Feature-packed and easy to use, CyberLink PowerDirector has always been one of the better consumer video editors. Of course there’s always room for improvement, though, and the latest version, PowerDirector 10 Ultra, has some very interesting additions.
Full 3D editing support allows you to import 3D videos and photos, or convert 2D media to 3D, then enhance these with 3D effects, titles, transitions and more. New 2D effects include a time-lapse tool, or support for recording hand-drawn animations (signing your name, say), and playing them back within a video.
Plug-in support delivers 10 new “art effects” (“hand drawn”, “pastel” and so on). And there are smarter audio tools, more video sharing options, and ease of use improvements, as well as speed boosts which could see movie rendering time cut in half.
Sounds good. But how does the program behave in real life? We took a closer look.
Launch PowerDirector 10 Ultra and you’re presented with a familiar three-pane editing interface: media files, effects, transitions and more are displayed top-left; an excellent preview window (including the option to preview in a secondary 2D or 3D display) is top-right; and there’s a 100-track timeline across the bottom of the screen, where you may drag and drop clips and effects to build up your movie.
Four buttons at the top of the screen offer further guidance. By default the Edit option is selected, but you may also click Capture, to import media directly from DV or HDV camcorders, webcams, microphones and more; clicking Produce allows you to turn your movie into a video, or upload it online; and Create Disc presents a host of disc and menu authoring options.
This isn’t an entirely perfect arrangement. You can’t simply use the Media Room to browse to a folder and examine its contents, for instance: you have to import particular files or folders, and then view them. We’d appreciate more thumbnail size options (right now you get 80 pixel, 100 pixel, and that’s it), and initially at least the sheer number of buttons and right-click options can be intimidating.
In general, the interface is well-designed and easy-to-use, though, with tooltips and quality documentation to walk you through any initial problems. And some useful new additions will further simplify your life.
Video clips on the timeline may now be displayed as continuous thumbnails, for instance, helping you see where scenes start and end. Right-clicking the timeline ruler at a particular point allows you to add a custom-named timeline marker (“At the beach”). Other media files snap to these, making it easier to precisely position your content.
And similarly, the new Automatic Beat Detection tool can analyze a soundtrack and add its own timeline markers to highlight major changes, helping you synchronize effects and transitions with your music. This isn’t a magic solution — if the track varies only subtly then you may get no markers or way too many — but with the right source material it could save you a lot of time (and it only takes a few seconds to try).
The biggest headline addition to PowerDirector 10 Ultra is probably 3D editing; the program has fallen behind here, but this release sees CyberLink do a good job of catching up with the competition.
There’s reasonable support for importing 3D video and image formats, for instance (MVC .MTS, dual stream AVI, side-by-side, over-under, MPO and JPS are all covered). Sometimes the program doesn’t realize you’ve opened a 3D file, though, so you have to inform it of this fact manually (these can be hard to recognize but it’s still annoying).
You’ve no 3D source material? Not a problem: CyberLink’s TrueTheater 3D technology (imported from PowerDVD) automatically converts 2D movies to 3D. In our tests the quality of the end result varies greatly depending on your source material, but you can at least tweak it by dragging a “scene depth” slider, and if nothing else it’s a fun way to enhance old home movies.
And once you’ve got your 3D clips then they can be enhanced in various ways. Click the Effects tab, say, and you’ll find 19 attractive, if slightly gimmicky 3D-specific effects (snow, fireworks, bubbles and so on); there are also 10 3D transitions, 10 particle effects and more to keep the theme going.
The existing title, particle and PiP effects can also be given a 3D touch, though this isn’t exactly obvious (with titles, say, you must open the Title Designer, click the Animation Properties tab and check “Enable 3D depth”).
And when it’s finished you may export your masterpiece as 3D video (MVC, half or full-size side-by-side or anaglyph formats); upload it directly to YouTube as a 3D movie; or author a 3D DVD, BD or AVCHD disc. (PowerDirector only provides 2 3D menu templates but it’s easy to create more, and doubtless you’ll soon be able to download plenty for free from CyberLink’s DirectorZone.)
This is genuine end-to-end 3D editing, then. Most of the 3D effects are nothing special, though; and some of the 3D options are a little hidden, so it can take a while to figure out what you need to do. Still, the new 3D abilities are a worthwhile addition, and we’ll be interested to see how they develop in future.
