This is the age of the video. Not so long ago, video making was a specialist art practised by professionals who could afford lots of expensive equipment and software. Now, in the age of YouTube and cheap, hi-definition cameras, professional-quality video making is within everyone’s budget. But you need more than just good hardware. You also need the software to edit and produce your videos. Here I look at two packages for Windows that won’t break the bank. Sony’s Movie Studio 13 Platinum and Cyberlink’s PowerDirector 12 Ultimate are two long-established packages that aim to provide a good range of editing and production capabilities for both amateur and professional users.
Before I begin, I should make it clear that I am already familiar with a previous release (version 11) of Sony Movie Studio; you can see my review here. I have never previously used PowerDirector, however. So obviously I have experienced less of a learning curve with the Sony product than with the Cyberlink one which has made it easier for me to start being productive with Movie Studio. You should not infer from this fact that Movie Studio is in essence easier to use – it is simply the case that I happen to find it easier due to my previous experience.
Sony’s Movie Studio is generally fairly straightforward to use. Just drag clips onto the timeline and add transitions and effects from the docked panels. The user interface is a bit cluttered, though. The huge icons at the top and bottom and the strangely ‘double-spaced’ menu items don’t help matters.
Cyberlink PowerDirector has a nice-looking, tightly integrated environment with separate areas dedicated to capturing, producing and editing videos. The editing environment seen here has vertical tabs at the left-hand edge to switch between editing titling , effects and so on. Here I have added a lens flare and ‘bubble’ effect to the clip being edited.
Normally I wouldn’t bother even mentioning the installation of a piece of software. However, not everything went smoothly for me, so I think it’s worth saying a few words about the problems I experienced. There is nothing to say about the installation of Sony Movie Studio. I installed it. It worked. My experience with PowerDirector was a bit more problematic. In fact, I encountered a few problems that needed to be fixed (taking me several hours, I may add) before I was able to get started with the software.
My initial installation of PowerDirector was not only partially successful. When I switched from one part of the interface to another – for example, from the editing to the production areas – the program crashed. I believe the problem may have been related to compatibility issues relating to my NVIDIA graphics card. I had to download a separate ‘patch’ installer to update the software and that fixed the problem. But then I started getting inscrutable error messages starting “MSVCR80.dll is missing”. After some research I discovered that the specified DLL is an iTunes file so I uninstalled iTunes as explained here: http://support.apple.com/kb/TS5376.
Then I uninstalled and reinstalled PowerDirector. But now I got a different error message on startup warning that Cyberlink CLTKernelClient32 has stopped working. After a bit more Googling I found that this is a problem relating to Apple QuickTime. So I downloaded the latest QuickTime release here http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/ and installed that. Then I uninstalled PowerDirector. This time, when I reinstalled PowerDirector it automatically installed Quicktime. I then once again installed the update patch and ran the software – and, hurrah! Finally it worked without any errors. In short, apart from the problem with the graphics card, which was fixed by the supplied patch, the main issues I had seem to relate to interactions with Apple Software related to iTunes and QuickTime. If you experience similar problems, you may need to follow all the steps I did, as explained above.
What They Say
Before telling you what I think of these two packages, it’s worth summarising what the manufacturers claim are their specialities. On its web site, Sony highlights Movie Studio’s ‘two distinct editing modes’ – the simple mode is claimed to be good for fast editing. The advanced mode is better for creating ‘Hollywood style projects with multiple layers and effects’. The software is also touch enabled, which may be ok if you have a touch screen (which I haven’t!), it has lots of help and interactive tutorials, it has extended file-format support so you can import and render to and from more movie-file types, it does soundtracks and titles and provides effects such as colour-boosting, transitions and dissolves.
On its web site, Cyberlink claims that PowerDirector 12 “provides the most comprehensive tools for high-quality video productions - all with easy-to-use features and fastest 64-bit video editing”. Its environment is described as “intuitive” and it too has both an easy and an advanced mode. It has over 400 effects, transitions, titles and PiP (‘picture in picture’) objects ready to use and it has numerous tools for adding hand-drawn pictures, adding subtitles and creating time-lapse or stop-motion videos.
