Wednesday 28 October 2015

PowerDirector 14 - review

This new edition of the popular video editor includes slow motion editing and screen recording

PowerDirector is a powerful, inexpensive video production suite for Windows which, in this new edition, provides a formidable set of recording and editing tools for creating videos from both camera and screen recordings. Whether you are a professional video-maker or just a hobbyist who wants to add some pizzazz to home videos, PowerDirector is well worth serious consideration. There are various editions ranging from Deluxe at a modest $69.99 (£59.99), right up to the feature-packed PowertDirector Suite, which also includes dedicated colour grading, plus image and audio editing packages at a cost of $299.99 (£249.99).

PowerDirector 14
PowerDirector is a very capable video editing package that provides many professional-grade features without the professional price-tag. While the entry-level ‘Deluxe’ product is ideal for editing your home videos, it could also handle commercial-grade videos such as company promotions, online eLearning courses or YouTube movies. Serious video producers may want to consider one of the higher-level editions such as ‘Ultra’ or ‘Ultimate’ which provide additional features such as automated audio-sync to attach an audio track to separately recorded video and support for high frame-rates (120/240 fps) for slow motion editing. For an overview  of the essential features ofg PowerDirector, refer to my review of the previous release, PowerDirector 13.

Here I want to concentrate on a few of the more striking new features of PowerDirector 14. Bear in mind that most of these features are only found in the Ultra and Ultimate editions. If in doubt, refer to the comparative chart of PowerDirector editions here:

Small body-mounted cameras are given their own editing environment in PowerDirector’s new ‘Action Camera Centre’. This groups together a set of tools aimed at dealing with fast action sequences such as sports or chases. Here you can remove camera shake, apply slow motion to videos recorded with high frame rates and add other effects such as freeze-frame or reverse. You can also remove the wide-angle distortion that is typical of cameras such as GoPro to remove the ‘fisheye’ effects of their lenses.

Motion tracking is another handy new feature. This lets you select an object or a person and add some text, an image, video or an effect which moves in synchronicity with the object’s movements in the scene. While this is useful, the trackable effects are limited to just two – a spotlight that highlights the trackable object inside an ellipse and darkens the rest of the video or a mosaic to ‘pixelate’ the trackable object if, for example, you want to obscure someone’s face. In fact, you can select and track multiple objects in a video. Cyberlink showed me an impressive demo video in which several American football players are each tagged with their name and tracked as they move about.

Various small but useful improvements have been made throughout the software. A For example, you can now add transitions in storyboard mode. When you switch to storyboard view, the clips in a movie are shown as adjacent images rather than as tracks on the timeline. I must admit that I never use the storyboard but I am told that many people do and they are no longer obliged to switch back to the timeline when adding fades or animations between to the joins between one clip and another.

Here I am using AudioDirector to replace the poor quality audio on my video clip with a re-recorded audio track. The software matches the new audio with the clip to synchronize it with my lip movements.
The high-end suites also include an audio package which, in addition to all the sound editing and effects that you’d expect from such a program, has one standout new feature that can be enormously useful for videos. It lets you record a new audio track and automatically synchronize it with your existing video. So if, for example, your video was recorded in a noisy environment, you can subsequently record a voice track from a script and then tell AudioDirector to sync it with the video clip. This is like lip-sync in reverse. Instead of recording video by miming to an audio track, you record the audio and it synchronises itself with the video. In my experiments I found that this can be surprisingly effective. You do need to have a really accurate script though (with any ums and aws from the original) and you need to try to read it at approximately the same pace as the original otherwise the synchronised sound may be slowed down at certain points, making it sound as though your speech is slurred. Even so, with a bit of practice this auto-dubbing feature can be immensely useful. Instead of rerecording an entire video on location just to fix bad audio, you can simply record the audio track and let the software sort it out.

One other new tool that deserves special mention is the screen recorder. If you ever need to include videos of software being used on your PC, you can just start the recording utility, select the whole screen or a rectangular area and record the screen complete with mouse movements and (optionally) a simultaneously recorded narration. So no longer are you obliged to buy a separate ‘screen-casting’ suite such as Camtasia. PowerDirector gives you a screencast recorder as standard, even in its low-cost Deluxe edition.

Watch my review for a quick overview of some of the most interesting new features

Overall, I am tremendously impressed with this new release of PowerDirector. Although it is still at the ‘budget’ end of the video editing market it supplies many of the high-level features of its more expensive rivals. If you need to create high quality videos without spending a fortune, PowerDirector 14 would be an excellent choice.

