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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

MAGIX ACID 8 Pro Released

The loop-based Digital Audio Workstation ACID Pro is back with its first major update in ten years. MAGIX Software says that it has completely overhauled the software and given it a new, modern interface. ACID lets users create music easily by arranging and editing pre-recorded 'loops' onto tracks. The new version is available either as a one-off purchase or by subscription (ACID Pro 365) which includes regular updates.

Prices and Availability:
ACID Pro 8 –£119.99
ACID Pro 365 – from £5.99 per month

More information at: https://www.magix.com/gb/music/acid-pro/

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Movavi Video Suite 17 review

£59.95 - https://www.movavi.com/suite/

I have to admit that until the company contacted me recently, I have never even heard of Movavi Video Suite. This is perhaps not too surprising since there are so many video editing packages now available for Windows that it is becoming increasingly difficult you keep track of them all.
Given the intense competition in this field, the first thing I wanted to know is whether there is anything that differentiates Movavi Video Suit from its rivals?

Movavi Video Suite lets you edit videos, complete with special effects and animated intros
This is what the company says: “Movavi Video Suite is comprehensive video making software that helps you create professional-looking movies and slideshows on your home computer – even if you have no experience. Incorporate music, create text captions, apply visual effects and transitions – you can do whatever you want with your video. In addition to the video making app, Movavi Video Suite contains a number of useful apps to help every video maker: powerful video converter that supports 180+ media formats, convenient utility for burning DVDs, a special tool for digitizing analog video, and more.”

What this actually means is that you get a fairly simple video-editing package and screencast-recorder plus a few associated tools to save in various image, video and sound formats. But is that really enough to make this program stand out from the crowd?

Let’s see how it works.

The principal application is the video editor. This gives you a few tracks arranged on the timeline – two tracks for video, two for sound. You can drag clips onto the tracks and use the second video track for ‘picture in picture’ effects (one clip running in a small rectangle overlaying the main clip). You can move, cut and copy clips and you can add transitions to fade one clip into another or apply effects such as ripples, slides, zooms and so on. You can also add text and animations to another track. These may include ‘speech bubbles’ and ‘thought bubbles’, animated intro sequences. The text and font-styles can be edited in the preview window.

Here I am overlaying the main video with a ‘talking head’ clip that I filmed in front of a green screen

Here is the same clip with ‘Chroma key’ applied to remove the green background
Movavi Video editor has most of the other features you’d expect in an entry-level video editing package, such as filters to change colours, add blurs, apply a ‘sketch’  effect or lens flares; pan-and-zoom to magnify or move across a video; the ability to add images – either loaded from disk or in the form of drag-and-drop ‘clip-art’; it has a number of animated annotation such as arrows, circles and boxes (very useful if you are making tutorials in which you need to highlight certain things shown on screen); and it even has a key frame animation capability which lets you select elements and smoothly animate them across the screen between two locations at two time-points marked onto one of the clips in the timeline. It has a video stabilizer to remove camera shake plus a reasonably effective Chroma key (green screen) tool that lets you make coloured backgrounds transparent. This is useful if you want to add a ‘talking head’, for example, over some other background video.

There are only two video tracks in the editor but, as you can see here, you can arrange multiple clips in the top video track
Note that only two tracks are available for video clips. However, the ‘picture in picture’ track rather oddly allows multiple clips to overlay each other – which is a bit like having extra video tracks even though they are not shown as such. Some video suites offer dozens of video tracks; that might be useful for complex projects. But to be honest, for home and online videos, most of the time one or two video tracks will be sufficient. For very ambitious video projects, however, the two-track limitation may be a barrier. Another limitation is the lack of support 360-degree videos (recorded by cameras with 360-degree functionality),  though the company does have a different product that has this capability.

You can apply transitions to merge one clip into another. Here the ‘disintegrate’ effect breaks one video into animated squares to reveal the next clip 
The software supports a good range of import/export formats including all the most popular video types such as MP4 (in several ‘flavours’), AVI, MOV, MPEG-1, MPEG2, WMV and many others. Audio conversion is also provided to save sound files in MP3, WAV, AC3 and so on.

The suite include screencasting utilities. There is a decent screen capture tool that lets you select areas of the screen, optionally including webcam video  capture, and it can include mouse-click highlights in the screen capture. This is a simple, straightforward and effective tool.

In addition, there is also a dedicated webcam recorder which, however, has the annoying side effect of producing audio feedback (a loud hooting noise) if you forget to disable the PC speakers when recording. This is bizarre since the webcam recorder that’s integrated with the screencast recorder doesn’t suffer from audio-feedback.

