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Review: CyberLink Media Suite 9 Ultra

20 December 2010, Mike Williams

Windows is crammed with media playback, editing and management tools these days, and if your needs are very simple then they may keep you happy for a while.

These freebies do have their limitations, though, which most people will discover very quickly. So if you’re looking for a solution that will truly satisfy your media playing, organising, editing and sharing needs, then you’ll something more powerful – like CyberLink Media Suite 9 Ultra.

And we do mean powerful: this one package bundles 12 full CyberLink applications.

PowerDVD, for instance, handles all your movie playing requirements: files, DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and more.

PowerDirector is a powerful video editor. MediaShow will help to organise and manage even the messiest of media collections, while MediaEspresso is one of the fastest media file format conversion tools around.

There’s also disc burning, video authoring, backup, label design, packet writing, photo editing, audio editing, and more.

And best of all, buying these as a bundle will save you more than 75% on their retail cost.

Sounds great. But is the suite really for you? To understand that we’ll need to take a closer look at the individual applications.

PowerDVD 10 BD Express

PowerDVD has always been a quality video player, but version 10 sees the program extended in many useful ways.

There’s support for playing all the main video file formats, for instance, which now includes FLV, MKV, WTV, 3GP and 3G2.

This version of PowerDVD plays both Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D, using GPU acceleration to ensure smooth playback (and in our tests this worked well, even at full HD resolution).

The new TrueTheater 3D is a little more of a gimmick, giving a 3D effect to 2D videos and DVDs at the click of a button. As you’d expect, the quality of the resulting footage varies considerably, depending on the source material. It can be surprisingly effective, though, and you’ll have fun playing with it for a while.

A neat social networking touch sees you able to write a quick comment on a movie, as you watch, then share it on Facebook or Twitter at a click.

And of course PowerDVD 10 still includes CyberLink’s excellent upscaling technology. Which means you can play standard definition videos at HD resolution and they’ll still look noticeably better than just about anything else.

Problems? While the program plays audio CDs and major audio formats, it’s a little more limited than we’d like: no OGG support, for instance.

And one down side to all these features is that, initially, you can spend some time clicking around the interface until you’ve found the function that you need.

You’ll soon learn your way around, though. And once you’ve mastered the basics, PowerDVD 10 proves to be an excellent all-round video player.

PowerDirector 8 Ultra

Media Suite includes PowerDirector to cater for your video editing needs. Notably this isn’t the latest version, PowerDirector 9, so you won’t get the 64-bit editor, or the new TrueVelocity Technology for improving performance. But, perhaps to soften the blow, CyberLink has at least thrown in the full-strength edition of the previous version, PowerDirector 8 Ultra, and that has no shortage of powerful features.

The editor opens much like any other; it can capture video directly from your camera, or import existing movie files. Drag and drop these onto a timeline, and it’s easy to locate and arrange the scenes you need.

If your camera work leaves a little to be desired, then PowerDirector’s Stabilizer filter may be able to help. There are other fixes to tweak lighting, white balance, colour and contrast, as well as tools to remove video and audio noise. And the excellent Video Enhancement tool applies PowerDVD’s upscaling technology to sharpen the picture on your own movies.

You can then dress up your movie with a wide range of video and transition effects. The Picture-In-Picture and Particle Effects tools give scope for some creativity here – you can add a rainbow to a scene, falling snow, frames and more. PowerDirector only comes with a few of these more advanced effects, but there are thousands of others available free online if and when you need them.

And once you’ve finished, a few more clicks will have your work exported as a video file, burned directly to a disc (VCD, DVD, Blu-ray, AVCHD), even uploaded directly to YouTube or Facebook.

The interface can be confusing sometimes, and creating titles is trickier than in some of the competition. PowerDirector 8 Ultra is still a hugely capable video editor, though, and at this price it’s a real bargain.

MediaEspresso 6 Deluxe

PowerDVD, like most Windows movie players, can handle a wide range of video formats. Portable devices like the iPod and smartphones aren’t quite so versatile, though, and getting movies to play on them successfully can be a challenge. Unless you’ve a transcoding tool like MediaEspresso 6 Deluxe.

The conversion process begins by dragging and dropping the files you’d like to convert onto MediaEspresso. The program imports the video file formats 3G2, 3GP, 3GPP, ASF, AVI, DAT, DivX, DVR-MS, FLV (H.264), M2T, M2TS, MKV, MOD, MOV (H.264), MP4, MPEG, MPG, MTS, Tivo, TS, VOB, VRO, WMV, and WTC, as well as AAC, MP3, WAV and WMA audio files, and BMP, JPG and PNG images.

Next, choose the general destination for your files from the options on offer: smart phones, media players, game consoles, even an Upload option that can convert your files to a YouTube or Facebook-friendly format. (Your device isn’t listed? You can create a custom profile of your own.)

And then you can choose an output profile for your specific device (iPad, iPod, iPod classic, iPod nano, iPod touch, say), or customise the precise details of the converted file (resolution, audio codec and so on). But in many cases you can just click OK and let the program go to work. Either way, you won’t be waiting for long – GPU acceleration support (NVIDIA CUDA and ATI) ensures that, if you’ve a compatible graphics card, MediaEspresso will have your files converted at very high speed.

