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Review: CyberLink PowerDirector 9 Ultra64

22 November 2010, Mike Williams

It’s the first law of home movies: no matter how good your camera, or how skilled you are in using it, your first raw footage of any event will generally be poor.

A good video editor can quickly polish your movie and fix any problems, of course.  But choosing the right one can can be a problem, because most are expensive, complicated, or both. Fortunately, there is hope. CyberLink PowerDirector has always been a powerful, yet easy to use and low-cost video editor, and the new PowerDirector 9 Ultra64 improves it still further with a host of major new features and all-important speed improvements.

Notably there’s a native 64-bit editor, for instance, allowing the program to take advantage of all your RAM (if you’re running 64-bit Windows). Enhanced multithreading capabilities and GPU acceleration speed up many operations, you’ve a flexible 100-track timeline, new effects and templates, a powerful audio editing tool and more.

The program appeals immediately with its familiar interface: a collection of media files on the left, preview window to the right, timeline below.  If you’ve ever used a Windows video editor then you’ll feel immediately at home.

You’re an editing beginner? Just look around. Check above your media files, say, you’ll see four buttons: “Capture”, “Edit”, “Produce” and “Create Disc”.  Hmm, could they be the various stages of the editing process?  Tooltips confirm this, and a quick click on each button lets you preview these PowerDirector areas.   It’s all very straightforward.

And if you drag and drop a media file onto the timeline then more buttons appear, each highlighting a common task: “Trim”, “Fix/ Enhance”, “Edit Audio”, and so on.   Again, tooltips explain each button’s purpose, and you can click anything that looks interesting to find out more.

This isn’t quite perfect.  In particular, the program’s Help file is relatively short, and not context-sensitive.  So if you select a movie, click Trim and press [F1] then precisely nothing will happen. You must close the Trim window, press [F1] and search for Trim in Help to locate what you need.

Still, the core interface design is so good that this doesn’t really matter, at least initially.  Five minutes of pointing, clicking, dragging and dropping and most people will understand the PowerDirector basics, and that’s a considerable improvement on most of the competition.

Import

The editing process starts by importing your media into PowerDirector 9, then, and there are several ways to make this happen.

A comprehensive Capture module can capture content directly from DVD, HDV and AVCHD camcorders, along with many other audio and video sources: TV tuner cards, webcams, microphones, CDs, DVDs and more.

The program imports video files in many formats – HD MPEG-2, DVR-MS, DV-AVI, DAT, AVI, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, VOB, VRO, ASF, WMV, WMV-HD, MOV, MOD, TOD, AVCHD (M2T),MPEG-4 AVC (H.264), VOB, VRO with Dolby Digital 5.1ch/2ch, Canon and Nikon’s DSLR Video – with new MKV and FLV input support in this version.

Audio import options are limited, by comparison (MP3, WMA, WAV, M4A). And image import is mostly restricted to the essentials (GIF, BMP, JPG, TIF, PNG), although version 9 enhances this with support for many RAW formats.

And the program can access photos directly from your Flickr account, or you can easily search the site and download anything that suits your needs.

It won’t be long before your PowerDirector media library is packed with files, then.  Fortunately you can also filter the library by file type, view thumbnails or file details, and sort your media in various ways, so it’s generally easy to keep things in order.

100 Track Timeline

Just as in most other video editors, you’ll probably begin your movie-making project by dragging and dropping your media files onto a timeline.  And the new PowerDirector 9 timeline makes this far more straightforward than in previous versions.

Drag a clip this time, for instance, and there are no hidden rules that say it must be placed on the first track, or at the beginning of the timeline: you can drop it anywhere, on any video track, just as you’d expect.

And while you can have up to 100 tracks, PowerDirector includes many new management options to help you keep order.

So you’re able to select multiple clips, say, then “Group” them, allowing you to move the entire set around the timeline as a block.

You can also resize video tracks, expanding anything important for easier viewing, shrinking others to save space.  You might reorder tracks by dragging and dropping.  And an option to delete empty tracks helps you reduce any clutter.

Put it all together  and the new timeline should give most people a major productivity boost: it’s a significant improvement on previous versions.

Editing Basics

Your newly-imported clips can now be cleaned up in several ways.

The Trim and Multi Trim options allow you to zoom in on unwanted sections of each clip, for instance, removing them with pinpoint accuracy.

The “Fix/ Enhance” section includes tools to remove noise and compensate for lighting problems, as well as a video stabiliser.

Elsewhere are options to tweak colour temperature, brightness, contrast, hue and saturation, while a Video Enhancement tool uses a smart upsampling algorithm (the same TrueTheater HD technology that CyberLink use in their PowerDVD media player) that does an excellent job of enhancing video quality.

And the big news this time around is these effects don’t have to be applied to the entire duration of a clip: you can instead create keyframes that define exactly where they’ll occur, for much more flexible and precise editing, another significant upgrade.

Plenty of Effects

If you’d like to dress up your movie a little then PowerDirector comes with 105 video effects (and there are many more available for download). Most aren’t exactly subtle, but they’re easy to use: just drag and drop them onto the timeline and they’ll immediately be applied to your footage.

We were more impressed with the transition effects, 156 in total: all the fades, page curls, slides and wipes that you could possibly need. PowerDirector 9 provides more ways to use them, too.

You can now have pre-transition and post-transition effects, for instance (transitions that occur at the very beginning or end of a clip). And a transition between two clips can now be one of two types: an overlap, where parts of the two clips play over each other while the transition takes place, or a cross, where one clip ends, the transition occurs, and the next clip begins.  It’s a useful extra option.