If you’re more interested in what you can do with 2D movies, then one notable addition this time around is the new support for plugin-based effects.
The only currently visible sign of this is the inclusion of an Art Effects category (“Air Brush”, “Pastel”, “Metallic” and so on). While not the kind of effects you’ll use every day, they can deliver spectacular results, and most are very configurable. (The “Metallic” option allows you to set the base metal colour, and provides 5 other attributes you can tweak via sliders.)
Of course, the whole point of supporting plugins is that an application becomes more extensible, and disappointingly, PowerDirector isn’t there yet: CyberLink says the ability to add other NewBlue plugins won’t arrive until a “future version”. A pity, but the 10 new Art Effects are welcome anyway, and this does at least hold some promise for future developments.
Elsewhere, the Slideshow Creator wizard has a new time-lapse style. Import your sequence of photos, choose the duration of each image and (optionally) the number images to skip between each displayed photo, and that’s it: your finished video will be ready within moments.
And in a useful creative touch, the Picture-in-Picture Objects room has been extended with new Paint Animations, allowing you to record hand-drawn animations and include them in the video. So it’s easy to, say, draw an arrow to highlight something of interest in a shot. Or you could capture a dynamic clip of your signature gradually appearing, save this as a PiP object, then just drag and drop it onto the end of everything you create: very convenient.
PowerDirector has always been one of the fastest consumer video editors, but of course rendering is still a lengthy business — so it’s good to see CyberLink has continued to focus on performance.
Startup time proved excellent on our Intel Core i7 test PC (running 32-bit Windows 7), for instance, at 5.6 seconds. (For comparison, the new MAGIX Movie Edit Pro MX Plus averaged 12.75 seconds.)
New OpenCL support means that effects preview and rendering now benefits from GPU-based hardware acceleration, and this can have impressive results. We used 9 1080p clips to create a 3×3 video wall, and incorporated a couple of effects; without OpenCL the project took 45 minutes and 15 seconds to render as an H.264 clip, with OpenCL this dropped to 20:34 – a 220% speed boost.
You won’t necessarily see this improvement every time, of course: if you’re using less clips, or don’t employ effects which support OpenCL (possible, although 48 do), then the benefits over previous versions won’t be as apparent. Although you shouldn’t feel short-changed. Simply joining 4 full HD MP4 clips took 13:04 in MAGIX Movie Edit Pro MX Plus; PowerDirector 10 did the same job in 4:12, more than three times as fast.
And if all the video output options confuse you, then the new Intelligent SVRT (Smart Video Rendering Technology) dialog should help: in a click it shows you the most appropriate and efficient video profiles for encoding your project. This isn’t always useful information — you may already know exactly what sort of video you need, and it doesn’t always tell you which profile will be faster anyway — but it only takes a couple of seconds to display, and is still a feature worth having.
There are plenty of other new features in PowerDirector 10, too.
Launch the program, for instance, and you have the option to choose one of three editing modes: full-featured, Easy (the old Magic Style Movie Wizard) or Slideshow Maker. In theory this will help beginners create clips more quickly by jumping straight to one of the automated wizards, but for most people it’ll just get in the way, and they’ll probably check the box to avoid ever displaying it again.
Much more usefully, heading into the Audio Mixing Room now reveals a button which can normalize the volume of multiple audio files in a click: very handy, and not before time.
There’s more content available: more video tutorials, and more slideshow templates. CyberLink’s DirectorZone site (integrated with PowerDirector) now includes more than 200,000 templates, effects and menus; tracking down the best of these can take a while, but it’s still an extremely valuable resource.
And once you’ve finished, PowerDirector 10 can now output 3D discs (DVD, AVCHD, BD) and upload to more websites (YouTube 3D, Vimeo, DailyMotion), as well as supporting the regular disc, YouTube and Facebook options.
The performance improvements alone are enough to justify moving to PowerDirector 10, then. And the new 3D support will be a welcome bonus to many. But even if we ignore those, there are plenty of other smaller tweaks which provide new creative possibilities and will help to make you just a little more productive. It’s an impressive package which reaffirms PowerDirector’s position as the leading consumer video editor: if you’re unhappy with your current editor, particularly for performance reasons, then you really should give PowerDirector 10 Ultra a try.
The software is available fo Windows XP, Vista or 7 — all 32 and 64-bit editions — and retails for $99.95.