CyberLink PhotoDirector 3 review: Lightroom streamlined

CyberLink PhotoDirector 3 is out, and we’ve decided to put it through its paces. Not just by reviewing it, but by putting it up against the number one PC photo management and editing tool – Adobe Lightroom 3. Can it topple the editing giant?

CyberLink

Yes – if you’re a beginner

There’s a lot to like about CyberLink PhotoDirector 3, from the cute loading animation to some pretty powerful features. The real selling point, however, is ease-of-use.

PhotoDirector 3 has streamlined Lightroom’s editing interface, increased the font size and generally made navigating the complicated options of something like Lightroom much easier.

Rather than digging through the options of Lightroom, all the most commonly used features for amateur photographers are available as big, obvious options – “People Beautifier” is one, “Photo Effects”, “Remove Objects”, “Watermarks”. They’re all useful, automated options that are a bit hidden in Lightroom and have been put to the fore in Cyberlink’s product.

Each option comes with a mini-tutorial as you use them, providing instructions on how to use it. It’s super-user friendly, and could really bring these editing tools to the masses.

Check out the intro video:

Unfortunately, it’s all a bit slow. Even on our behemoth of a computer (12GB RAM, SSD hard drive, Intel Something Amazing Processor) piling on too many effects causes the program to return long waiting times between actions. In fairness to Cyberlink, it does tell you that the image is loading, rather than just leaving you hanging and hoping for the best.

Lightroom 3 – the older product – has no such problem on our computer. This may be a set-up thing, but perhaps some of the automation from Cyberlink has caused some slow-down – enough to provide a mild irritation for users.

The presets are also superior to Lightroom’s – if you’re looking to turn your family and friends into models. There are some other types, but the selection feels like they’ve all been set to make people more beautiful, rather than enhance any artistic quality of the photographs.

Our biggest concern, however, is intellectual property theft. PhotoDirector 3 is like a large-fonted twin of Lightroom, from the grey-on-grey theme, to the walk-through style editing menu at the top, to the layout of the image editing tools. Really, Cyberlink, we know Lightroom is good – but did you have to go for something so similar?

The similarities really annoy us, because PhotoDirector 3 could be a stand-up tool even without copying Lightroom so closely. And there are a bunch of things about Lightroom that annoy us (including ease-of-use) that CyberLink could have fixed. Still, if you’re an amateur photographer and feel daunted by Lightroom’s options, then PhotoDirector is the tool for you.

Multimedia multitasker – Nero 11

If you want to do anything with multimedia files, whether it’s editing MP3 files, create slideshows, edit video, receiver data from damaged discs and loads more, Nero software seems to be able to do it all. Long gone are the days when all it did was burn data to CDs (although you can still do that too!)

This is version 11 so what’s new since its last outing?

Nero-11

Well, there is a LIVEBackup feature, which offers automatic, continuous backup with one click, plus there is an Express Editing mode. This allows you to use a simple storyboard, rather than a multitrack timeline, so that you can cobble together basic projects simply and easily There are also some advanced features such as 3D effects and picture-in-picture overlays.

Photographers can create personalised photo books, cards and calendars and then order online using Nero Kwik Media, should they wish.

File conversion and sharing offerings are also greatly improved – Nero Recode allows you to convert media from most file formats and then output it to almost any other device. Social networking is catered for as there are tools for sharing to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and of course for burning to DVD and Blu-ray.

Mobile devices are becoming more and more vital nowadays, so it’s nice to see the ability to sync media between PC and Android using either USB or Wi-Fi.

Martin Stein, senior vice president of global products, said:

“Nero 11 helps you do more with your photos, videos and music faster. It is the only software you need to access and organise your photos, videos and music across all of your devices; create impressive videos and slideshows; optimise videos for your iPad or smartphone; back it all up securely with just one click; and share your memories with friends and family on an online social network, Blu-ray disc or photo book.”

The software is compatible with Windows 7/Vista/XP and costs £69.99 (Nero 11 Platinum £89.99).

Serif MoviePlus X5 review

You return home from a holiday, ready to plug in your HD pocket camcorder and show your friends some vacation vids. And then you realise: flicking through 10 second clips of various holiday events is our generation’s dreaded “holiday slideshow”. Only the most dedicated of friends will feign interest, patiently waiting for you to find the funny clip about the foreigner. Serif MoviePlus X5 hopes to end this torture by allowing users to easily edit their clips into longer videos.