You also get a Picture In Picture (PiP) Objects room, where you insert objects – a birthday cake, rose, umbrella, whatever’s appropriate for the clip – into your movie. You can then tweak the look of the object, give it a custom path to define how it flies through the frame, apply chroma key, add shadows, borders and more – it’s all very impressive.

A Particle Room uses even more configurable particle animation options to let you add animated snow, fire, fireworks and other effects to your movies.

Elsewhere are capable, if slightly basic Titles options; an audio mixing room allows you to tweak audio balance and volume; the Chapter room can automatically create chapters for your DVD and Blu-ray discs; and the subtitle room provides an easy way to build subtitles into your video.

Occasionally these options are tricky to use, then, but still, there’s a great deal of power here. Take the time to master these features and you’ll be able to produce some very professional movies.

An Easier Life

Not everyone has the time or inclination to spend an age messing around with a video editor, of course. Fortunately PowerDirector also provides simpler ways to create quality movies with the absolute minimum of effort.

The Magic Movie Wizard, for instance, imports your selection of images and movies, and optionally adds an audio file as your soundtrack.

You get to choose a theme for the finished video, which defines the effects and graphics that will be applied.  There are all the usual options – birthday, vacation, wedding, party and so on – and PowerDirector 9 extends these with new 3D templates.  Choose “Gallery”, say, and the program will generate a 3D view of an art gallery with your images hanging on the walls.

And in a click or two the wizard will automatically produce a movie for you. The results are variable – sometimes good, sometimes not – but they’re so easy to produce it’s worth a try: once you’ve found a theme you like, you can have a slideshow created in just a few moments.

You also get a Magic Music option which will generate a soundtrack for you, and we found this more interesting. You’re able to choose from a wide range of musical styles – jazz, classical, new age, soundtrack – most of which can be varied in a click or two.  Preview these to find one you like, then set the duration you require, drag and drop it onto an audio track, and you’re done – a classy, professional soundtrack with no effort at all.

Output Options

It’s taken a while, but after much effort, your masterpiece is finally complete and it’s time to share it with the world.

The easiest way to go about this is to have PowerDirector 9 directly upload the clip to your YouTube or Facebook accounts, in anything up to Full HD quality (1920×1080).

The program can also save your creation as a video file in a variety of formats (AVI, MPEG-1/2/4, H.264 AVC, WMV, MOV, audio).  You can choose one of these at a click, or create a new profile with your own choice of resolution, frame rate, bit rate and more. It’s very flexible, although once again there’s a lack of documentation about what the various settings do.

New in PowerDirector 9 is the option to render your movie to a mobile device-friendly video format.  There are profiles for smartphones, say, along with Apple, Sony or Microsoft devices, amongst others: just pick a profile, choose your target device and the program will create a suitable file for you.

And the final option is to burn your video straight to a VCD, DVD, Blu-ray or AVCHD disc.  You get to customise the content, by optionally adding other videos to the one you’ve just created. Then you can apply a menu template from the small selection on offer (but if they’re not enough, you can always download one from DirectorZone, or create one for yourself).

Set preferences like the encoding quality, audio encoding format and so on, and one more click on the Burn button will set PowerDirector 9 to creating your disc.  With CUDA support available it’s generally a quick and flexible process that should have a high quality disc ready for you in very little time.

Other Features

We’ve discussed many of the PowerDirector 9 features that you’ll see as you use the program, but there are others, less obvious, that are also worth considering.

TrueVelocity, for instance, is a collection of new CyberLink technology that work to enhance the program’s performance. TrueVelocity 64, the 64-bit version of the program, allows PowerDirector to take full advantage of all the RAM installed on a 64-bit Windows PC. Essential if you want to work with High Definition video and export your video as a Blu-ray movie.

TrueVelocity Parallel makes better use of multiple processor cores and threads for improved speeds, and TrueVelocity Accelerator uses GPU-based hardware acceleration (both NVIDIA and ATI technologies are supported) for some effects, and when rendering videos, for an extra boost.

The program now includes WaveEditor, a simple audio editing tool.  You can manually trim parts of your soundtrack, or apply a few effects (volume boost and fade, change speed, pitch shift, noise reduction and so on).  These aren’t anything too special, but the ability to use VST plugins gives you access to many more useful audio processing freebies.

And there’s also support for burning movies to the new multi-layer Blu-ray format, BDXL.  These discs can hold up to 128GB of data, which should be enough to hold even your most lengthy Full HD projects.

Final Thoughts

PowerDirector 9 has a few minor flaws with the ineffective help system – but these are tiny compared to the lengthy list of reasons to like the program.  An intuitive interface means your editing project will quickly be under way, despite the dubious documentation, for instance; the new timeline will make you more productive; and good all-round performance ensures delays are kept to a minimum.

There’s also a sizeable selection of effects included, with thousands more available for free online.

And you get an excellent selection of output options, with easy disc burning tools, and highly customisable video profiles to ensure the final movie precisely suits your needs.

Put it all together, then, and PowerDirector 9 represents a major upgrade for the program.  And it’s now a very strong competitor in the consumer video editing market, even when compared with big names like Adobe Premiere Elements. If your home movies need a little extra polish, then give the program a try, and see just how much it can do for you.

Download the CyberLink PowerDirector 9 Ultra64 trial

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