Monday 19 October 2015

Portrait Professional 15 - review

(available for Windows or Mac)

So you’ve taken some photos of the family but when you look at them you see that you’ve accidentally highlighted granny’s wrinkles, Aunty Bertha’s skin is as shiny as a ripe tomato, Cousin Alfred’s still suffering from acne and Sister Annie is still looking pale from the effects of too many sweet sherries the night before.

No problem. Load up Portrait Professional 15 and within a matter of minutes granny’s wrinkles are smoothed away, Aunty Bertha’s skin is given muted satin-like sheen, Cousin Alfred’s pimples disappear and Sister Annie’s pale flesh is brightened up with a dab of blusher and lipstick.

Of course, this software isn’t limited for use with your home photos. If you happen to be designing a fashion magazine cover and the photographer’s model is looking a little less than perfect, you could either spend a few hours tweaking the photo pixel by pixel in PhotoShop or you could let Portrait Professional automate the process in a fraction of the time.

This is how it works. You start by loading up a photo. Portrait Professional takes a few seconds to identify the face and draw lines over the principal elements – eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, chin. Now you click a button to tell the program to treat this face as a male or female, adult or child. It applies some standard enhancements to the photo and shows the original in one half of the screen and the enhanced image in the other. If the standard enhancement looks OK, that’s it – you can save the new image to disk as  JPG, TIFF or PNG file. But the chances are that you’ll want to make a few adjustments to optimise the image processing first. If the image elements were not perfectly identified you can drag the lines to reshape the eyes, chin and so on. Then again, maybe the standard options don’t make your model look glamorous enough. You can apply a different set of parameters just by picking a different ‘preset’ from a panel – ‘Female Glamorous’, for instance, may make a few more adjustments to the shape and proportions of the face than ‘Female Standard’. There are presets for women and men, girls and boys.

And if that still doesn’t give quite the effect you are searching for, you can go on to set individual parameters one by one, using a set of ‘portrait improving’ sliders which give you a finer level of control over things such as the amount of skin smoothing, how wide the eyes are (are they fully open or partially shut?), how plump the lips are and so on. Using these controls you can substantially change the appearance of a face and you may need to exercise some self-control. After all, you probably still want Cousin Alfred to be able to recognise Aunty Bertha! Smooth out too many wrinkles, narrow the nose too much, make the neck too long and add a bit too much blusher and she might not even recognise herself!

The plain truth of the matter is that Portrait Professional lets you make adjustments that range from the subtle to the grotesque. Most of the time, you will probably aiming for the subtle end of the spectrum but, ultimately, the choice is yours.

The changes you can make can either be very subtle or (as here) fairly bold. In the processed image, on the right, not only has the skin been toned and reflections softened, but I’ve even changed the colour of the lipstick and added some eyeshadow and blusher!
I last reviewed Portrait Professional (version 11) over two years ago (read my review here The latest version of the software has been improved by a number of additions, such as the ability to add digital ‘makeup’ and finer control over skin colouring. It comes in three editions – Standard, Studio and Studio Max (I reviewed Studio Max) and the Studio and Max versions can both be used either in standalone mode or as a plugin for PhotoShop (including PhotoShop Elements), Aperture and Lightroom. You can find the full feature lists of these editions here: .

This is a great program that really makes light work of doing everything from removing small imperfections and skin blemishes to transforming rather mundane portraits into magazine-ready ‘glamour’ shots. The three editions are priced at £59.90, £99.95 and £199.90 respectively. However, there are fairly often discounted offers so you may want to check if there are any special deals available on the developers’ web site.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Learn to Program Java - The Easy Way!

Java Programming – the Master Course is a multimedia course that teaches you Java from the ground up. With over 9 hours of video tuition, plus a an eBook and lots of ready-to-run source code, this is a premium course that normally costs $149. But this month I have a special offer that will get you the entire course for just $29!

Even if you are a complete beginner, this course will explain all the topics you need to know in order to become a proficient Java developer. It starts with the basics and moves on step-by-step to explain advanced topics such as generics, enumerated types, file-handling and streaming. You can follow the course on a Mac or on a PC. And all the software you need is free.

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  • 88 lectures and over 9.5 hours of content
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  • 10 quizzes to test your understanding
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Good programming!