Now let’s see how I got on with them. I’m not going to go into every tiny detail. In fact, my main concern was to see how they perform for creating ‘ordinary’ videos made of several clips with transitions – in other words, the sort of videos that you or I might want to upload to a site such as YouTube. I can’t say I am terribly impressed by the optional easy and advanced user interfaces of either product. Movie Studio just hides a few options and panels when its easy mode is enabled. PowerDirector pops up a sort of ‘wizard’ multi-page dialog which may be handy to help you get started but isn’t really of any great or lasting interest.
PowerDirector has a much more modern-looking user interface than Movie Studio. All its windows, panels, editors and dialogs adopt a similar appearance with a dark colour scheme, neatly unobtrusive icons and rounded corners to clips, buttons and radio buttons. Movie Studio, on the other hand, is a bit of a mish-mash. It defaults to a dark grey colour scheme (light grey is provided as an alternative) with rather big icons and its windows and dialogs are a mix of custom-designed and standard Windows-style dialogs. For some reason, the menus have big gaps (a bit like double-line spacing in a word processor) between each item so that they seem to take up lots of screen space to no good effect.
On the whole, Cyberlink has simply put more care into creating a neat, consistent design. In almost every respect, I’d say that PowerDirector just looks the nicer piece of software. This favourable impression is spoilt, however, by the irritating adverts for the company’s other software, which appear in the ‘Preferences’ dialog. My distinct preference would be to remove the damn’ advert but that does not appear to be an option.
To create a movie in both these packages – as in most others - you just add video or audio clips onto multiple parallel tracks on the timeline. You can then drag the clips around, resize them to trim them or overlap consecutive clips and apply transitions to blur, slide or fade one track into the next. There are also tools to alter the colours and tinker with the brightness levels and so forth.
It took me a while to figure out how to do zooms and pans with PowerDirector. Zooming in the preview window just sets the magnification level of the preview. In order to zoom and pan at precise points in playback I needed to click the PowerTools button then select ‘video crop’ to load the clip into an editor with its own timeline. This allowed me to move, scale and deform the video. For still images, there are various presets available that automatically apply pans, zooms and rotations.
PowerDirector’s multicam editor lets you synchronize multiple video tracks or (as I am doing here) synchronize an audio track with a video track – this can be a great time-saver.
One of the neat new features of PowerDirector is its multicam editor. If you’ve recorded the same scene from multiple angles using up to four cameras, this editor simplifies the process of synchronizing them (you can do this manually, using timecodes or by auto-matching the audio tracks) and then editing them together. In fact, you can also use this tool to sync an audio and a video track - if you’ve recorded the video using a camera and a higher-quality audio track separately. This is something that is commonly done when you want to record audio using a dedicated microphone rather than the one built into your camera. I do this quite often, as a matter of fact and syncing the tracks usually takes some time – and trial and error – to match the wave form of the dedicated audio track with the waveform recorded on the video track.
The multicam editor really speeds up this process. By analysing the two tracks it can very rapidly synchronize them. This is a great feature. The only slightly weird thing is that, once synchronized, the tracks have to be ‘re-recorded’ into a new clip by clicking the Record button in the multicam editor. Only once this is done is the newly synchronized clip added back into the main editor. I would have preferred auto-synchronizing to be built into the main editor to work with my original source clips.
Panning and cropping in Movie Studio is done inside a popup editor (here you see the pan/crop window overlying the main editing area. This can be quite fiddly until you get used to it.
Being already familiar with an earlier version of Movie Studio, the editing features of this release were much easier for me to grasp. That isn’t to say that they will be easier for a complete newcomer to the software though. Applying zooms and pans, for example, is certainly not an intuitive process. You have to click little ‘pan/crop’ icon on a clip and then make adjustments in a popup window. Bizarrely, the pan/crop icon (and also the ‘event FX’ icon which pops up dialogs to change visual effects) vanish from sight when a clip is selected. This was not the case in Movie Studio 11, in which they remained constantly visible. This had me baffled at first. For some reason, you can only select the two icons on the clip itself if you click directly on them when selecting the clip. Otherwise, when you select a clip the icons vanish but the same functions become enabled on an editing bar docked at the bottom of the editing window. Then editing bar seems like a good idea but the ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ modality of the icons on the clips strikes me as plain silly.
