options are comprehensive, as you can capture from DV, HDV, analogue and digital TV tuners, webcams and microphones, plus import from CD and DVD. Video sources, including HDV, can be captured to H.264 on-the-fly at 720 x 480 with either 6Mb/sec or 8Mb/sec data rates. This involves acquiring the native video stream then transcoding afterwards, but the whole process is automatic. However, although scenes can be detected automatically too, this doesn’t happen during capture – you have to start off the process yourself once the single file has been acquired. This works well, but takes a while. The end result is a folder icon on the clip thumbnail. Clicking on this opens a library of virtual sub-clips.
The overall interface hasn’t changed much in appearance since PowerDirector 5. The previous version focused on its Magic automatic tools, and this version adds some useful options for the novice. Magic Clean now has a one-click white-balancing tool called White Calibration. You simply pick a colour in the frame that’s supposed to be white, and the software adjusts the spectrum accordingly. This can remove unwanted colour casts or fix the effects of a badly white-balanced camcorder.
The Magic Style tool now includes particle effects and alpha-masked Picture in Picture. Applying this to a clip brings up a dialog with a variety of presets for generic video events such as birthdays, holidays and weddings. Choose one, and your video file will be analysed and some rather cheesy titles, animations, effects and music applied. It isn’t quite an automatic editing tool, as the file remains the same length, but it’s potentially useful for the lazy home videomaker. For the catatonically lazy, the Magic Movie wizard offers the same selection of styles, but can be applied to the clip library, workspace or currently selected clips. It then trims down your clips to the desired length, editing your footage for you.
One of the best improvements is that at last you can add multiple effects to each video clip – up to seven filters at a time. However, you can’t keyframe the filters, and the only way to get to the list of effects applied is via the Effect button above the timeline, which isn’t tremendously intuitive. The improved Picture in Picture Designer does allow for keyframing, however. It isn’t immediately obvious how to call this up (double-clicking on a clip in the Picture in Picture track loads the dialog), but once you’ve found the tool you can add a border frame, shadow and chroma key, and then apply a motion preset with fully editable keyframe points and an onscreen path.
Another useful addition is the subtitling tool, which lets you add text linked to specific points on the timeline. You can even import TXT and SRT files with ready-made subtitles. The titler itself now has comic dialogue templates for adding speech bubbles.
Output formats now include Portable MPEG4 AVC for Apple iPod Video and Sony PSP, as CyberLink has built in a H.264 codec rather than charging you extra for plug-ins. It’s now also possible to record back to HDV tape. There’s greater control over DVD template design too, with support for a 16:9 aspect ratio and greater control over text and buttons. However, the unique addition is direct support for the YouTube and Streamload MediaMax internet video-sharing services. The Produce tool automatically selects the best output profile for your chosen service and directly uploads the video once encoding is complete.