If you need to record software, the screencast tool does a great job. You can even record video from your webcam at the same time that you record action from your computer screen
Movavi Video Suite can also record sound, burn audio or video to CD, DVD or Blu-ray and create slideshows from a series of still photographs. The software provides alternative ‘easy’ or ‘full’ user interfaces. If you choose the full interface you are presented with the complete video editor. If you choose the simple interface, you are shown some task-specific dialogs. For example, when creating slideshows, the easy interface lets you select images, optionally add some music and then it generates the slideshow complete with animated transitions.

In summary, Movavi Video Suite is a good tool for making home or YouTube videos or screencasts. It is fairly limited in functionality so don’t expect to have all the editing tools you would get with more complete video editing suites such as Adobe Premiere or Magix VEGAS. On the plus side, however, it is really, really easy to use. Even fairly user-friendly video editing packages such as Cyberlink PowerDirector or Corel Video Studio can be intimidatingly complex for the newcomer to video production (see more video editor review HERE). The learning curve of Movavi Video Suite is much less steep than for those programs. So, while this is definitely not a program for professional-grade production, it would be a very good choice for the non-specialist user who wants to get editing projects done quickly and easily.

If you are interested in video making software, there’s a free trial available, so if you aren’t sure if this is right for you, test it out first.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Windows Task Host preventing shutdown


Here we go again.

Recently I wrote about problems with Windows 7 failing to install updates.

Now I’ve had a similar (though not identical) problem on a PC I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10. All went well for a few weeks. And then one day I noticed, as I was trying to shut it down, a message saying that something called the Windows Task Host was closing background tasks and preventing shutdown. I thought at first this meant the Task Manager. I checked but that wasn’t running. So I had no option but to kill off the Task Host and shut down.

The same thing happened the next day. And the day after that. When unexpected things keep happening in Windows you can bet it’s a symptom of some bigger problem. So I started hunting around in Control Panel to see if I could find any details about this damn’ Task Host thing. That’s when I noticed that a number of Windows updates had failed to install. They said they couldn’t install because something else was waiting to install. So what should I do about that? It didn’t tell me!

I hunted around the Internet and found numerous articles telling me how to fix this. They ranged from the extreme (re-install Windows) to the merely fiddly (load up one thing, disable another thing, install this, remove that, edit the registry etc. etc.). Since the last time I’d encountered this (the Windows 7 problem, I mentioned earlier), the simple fix was the one that worked, I decided to try the simplest possible fix I could find for the Task Host problem. And it worked!

So here it is:

  • Press [Windows key] + X
  • Click Power options
  • Find Related Settings
  • Click Additional power settings
  • Click Choose what the power button does
  • Click Change settings that are currently unavailable
  • Uncheck 'Turn on fast startup (recommended)
  • Click Save changes.
  • Turn off PC.
  • Turn on again.

I went back into Updates (Control Panel, Updates & Security, Windows Updates) and the updates were installing. I shut down the PC. No damned Windows Task Host! Hurrah!

Don’t ask me why this works. It just does.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

SOUND FORGE Pro 12 Released

Need better audio for your podcasts? Special audio effects for your videos? Then the new release of SOUND FORGE Pro from MAGIX software may be worth taking a look at. (By the way, forgive all the capital letters - MAGIX seems inordinately fond of uppercase characters...)

SOUND FORGE Pro 12 is the latest in this famous line of audio-editing tools which began life back in 1993. The software was acquired from Sony in 2016, and this new release is said to enhance the traditional strengths of SOUND FORGE Pro by adding "new cutting-edge mastering and restoration features, along with modern hardware and platform compatibility. The software has a new 64-bit architecture and a large suite of additional plug-in effects, which now benefit from VST3 compatibility. DSD formats are supported in the new version and allow for import and export of audio files in optimal quality. SOUND FORGE Pro 12 also makes use of innovative psychoacoustic mastering, which can prevent conversion artifacts through high-quality Pow-r Dithering algorithms."

Cost starts at £299 though there is also an edition available on a 'rental' basis at £11.99 per month.

More info online: https://www.magix.com/gb/music/sound-forge-pro/

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Corel Video Studio Ultimate 2018 Review

https://www.videostudiopro.com/en/products/videostudio/
£79.99

Video Studio Ultimate 2018 is the latest release of Corel’s video editing package suitable for home and professional users. It may not be suitable for high-end pro users but it has everything that you’d need to make good quality promotional and educational videos for your company or to publish on YouTube.

You can scale and crop the videos interactively in the preview window (top left)
The user interface of Corel Video Studio provides a multi-track timeline, where you arrange your video and audio clips over which there is a video preview window and a Library pane in which source files are arranged. To the left of the Library there is a set of buttons that can be clicked in order to browse through sets of Transitions (fades, wipes, page-folding effects and so on), Titles (to add animated text effects), Graphics (static images), Effects (everything from coloured ‘filters’ to sparkles, ripples, distortion effects and rotations), and Paths (to move selected videos in predefined directions).