To create a transition from one clip to another in PowerDirector you can just drag the clips to overlap. You can then either fade the clips together or choose a fancier transition such as the ‘wheel’ effect which I’m using here.
Both products have a good range of effects to change the colours and add fancy transitions between clips with cross-fades, dissolves and so on. Sadly some of my favourite transition effects from Movie Studio Platinum 11 (namely, the 3rd party NewBlue effects) are missing from Movie Studio Platinum 13 and when I import old projects the transitions are lost. I think this may be due to the fact that my version of Movie Studio 11 is, in fact, the ‘Platinum Production Suite’ which includes a few added extras. On checking the feature chart on Sony Software site I see that NewBlue effects are only supplied with the higher cost Movie Studio Suite (£85.95). A small set of NewBlue effects is, however, supplied as standard with PowerDirector.
Movie Studio Platinum comes with a decent range of transitions (here I am using the ‘page -peel’ transition. The popup dialog box here lets me configure the transition – for example, by changing the colours and the angle.
The Sony product makes it easy to tailor transition effects to taste by changing properties in popup dialog boxes. This sort of operation is less easy to do using PowerDirector and, while you can modify transitions to some extent, it is not always possible to fine-tune their properties as in Movie Studio.
The final stage in any movie project is the rendering – this is when your movie is saved in one of the standard formats, ready for playback. In my older version of Movie Studio, there are two different menu items to begin the render process : the ‘Make Movie’ item loaded up a simple dialog with buttons to render and upload to YouTube, share a movie online, burn it to disk and so on; the alternative ‘Render As’ menu item loaded up a dialog listing a huge number of rendering formats. I must admit that I have always found these format options vastly confusing. In Movie Studio 13, the ‘Render As’ option has been removed. Instead the ‘Make Movie’ dialog is the default and, if you want access to the full range of rendering options, you have to click an ‘Advanced options’ button. I’m not convinced this is really an improvement. For those of us who want to use the advanced options by default it just means we have to click a button to bypass an additional dialog box.
In PowerDirector, there is a separate tabbed workspace dedicated to rendering. You begin the process by clicking the ‘Produce’ tab then clicking a button to select a format such as AVI, MPEG-4 or MOV. Once you’ve done that, you can tailor your selection by picking sizes and frame-rates . This seems easier than the Movie Studio equivalent but I have to say that I have not yet produced many movies ‘in earnest’ with PowerDirector so I am not yet in a position to comment on how well this performs for day-to-day production. PowerDirector also has built-in uploaders to sites such as Vimeo, Facebook and YouTube.
As I said at the outset, I am already familiar with an earlier version of Sony Movie Studio which explains why I have found it fairly easy to start working productively with this latest release. Movie Studio is a good all-rounder for video editing and production but its user interface is not as slick as it might be. Cyberlink PowerDirector simply looks much nicer. In addition, whereas many of Movie Studio’s editing and rendering options are done in popup dialogs, most comparable functions in PowerDirector are done inside its multi-paged tabbed workspace.
For creating and producing videos, both products do a very decent job at a very good price. The Sony product is already well established and it may be preferred by those people who have used earlier versions. Even so, for my own purposes, Movie Studio 11 – a full two versions earlier than the current release – already provides everything I need and, moreover, I prefer its more ‘compact’ (smaller menus, fewer icon bars) user interface.
For somebody learning how to edit and render videos for the first time, I think PowerDirector would probably be a slightly better choice than Movie Studio. It has a neater, easier-to-use environment. At the time of writing, PowerDirector 12 Ultimate is the more expensive package, however, at a cost of £79.99. Slightly less fully-featured versions are available from £49.99.
I think Movie Studio generally offers finer control than PowerDirector over the editing of effects and transitions, but you need to bear in mind that using these capabilities may take some practice. If you are prepared to put in the effort, Movie Studio is capable of producing very good results. But if you are new to video editing and you want to get up and running faster, CyberDirector is a bit more beginner-friendly. Movie Studio Platinum is priced at £49.95 but there is an entry-level product at £32.95. Both companies also provide higher-end versions of their software. Sony’s most powerful product is Vegas Pro (£389.95) whereas Cyberlink offers PowerDirector Suite at £159.99.
PowerDirector Feature List
Movie Studio Feature List