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.