Tuesday 24 September 2019

Cyberlink PowerDirector 18 Review

PowerDirector 18 Ultimate £99.99 / $129.99
Subscription plans also available starting at £5/month

If you are looking for video editing software capable of professional results but without a professional price tag, PowerDirector is hard to beat. It is packed with powerful recording and editing features and outputs or ‘produces’ videos blazingly fast. When I reviewed PowerDirector 17, last year, I wrote “While it is priced towards the hobbyist end of the market, don’t be fooled into thinking it is for amateurs only. In fact, it now has an excellent range of pro-level features. For the serious video editor on a tight budget, PowerDirector is my top recommendation.”

PowerDirector 18 is a fully-featured video editing suite
This month sees the release of PowerDirector 18. This version adds a range of new features, (see What’s New In PowerDirector 18). It has ‘audio scrubbing’ which means it plays back audio as you move the playhead over a track so that you can more easily find a specific location (for example, where the subject says a certain word).  It makes it easy to create perfectly square videos, suitable for some social media sites, additional file format support for pro cameras, an improved title designer to create and animate titles(see example), it has the ability to undock the media library and timeline (handy if you are using more than one monitor) plus a variety of interface and usability improvements such as hotkey customisation, snap-alignment of objects and a shape designer for adding vector shapes to videos. These are all, in my opinion, fairly small changes – there are no huge new ‘gee-whiz’ features – but cumulatively they combine to make worthwhile improvements to PowerDirector.

If you have two monitors, you can dock the media panel and timeline on one monitor (here they are on my left screen) and show the video preview on the other monitor (here on the right)
The new features are just the icing on then cake, however. PowerDirector is already packed with a range of excellent features from its previous editions (see my reviews of PowerDirector 17 and PowerDirector 16) including camera and screencast capture, powerful multi-track editing, a huge range of effects, transitions and colour correction tools, split-screen videos, particle effects, audio editing and synchronization and much more.

You can create your own vector shapes and callouts, change the colours and even add animation. These are then saved to the library for easy use in your projects
It has a few irritating features too.  For example, its video editing tools are spread about in a variety of different places – to change the colours and lens effects, you can either load up some pages containing scrollbars from the Fix/Enhance menu or you can apply presets from the Effects library. To crop and zoom you can either select a popup Cross/Zoom window from the PowerTools menu or you can load up the PiP (Picture In Picture) designer and do it there. The PiP designer is also where you apply Chroma Key (to remove green-screen backgrounds) and make other adjustments to video clip animations. To be honest, I find that there are so many menus, dialog boxes, drag-and-drop effects and popup video editing panels that I often forget which one I need to use in order to make the edits I want to make.

Another peculiarly annoying idiosyncrasy is that when you unlink the audio from a video track then move the audio relative to the track (say to synchronize sound and video) and then relink or group the two tracks, you can no longer load the video into the PiP editor. In order to do that, you have to unlink the tracks all over again, do the desired edits, then relink them.  Similarly, if you group audio and video and then split the clip, you can’t delete one side of the split without first ungrouping the clips, then doing the deletion, then regrouping them.

PowerDirector includes screen and webcam recording tools. Here I am simultaneously recording my computer screen and the webcam which is useful for software tutorials that include videos of the teacher
Overall, I believe PowerDirector continues to offer the best range of professional-grade features for video editors on a budget. And, as already mentioned, its production speed is second-to-none so if you are rendering big videos, it’s a real time saver. At its price, this is a remarkably powerful and versatile package.

Whether you are making pro-grade 4K videos, online educational videos or just simple YouTube videos, PowerDirector 18 is a great program at a very reasonable price.

Monday 23 September 2019

Saving local variable values from Recursive Function-calls

The values of local variables inside functions that are called recursively are lost when the recursion unwinds. How can you save those values? This video explains.