In addition to the video editing environment there are also ‘Capture’ and ‘Share’ environments. You can select these by clicking tabs at the top of the screen. In the Capture area you can grab video from a connected camera or you can start the screen capture tool to record video direct from your computer screen.

New Features


Video Studio Ultimate 2018 comes with a range of split-screen templates. These seem to be quite fashionable at the moment. For example, split-screen templates were one of the new features added to Cyberlink’s latest edition of the competing video editor, PowerDirector 16 (see my review). These templates divide the screen into multiple geometrical shapes. There is also a split-screen editor to let you make your own templates that can include all kinds of fancy shapes such as circles, stars and hearts. When you add one of these templates it automatically adds each ‘shape’ onto its own track in the timeline. You can then drag video clips onto these tracks. The keyboard shortcut for doing this is a bit weird though. You have to start dragging the clip without holding the CTRL button but you have to remember to hold down CTRL before you drop it. If you don’t hold CTRL when you drop it, the clip appears in a rectangle rather than filing the shape. But if you hold CTRL when you start dragging it (which seems the logical choice to me!) the drag operation won’t work at all.

Here I’ve dragged a split-screen view onto the timeline and I can drop different videos into each geometrical shape in the screen.
There is also a new 3D title editor. If you really want snazzy titles displayed in gold or silver text with bevelled edges and the ability to animate them across the screen, then this is for you.

Design fancy animated titles in the Title Editor
There are some interactive editing features. For example, you can scale and crop a clip right in the preview window just by dragging with the mouse.  And there are animated drag-and-drop presets that let you do smooth pans and zooms without having to keyframe yourself. And, once again, there is a new dedicated editor that lets you edit your own pan-and-zoom effects interactively in a preview window or in a keyframe editor (where keyframes are markers placed onto the timeline at points where a critical change to the video size or position occurs, and the software then automatically animates a smooth transition between the keyframes).

Other new features include simple ‘correction’ of wide-angle lenses to remove fisheye distortions and a preview capability for 360-degree videos.


Corel's introduction to the new features in Video Studio 2018

Some customisations of the user interface have been added to this release too. The height of tracks can be adjusted and you can configure the editing tools shown above the timeline to make sure that those you use often are shown while those you never use are not. A ‘speaker’ icon on each track lets you selectively mute individual tracks.

In spite of all these user interface improvements, the software still uses the horrible old-fashioned Windows file browser dialog. So when you want to load a project you have to scroll through directories in a fixed-size dialog box with no option of entering a pathname or resizing the dialog as in the Explore-like file-browsers used by many modern Windows applications.

In addition to all the new features, Video Studio has a good range of other features including lots of transitions and blends to merge one clip into another and special effects that you can drag onto a clip in order to make changes to its appearance, changing the colours, softening or sharpening the video or adding ‘chromakey’ (green screen) to help you remove a coloured background. Chromakey lets you show a person over a background image or video in much the same way that TV weather forecasters are dropped over a background weather map.

With chromakey you can remove a coloured background and add a person to a scene
Overall, this is a good quality, good-value video editing program which has pretty much everything the YouTube or home-video maker will need. It’s easy to use and quite feature-rich. It does, however, face some stiff competition from other products in the same niche, such as Cyberlink PowerDirector and VEGAS Movie Studio (see my reviews).   For fine-tweaking control over visual effects, I’d say VEGAS Movie Studio has the edge. For speed of production, PowerDirector is unbeatable. But for the non-specialist video-maker Corel Movie Studio is a good all-rounder that gives users a really good set of features at a good price.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Windows update cannot currently check for updates – solved!

I just realised today that I haven’t been getting automated Windows updates for a while. I went into the Control Panel, clicked System, then Windows Update and I saw a nasty red warning message telling me: "Windows update cannot currently check for updates, because the service is not running. You may need to restart your computer". There was also a worrying message beneath this saying: "Find out about more free software from (null). Click here for details". 

My first thought was – Oh no! I’ve got a virus!



Frankly, that would surprise me. I keep Sophos Anti-virus running and up to now (over many years of use) it’s never, to my knowledge, let any malware though. Well, anyway, suffice to say I rebooted my PC. And suffice to say, that had no effect. I then Googled and found lots of other people who’d had this problem and lots of suggested solutions, many of which involved stopping and starting various services and deleting System directories, all of which sounded both complex and potentially error-prone. I eventually found a much simpler solution. Don’t ask me why It works but it does. I’ve applied this fix to two separate PCs with the same problem and it worked in both cases. I should say, both PCs were running Windows 7 and I don’t know if the same fix works on Windows 10.


