Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Corel Video Studio Ultimate 2018 Review

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
(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.

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: 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:

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.

Monday, 19 February 2018

What is a pointer?

In C programming, you can't get away from pointers. So what exactly is a pointer? In this video, I try to make them really simple...

Friday, 26 January 2018

How to create custom file templates in Visual Studio

In my last post, I explained how to create a C project in Visual Studio. But can you also add new C files by clicking icons in the New Items dialog? Well, yes, you can – but you will have to create your own custom file templates first. This video shows how to do that…

When you’ve saved a template it is added to two directories beneath the \Users folder. For me these are:

C:\Users\Huw\Documents\Visual Studio 2017\My Exported Templates
C:\Users\Huw\Documents\Visual Studio 2017\Templates\ItemTemplates

I had a few problems when adding file item templates. Sometimes the newly added templates weren’t appearing in Visual Studio. I found that an easy way to fix this is to delete the template cache. That’s the entire \ItemTemplatesCache directory here:


Then I restarted Visual Studio and all my new templates appeared in the New Item dialog.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

How to create a C project in Visual Studio

Bizarre as it may seem, there is no option to create a C project in Visual Studio. You can create C++ projects by making a simple selection from the New Project dialog - but not C projects. Does that mean you can’t use Visual Studio to program in standard C? No, it just means that Microsoft, for reasons that I’ve never understood, has decided to ‘hide’ its C programming capabilities. In fact, if you want to use Visual Studio to program in C, it’s quite easy to do. This short video shows you how…


Friday, 1 December 2017

Cyberlink PowerDirector 16 Review

Cyberlink PowerDirector is a fast and well-featured video editing suite that is, in my experience, far more powerful than its relatively low cost might suggest.

This latest release adds in some useful capabilities such as enhanced tools for creating panoramic 360-degree videos (assuming you have an appropriate camera) including ‘little planet’ videos (where panoramas seem to wrap around to form a sphere) and titles that stay ‘inside’ the 3D space, better colour matching and grading tools to change the colour ‘temperatures’ of clips and match the tonal ranges of one clip with another. You can also create video collages. These are split-screen videos with clips arranged in predefined ‘patterns’ all on the same screen.

The PowerDirector 16 editing environment – clips imported into window at top-left, the multi-track timeline at the bottom, the preview window (showing three videos combined into a ‘collage’ at top-right)
There are numerous other new or enhanced features too. For example, there is improved stabilization that irons out any camera wobbles, even in 360 degree clips. And there are all kinds of new or improved add-ins for creating titles and applying effects (only with some editions – see below).
If you regularly make use of musical backing tracks in your videos, the new ‘audio-ducking’ tool might be of use. This automatically lowers the sound on a ‘background’ track containing music or some other kind of ‘background audio’ when there is some dialogue on a ‘foreground’ track.

My first attempts at audio-ducking were not entirely successful. I applied the default settings to a backing track and let PowerDirector analyse the other tracks (principally the main video track containing dialogue). It then made adjustments to the background music by increasing the volume in the pauses and decreasing it during speech. Then end result was a wild cacophony of loud music blasting out at unexpected moments. I had better luck when I adjusted the settings in the audio-ducking dialog to increase the sensitivity and ducking level. The end results were still not as good as when I made audio adjustments by hand. Even so, automatic audio-ducking is a lot faster than adjusting audio the hard way so it may be useful in some circumstances.

Audio-ducking automatically decreases the volume of a backing track when there is foreground dialog. You may need to experiment with various options to get good results however.
In spite of these additions, the essential software hasn’t really changed very much since the last release which I reviewed about a year ago. (See my review of PowerDirector 15). In fact, in terms of its core editing and production capabilities, it is really not vastly different from PowerDirector 14 (see my review from 2015). Consequently, for the sort of video editing that I do, which doesn’t need fancy effects such 360 degree panoramas and collages, the new features are not hugely important.

PowerDirector’s demo of some of its 360 degree capabilities
The user interface remains much as it was previously: there are tabs across the top that let you switch between four workspaces: Capture, Edit, Produce and Create Disc. In the Capture workspace you can capture video or audio directly from a connected camera, microphone, webcam, CD or some other device, Or you can start up the screen-recording tool to make a recording of activity on your computer screen – which is useful if you need to do ‘screencasts’ showing software being used. The Edit workspace is where you actually create your videos by arranging clips on a timeline, cutting and moving them, applying effects and transitions as required. The Produce workspace is where you select the video format of your final video and render it to disk. And the Create Disc workspace is where you can, optionally, build a video complete with a menu system for DVD.

The collage designer lets you edit together multiple video clips and show them in split-screen views. Here the collage designer lets me pick a pre-designed ‘collage’.
As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, one remarkable thing about PowerDirector is its speed of video rendering. For some common formats (such as MP4) it produces videos at a speed that far exceeds any other software I’ve ever used. See my recent review of a competing video production suite, VEGAS Pro 15, for details of a comparative speed test I made between VEGAS and PowerDirector 15.

My review of PowerDirector 14 provides a quick overview which is still relevant to PowerDirector 16

So, in summary, PowerDirector 16 has a few useful new tools and features, the most striking of which is probably its improved support for 360 degree videos. It doesn’t really have many significant additions for more traditional types of video. Even so, it is an excellent program for fairly serious video makers and, at the price, it is terrific value.

A word of warning. If you are a serious video maker, the chances are that you are going to visit the PowerDirector web site and notice that the software seems to be targeted towards families; there are lots of examples showing people making holiday and birthday videos. You will then, quite reasonably, conclude that PowerDirector is an amateur-level tool that must surely be unsuited to your more professional-level requirements. All I can say is, don’t believe it. While its ease of use makes it a perfectly good choice for amateur video makers, its power and speed make it just as good for professional use. OK, so maybe it hasn’t got what it takes for making Hollywood blockbusters. Then again, how many of are involved in making Hollywood blockbusters? Most professional video makers these days are more likely to be making YouTube videos, online video courses, instructional DVDs, promotional and sales videos or creative videos on a budget. For that level of video-making PowerDirector 16 is just about ideal.

Additional Software

Some editions of PowerDirector are supplied with additional software – notably, PhotoDirector 9 (image editing), Audio Director 8 (audio editing) and ColorDirector 6 (more advanced ‘colour grading’). The available editions are shown below.

PowerDirector Editions

The following editions of PowerDirector are available (showing the official price and the current offer price in parentheses):

  • PowerDirector Ultra £219.97 (£54.99) – the basic video editing package
  • PowerDirector Ultimate £239.97 (£54.99) – Ultra plus extra effects
  • PowerDirector & PhotoDirector £109.99 (£84.99) – Ultra plus image editor
  • PowerDirector Ultimate Suite  £209,99 (£159.99) – Ultimate plus AudioDirector & ColorDirector
  • PowerDirector Director Suite £249.99 (£164.99) – Ultimate Suite plus PhotoDirector

For full details see feature comparison chart:

So which should you buy? 

For all the essential video editing features, the Ultra edition is fine. The Ultimate edition, which comes with additional plug-in effects is, at the time of writing, on offer at the same price as the Ultra edition, so that is obviously the one to get. If you need an image editor to work with still-camera images and bitmap graphics, the PowerDirector & PhotoDirector bundle is good value. The Ultimate Suite omits PhotoDirector but adds in colour-manipulation and audio editing packages – not really essential for many video-editing projects but possibly useful. However, if you are thinking of going for one of the more expensive bundles, then you may as well go for Director Suite which includes the full range of video, audio and image editing software.