For the complete playlist in my YouTube series on recursion go here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZHx5heVfgEv3ihSVlwL8i-Bar-1ml_wY

I have written a book about recursion, “The Little Book Of Recursion”. You can find more about that here:  http://bitwisebooks.com/books/little-book-of-recursion/

You can buy The Little Book Of Recursion from Amazon:
Or search for its ISBN: 978-1913132057

Friday 20 September 2019

What are Stack Frames and The Call Stack?

My latest YouTube video gives a very quick overview of what stack frames are and why programmers need to understand them...

Thursday 19 September 2019

Camtasia 2019 Review

Camtasia 2019 £239


The venerable screencasting software continues to be improved. But does it still lead the field…?

Camtasia is probably the best known screencasting software for Windows and it is also one of the top screencasting products for the Mac. If you are making educational courses or YouTube videos that need recordings from your computer screen, or if you are creating software demos, Camtasia is a great tool. It lets you capture animated videos of all the action on your computer screen. Alternatively, you can capture from a selected window or from a rectangular area marked off with your mouse.

The Camtasia 2019 editing environment shows a video preview above a multi-track timeline with panels of media clips, effects, transitions and more at the top-left.
If you need to capture video simultaneously from your webcam, it can do that too. The screen-capture and the webcam capture are saved as separate clips so that you can edit them independently – for example, to fade out the webcam video when not required, or zoom it to full screen and then reduce it to occupy just a small portion of the screen (a ‘picture in picture’ overlay).

The Camtasia editing environment takes the form of a multi-track timeline beneath a video editing preview window and some panels from which clips, effects, transitions and other elements can be selected. On the timeline you can place numerous video and audio clips as well as still images.  A fade-transition from one clip to another can be done just by overlapping the adjoining clip edges. Or, if you want fancier transitions, you can select page-rolls, Venetian-blind effects, random dissolves, glows and so on just by dragging those effects from a ‘Transitions’ panel.

I recorded myself using my webcam in front of a green screen. To remove the green background I just drop a visual effect onto the clip and use a colour picker to select the background. The end result is that the background ‘disappears’ (see the first screenshot at the top of this review).
Other types of visual effect are also available by dragging and dropping from panels. The ‘Behaviors’ panel lets you apply animated effects to both video and text so that they slide in from the edge of the screen, drop in from above, ‘explode’ into view and so on. The ‘Animations’ and ‘Visual Effects’ panels to apply scaling effects, alter the colours, change the clip speed or remove colours (usually to remove a ‘green screen’ backdrop so that the foreground speaker can be ‘placed into’ an image or video clip background).

There is also a Library. This was one of the big improvements made to the last version (Camtasia 2018). The Library is a panel where you can store video and audio clips, images and ‘callouts’ (bits of text or animated intros and credits) You can have several named libraries which can be selected from a drop-down list.

What’s New?

So what’s new in this version? The truth is, very little. According to TechSmith, the principal new features are Automatic Audio Levelling, Cursor Smoothing, the ability to customise shortcuts, download device frames and improved downloading of assets. The last three of these features are so trivial that I’ll describe them in a single paragraph. Here goes…

You can customise the hotkeys throughout the application using the shortcuts dialog.
Customising shortcuts means that you can change a large number of recording and editing hotkeys using a dialog whereas in Camtasia 2018 only a very small number of hotkeys could be changed. Downloading device frames means that you can download pictures of computers and mobile phones (aka ‘devices’) onto which your video clips can be automatically overlaid to make it look as though they are running on the screen of the selected device.  Improved asset downloading means that you can download stock images, photos and video clips from the Camtasia web site and this (apparently!) is easier to do than it used to be. Note that only a small selection of assets and device frames are free. To gain access to the full range you need to subscribe for $199 a year.