MoviePlus

Serif knows that to get casual users creating videos, ease-of-use is paramount. As such, MoviePlus X5 ships with a whole range of tutorials, three demonstrations (of advanced functions), and a curiously pane on the left-hand side of the screen. Not only does the pane instructs you on confusing issues, but also provides shortcuts as a quick way to find features.

Their biggest usability help, however, is the simple interface. There’s a preview window in the middle, a timeline mounted on the bottom, and a multi-purpose explorer window on the right-hand side.

Here you can browse your media, look through a gallery of effects and transitions, or edit a clip’s properties. It makes for a pretty quick movie creation experience, and gives the user one place to look for relevant information.

Such simplicity doesn’t come at the expense of functionality, either. More advanced features, such as a Chroma key and masking are included, while stabilisation is top-class. There’re hundreds of other effects too, as well as a huge range of scene transitions – all the staples from other pieces of video editing software are here.

Users should be aware that this is far from high-end stuff, though. The simple interface means that anything more than two tracks is a bit of pain manage, let alone following what effects have been applied and editing those effects’ settings. You certainly won’t find the depth of the premium products like Adobe Premiere Pro or Apple’s Final Cut.

That said, there are plenty of useful extra features. Keyframe editing is included, along with the Ripple option, so future effects retain their existing settings. There’s also an omnipresent decibel metre to ensure you don’t accidentally create super loud clips, while clip thumbnails can be previewed instantly.

The output options should also suffice for most users. The settings let you go into a huge amount of depth, while the pre-sets are pretty comprehensive. You can output to DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube HD or your own custom setting. There’s also a Menu Creation section, for properly authoring DVD and Blu-Ray films.

All in all, it’s a great package for the home editor looking for very simple films with nifty effects. Anything more complicated, however, and you’d be better looking elsewhere.

TWIG: Green Screen Kit, Edifier iPod Dock, VHS MAGIX and the James Dyson Award

The Week in Gadgets

It’s becoming easier and easier to produce and share content online – good quality cameras cost a fraction of what they used to, decent editing packages can be had at low-to-no cost and you can distribute your masterpieces online for free. If you want to take your creative photos and videos to the next level you might want to take a look at Westcott’s Green Screen Kit. Green Screening is a visual FX technique for creating compositing effects. Basically you stand your subjects in front of a solid colour background and photo or film them. Then you remove the background and replace it with a background of your choosing – a Parisian café, an underwater kingdom or an explosion.

green-screen-box-kit

The Green Screen Kit provides you with a 5’ by 7’ green screen (and some wall hooks) so you can shoot your subject (little tip – keep them well lit if you can as this helps when pulling a clean key). The Green Screen is bundled with some PhotoKey Lite software, for one-click keys – no fussing about with garbage mattes and the like. The software works surprisingly well for a £69.99 bundled package. For someone used to working on high-end packages like Shake and fiddling with node based chroma keys, the software is a little on the simple side. However, it is amazingly easy to use and for people starting out with visual effects – or hoping to add a little something to their homemovies or YouTube videos there is a lot to like – including 100 pre-packaged digital backgrounds and the ability to add your own.

Edifer, makers of the Soundbar which we cast our watchful eye over here and the opera house-shaped Prisma which we reviewed here are back with the Breathe iF600. New iPod docks are a weekly happening in my inbox, so it’s a testament to the Edifier design team that I raised an eyebrow when I saw the Breathe’s dome like design, which literally caught my eye. Moving away from the classic boombox-style that most iPod docks seem to go for, the Breathe looks a little like the top half of an eggshell. Replete with control buttons, an Aux input (if you have a non iDevice PMP) and a Music Pause function that automatically detects when a call is incoming on your iPhone. On sale now at John Lewis for £169.

As someone old enough to remember and own VHS tapes, the MAGIX Rescue Your Videotapes system is a godsend. I have an old VCR kept in reserve just in case I ever want to watch some of my rare VHS-only films, TV shows I taped off air or home movies. MAGIX rescues my dusty tapes and puts them somewhere useful – my hard drive. An end-to-end solution, magic comes with all the cables you need to hook your VCR or old-fashioned camcorder into your PC. It also has digitization software that enables you to store the compressed files on your hard drive, burn them to DVD or share them to online sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, holding your hand through each step of the way. MAGIX Rescue Your Videotapes 3.0 is available from Amazon and PC world for £59.99

This Tuesday the international winner of the James Dyson Award will be announced. They received over 500 entries, which have been whittled down to 15. Dyson sent us this little video of the finalists and we thought you gadget fans might like to check it out. Our favourites include the Butterfly mobile, micro scooter, Move-it, a cardboard box to trolley convertor and Wanderest, a portable seat you can strap to lamp posts. Check it out.