Anyway, this is what I did:

1) Start Windows Defender (from Control Panel)
2) Update Windows Defender – it updates, runs, finds no problems
3) Go back to Windows Update. It is now enabled.
4) Run Windows Update

Don’t ask me why this works. I have no idea. All I know is that updating Windows Defender had the side-effect or re-enabling Windows Update on both my PCs. Incidentally, the weird message "Find out about more free software from (null). Click here for details". Has now been replaced with the slightly less weird message "Find out about more free software from Microsoft Update. Click here for details".



Monday, 26 February 2018

MAGIX Music Maker 2018 Review

Music Maker 2018 Premium $79.99 / £59.99
https://www.magix.com/gb/music/music-maker/
(Regular price is quoted as £358.97 – this review is based on the software at the current offer price)

So you want some music for a YouTube video? You need a theme tune for a promo video? Or you  just want to create some music for your own pleasure? Only trouble is, you either have no musical training and wouldn’t know an interval from a semiquaver. Or maybe you have the musicianship but no musicians – and what you really need is a violinist, a synth player and a saxophonist? So what do you do? If you are a Mac user you probably fire up Garageband and create your music by dragging and dropping bits of ready-to-go music (‘loops’) onto tracks. But on a PC?

Can’t write music? No problem. With Music Maker you can drag per-recorded clips (loops) onto tracks in order to create a song.
One solution is to use MAGIX Music Maker. This lets you drag and drop clips from a variety of different musical instruments and genres, right onto tracks in a timeline. You can arrange clips so that the several bars of notes seamlessly transition into one another and harmonise with instruments arranged on other tracks.  You can also change the volume, tempo and pitch or apply effects such as reverbs and delays. In the jargon, this sort of software is sometimes known as a ‘Digital Audio Workstation’ or DAW.

If you really can’t spare the time or effort to create a composition yourself, there is even an automatic song-maker that lets you pick a genre and a few instruments then automatically creates a multi-track song. This works reasonably well though, in spite of a degree of ‘randomness’ to ensure that you don’t create the same song each time, I have to say that many of the songs do sound rather similar to one another.

If you can’t be bothered creating your own music there is even an automated song-generator that creates songs in a selected music genre.
There are rival products, of course. In fact, such as ACID which I first used many, many years ago, when it was released by Sony. Rather confusingly, MAGIX has since acquired ACID and this is still promoted as an alternative (probably, I would say, a slightly more ‘pro-level’ alternative) to Music Maker. https://www.magix.com/gb/music/acid/

There are also virtual instruments provides so that, if you have the musical skills, you can record your own music from scratch by playing instruments using an onscreen keyboard. Your recordings can then be arranged or mixed in with pre-recorded loops to make the final composition. Virtual instruments include pianos, synthesizers and drums. Some instruments are fairly straightforward: you just click the keys of the onscreen keyboard or tap on various keys of your PC keyboard in order to make a recording. Others, such as the synthesizers, come with popup control panels with sliders, filters and knobs to tweak the sounds generated.

Some instruments, such as this synthesizer have their own, quite complicated, control panels to let you modify the sounds they make.
You can also buy extra instruments and loops and these are displayed in a docked panel. This, frankly, I find irritating. If I want to buy some added extras I’m happy to do so without being constantly nagged about it. Anyway, typical prices for additional instruments are around £25 each and these include lots more basses, keyboards, synths and other more exotic instruments such as church organs and Celtic harps. Loop collections or ‘soundpools’s cost anything from about £5 to £45 and they cover a range of musical genres such as techno, ‘80s, funk and jazz.

I first used Music Maker about a year ago in the Pro edition, which came as part of a bundle with the video editing suite, VEGAS Movie Studio (see review: http://www.bitwisemag.com/2017/03/vegas-movie-studio-14-platinum-review.html). The latest edition of Music Maker has, as far as I can tell, changed relatively little since that version. The main new features are the various add-ons and plugins. MAGIX regularly bundles together its own software with 3rd party programs to create discounted bundles. You can check on any deals currently available on the Music Maker web site:  https://www.magix.com/gb/music/music-maker/

On the whole, Music Maker is a decent product for creating and producing music on a PC. With its drag-and-drop loop-based editing, it makes soundtrack recording available even to the non-musician. If you have some keyboard skills and musical knowledge you can also use it to record original music from scratch or mixed in with some pre-recorded loops.

There are several editions of Music Maker. In this review I’ve been using the Premium edition. However, there is also a free edition which has most of the essential functionality of the commercial editions but has fewer tracks, loops and instruments. Bear in mind that there are lots of other DAW packages that compete with Music Maker, some of them are more powerful but they may also be considerably more expensive. Music Maker, at its current offer price, offers a good range of features at a fairly low cost.

My advice to anyone interested in this software is to start with the free edition. It may have everything you want. And it will also let you decide whether Music Maker really provides the features you need before investing in one of the commercial editions.