Exploring a little further (using the comparison chart https://www.techsmith.com/camtasia-compare-versions.html), I see that there are a few more small changes such as some extra text properties and PDF import.  These are so slight that TechSmith doesn’t even bother to mention them, in its ‘What’s New?’ page: https://support.techsmith.com/hc/en-us/articles/360023972011-What-s-New-in-Camtasia-2019

The only two remaining new features worth highlighting are automatic audio levelling and cursor smoothing. The audio-levelling capability is genuinely useful.  It lets you add multiple audio or video recordings and, if the volume levels vary, it instantly regularises them. Of course, you could do this yourself – it would only take a few seconds per clip – but having it done for you is easier and more reliable. As long as the ‘auto normalize loudness’ option is selected for your project, you can just drop on clips and the software will automatically ‘correct’ low volume clips so that each clips sounds equally loud.

The auto-levelling feature can, in fact, be a bit unpredictable in some circumstances. I’ve found that when I create a project with the feature enabled, it stays enabled even when I subsequently disable the option. That means that the audio of any clips I add continues to auto-adjust even though I don’t want it to. This behaviour does not affect new projects that have the option disabled from the outset.

If your screen recordings suffer from cursor-waggle, you can now smooth out the movements with a new cursor effect
Cursor smoothing is the ability to get rid of all the cursor movements that may occur between two critical points in the video if you happen (as many of us do!) to waggle the mouse around on the screen instead of keeping all mouse movements short and direct.  Cursor smoothing is supplied as an ‘effect’ which can be dropped onto a clip. There are some properties you can adjust to set to change the effect somewhat as explained here https://www.techsmith.com/tutorial-camtasia-cursor-smoothing.html but in my experience, the default settings are generally quite satisfactory.

Is it worth it?

Camtasia is fairly frequently updated and this latest version strikes me as a relatively minor update. The last really big new version of Camtasia (in my opinion) which substantially improved the software with numerous new features and a significant new redesign was Camtasia 8, way back in 2012 (read my review http://bitwisemag.co.uk/2/Camtasia-Studio-8.html). Camtasia 9 in 2016 (see my review http://www.bitwisemag.com/2016/10/camtasia-9-for-windows-3-for-mac-review.html)  defined the look-and-feel of the software ever since. Camtasia 2018 was an incremental update with numerous useful improvements but no huge new features (http://www.bitwisemag.com/2018/07/camtasia-2018-review.html). So is this new version of Camtasia good enough to make Camtasia my first choice for screencasting?

The short answer is yes but with caveats. I would generally recommend Camtasia to anyone who regularly makes screencasts on Windows. The Mac edition is also pretty good but faces strong completion from ScreenFlow. In spite of relatively few additions to Camtasia 2019, this software remains my favourite Windows screen recorder for the simple reason that it is so quick and easy to use.

If you are on a tight budget, however, or if you want a more ’general purpose’ video editor you night think about opting for a program such as Cyberlink PowerDirector or Movavi Video Suite, both of which include screen capture tools.

If you are an existing Camtasia user, you probably want to know whether this new edition justifies the cost of upgrading. I would have to say probably not. The upgrade from Camtasia 2018 to 2019 costs £95.64. Frankly, you won’t get much for your money. The improvements in Camtasia 2019 are quite minor. So, in summary: Camtasia 2019 is a great screen recorder and editor. But the new features in this edition are underwhelming.

Monday 16 September 2019

Learn to Program C# (C-Sharp) with a FREE 4 Hour Online Course

I have just released a completely free online course on the C# language. This course used to sell for $99 but from today you can sign up for free. It contains 33 video lessons (over four hours of instruction) pus an eBook and all the source code of the sample projects. Sign up here: https://bitwisecourses.com/p/learn-to-program-csharp

If you want to get started with C# programming on Windows (using a free copy of Visual Studio), this is the course you need!

Incidentally, if you prefer to learn from a book or you need a book to take you deeper into the subjects covered in my course, my book, The Little Book Of C# is available in paperback or for Kindle on Amazon (US) https://amzn.to/2JWDI0o, Amazon (UK) https://amzn.to/2YaCPtS and worldwide.