There’s plenty of free competition in this area, then, but its ease of use, YouTube and Facebook support, and high performance ensures that MediaEspresso is a welcome addition to Media Suite. If you occasionally need to convert video files to play on portable devices then you’ll appreciate having it around.

Power2Go 7 DE

Launch Power2Go, Media Suite’s disc burning package, and you’ll see a “New Project” dialog that makes it easy to get started. There are options to create data, music and mixed mode discs, create or burn disc images (if only in ISO or P2I formats), copy and erase discs, rip CDs, and more, with support for working with CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

The program’s familiar interface will leave you feeling immediately at home. Choose to burn a data disc, say, and you’ll see an Explorer-type view of your drive; locate the files you’d like to copy, drag and drop them into the work area, click Burn and the disc will be created for you: easy.

There are some less usual features thrown in, though.

The Photo Gallery type allows you to create a slideshow on a disc, for instance. This is short on configuration options (no templates, no transition effects), but is an easy way to create portable slideshows and you could find it useful.

Drag and drop files onto a handy desktop gadget and you’re able to quickly create data or audio CDs without launching the full Power2Go package.

And a bonus ISO viewer lets you open ISO disc images, then browse them, opening files and launching any applications they may contain.

It may not quite have the power of Nero Burning ROM, then, but Power2Go is a straightforward disc burning suite that does everything most people will need, and has a few welcome extras thrown in. Again, it’s an asset to the suite.

PowerProducer 5.5 Ultra

One advantage of buying a media suite is that applications will often overlap in functionality, giving you multiple ways of carrying out the same task.

So if you want to create a video DVD, say, you could launch PowerDirector. But if you’re in a hurry then then you could just turn to PowerProducer, Media Suite’s authoring tool. Editing options are basic – you can only trim unwanted footage, merge or split files – but the program is also very easy to use, and you can have the clips, your menu and chapters all set up in just a few minutes.

Or maybe you think Power2Go’s Photo Galleries lack a little visual sparkle? PowerProducer can create photo slideshows of its own, automatically panning and zooming around your shots to good effect, and fading (or pushing, or wiping, or flipping) or otherwise transitioning from one image to another.

Whatever you’re doing, the focus is on simplicity. But there’s plenty of power beneath the surface, so PowerProducer is able to import HD video (AVCHD, AVCREC and BD); it uses GPU acceleration to improve performance; and the finished results can be burned to Blu-ray discs (including BDXL) and DVDs.

And so, while you can carry out most PowerProducer tasks in other Media Suite apps, this combination of functionality and ease of use means we’re glad the program was included: it’s another worthwhile addition.

Other apps

The suite also includes MediaShow 5.0 Deluxe, a capable media organiser. This allows you to arrange your photos and videos into albums, then browse and view them as you like. There’s basic video and photo editing, as well as the ability to create slideshows and export them as movies. You get accurate face tagging, and the ability to export those photos (and tags) to Facebook, which could save you some time. And the program can upload to your Flickr and YouTube accounts, too.

There’s also PowerBackup 2.6, a straightforward but effective backup tool. It can back up to your hard drive, DVDs or Blu-ray discs (again including 128GB BDXLs); supports compression and password protection; can run full, differential or incremental backups, and has a scheduler to ensure backup jobs can be run whenever they’re convenient.

PhotoNow 1.0 offers automatic brightness, contrast and colour balance fixes for your images, along with some manual tweaks (including red-eye removal).

WaveEditor 1.0 can open and edit MP3, WMA, WAV, M4A and AC3 files. You’re able to trim unwanted audio, tweak volume, speed or pitch, or apply useful filters like “Noise Reduction”. There aren’t many of these, but the ability to import VST effects means there’s scope for extending the program’s abilities.

And there’s also PowerDVD Copy, which can make 1:1 DVD movie backups, or automatically compress 8.5 GB content to fit on a 4.7 GB DVD.

InstantBurn, CyberLink’s packet writing solution, allows you to drag and drop files directly to DVDs and Blu-ray discs, generally treating them like a hard drive.

And LabelPrint allows you to design and create disc labels (including LightScribe), covers and inlays, and has a wide range of built-in templates to ensure you get just the look you need.

Final thoughts

Media Suite is packed with functionality, then.

One or two applications are market leaders, or close to that. PowerDVD is an excellent movie player, for instance, and MediaEspresso is the fastest media conversion tool around.

And while most of the others may not be the best around, they’re generally not far behind, being mostly solid tools with a lot to like about them. PowerDirector is a capable video editor; the easy-to-use Power2Go will cater for most people’s disc burning needs; MediaShow, PowerProducer, WaveEditor and LabelPrint are all well-designed tools with many useful features.

Best of all, by opting for the bundle you’re getting everything at a fraction of the original purchase price, which makes the suite great value for money. (Although you could save even more by opting for Media Suite 9 Pro, which drops Blu-ray playback; or Media Suite Centra, which drops Blu-ray and 3D support, and excludes MediaEspresso so you lose most of your file conversion capabilities.)

If you’re looking for an instant collection of media tools, or just want to build on the one or two apps you have already, CyberLink Media Suite 9 Ultra makes a great choice.

And if you’re unsure, then there’s a trial version available, but you’ll need a fast Internet connection (and some patience) – it’s a chunky 1.1GB download.

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