PowerDirector 4.0

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, July 2005
Published by: Cyberlink
Requires: Pentium III/600MHz or AMD Athlon 700MHz or faster CPU, Microsoft Windows XP or 2000, 128MB RAM, 1024x768x16-Bit color or higher, PowerDirector 4 is optimized for CPU with SSE, SSE2, 3DNow! and HyperThreading technology, 600 MB required minimum (note: 400 MB is for SmartSound Quicktrack Library), 4GB for VCD/SVCD/MiniDVD production, 15GB required for DVD production, CD or DVD burner, compatible capture device, microphone for voice-overs
MSRP: US$89.95

You see I have all of this mini-DV footage—miles of it—and the editing solutions presenting themselves have left me somewhat cold. I won't mention any software companies. They know who they are. Mind you, the whole situation is vastly better than it was even as recently as three years ago. Capturing, editing and producing video is not the agonizingly process it used to be. Far from it, nowadays a decent Pentium 4 with lots of RAM can fairly blaze away at the tasks. Toss in a Pentium 4 with HyperThreading technology and/or dual processor cores and you can easily get a lot done. Harnessing all that processing power is the job of PowerDirector 4.

There are several problems with my home movie footage. Problem #1 is mainly that my footage is supremely crappy. As a videographer I make a good trumpet player. However, the kids grow almost daily, family events happen in far flung places, we travel on vacation, we explore the world around us. I shoot lots of video footage and my nice little Canon MiniDV camera is so easy to use. So now I have stacks and racks of digital video tape and I cower in fear of the editing process. I tried a number of video editing products, but none of them (except for one notable title) left me with even the vaguest feeling of confidence. The thing is, I looked at PowerDirector several years ago and I didn't like it. I looked at a several other products at the time too: MGI (now Roxio) VideoWave 4, Pinnacle Studio and ULead VideoStudio. It was possible to be creative and produce decent amateur movies with all four products, but the process was agonizingly slow and buggy.


Times have changed. Most important, and before any other consideration directly related to PowerDirector, CPU power and massive amounts of RAM exist in great abundance. If you've got a 2GHz or faster Pentium 4 CPU and 512MB of RAM, you're laughing. Bump your RAM to 1GB (or more) and video editing can be truly enjoyable. With the right computer and the PowerDirector movie wizard, it's a simple process to capture, edit and produce a good video in less time than it takes to describe the process. But PowerDirector 4 is now a few long steps ahead of the pack on several fronts, and getting started is helped along by five relatively new components in the software:

  • Magic Clean enhances brightness, color, and performs limited audio noise reduction—if you're using a Canon MiniDV camera (almost any model), be careful, because Magic Clean may over-saturate the image. Gently applied, it works well. Audio noise reduction seemed to work more like a noise ramp filter. If your footage was shot using a digital still camera in movie mode (in my case a Canon A95 and my wife's Sony DSCS90L), the noise reduction may actually remove some of the audio you want to keep mainly because of the limited recording range of built-in camera microphones. Clips from cameras with better quality audio/mic systems do much better;
  • Magic Cut intelligently edits long videos into short clips featuring the best content—like automatic scene detection, the way this feature is implemented in PowerDirector 4 makes it a huge time saver. I was amazed at how well the software divided everything. As best I can tell, Magic Cut uses your own preferences combined with color consistency, directional panning detection, recorded audio to determine when something major has changed. Upon detection Magic Cut tells PowerDirector "Hey, here's the end of a scene so end this clip and start a new one!" However the technology is implemented, it works;
  • Magic Motion applies zoom and pan movement to still images—for the first time in my amateur video 'career' I've started to include stills. It's simple matter of dragging & dropping a photo or illustration into the project. The result looks just like one of those PBS specials from a museum or art gallery. Magic Motion also intelligently locates people to focus on a scene’s important elements—it works, but you have to be careful where you use it. Some clips contain a profusion of people and while you may know who's whom, there's no way for Magic Motion to read your mind. In scenes or clips with only a couple of people, one of the kids or a band or other players at a performance event of some sort Magic Motion works remarkably well;
  • Magic Music creates soundtracks custom-fit to your video clip length—the feature works well with the special audio/music tracks supplied with the software. These music files are specially composed and recorded in repetitive blocks which the Magic Music component can extend or reduce to exactly match the length of any video clip(s) you select. Basically, it means the music ends properly at the same time as the video.

I shot about 10 hours of video during the review period during which the family and I visited with friends, spent some time at the lake, visited one of the local county fairs, and attended a school recital. I also shot a quick technical instructional video for my company. I actually edited about 6 hours of footage in total in the process of making four comparatively short movies about 15 minutes each and one 30 minute epic (the instructional video). It just goes to show how much useless footage we shoot. I burned everything to individual DVDs and also created a compilation DVD containing all four family videos. The DVD authoring process (creating menus and titles that you can navigate with your DVD remote control) is brain-dead easy, and the only difficult thing about the DVD burning process itself is remembering to put a blank DVD in the drive.

Cons: With all the superb improvements in PowerDirector 4, I'm still trying to figure out why the EZ Producer component is a separate program rather than an integrated part of the main program. Components temporarily drop out in the editor in order to improve playback integrity and program responsiveness, which is nice but disconcerting. For example, If you've got several clips strung together with transitions, titles and an effect or two, adding a music track will cause titles to drop out during preview playback. Everything will render and produce properly, but this approach is disconcerting. We'd prefer to see the program dynamically allocate more cache or editing buffer to itself as needed, rather than shed items expediently. The Magic components are located in the Edit menu, but they should also be accessible in the right-click context pop-up menu in the Timeline which would place them much more readily at hand. Magic Music works well, but when choosing only a single audio file you have to manually set its length (in minutes/seconds) to match the selected video clip(s) or movie, I'd like to see a bit of programming logic here which automatically sets the audio running time based on the number of video/still clips selected. Selecting multiple audio clips works much better.

Pros: One of the best consumer video editor and movie makers available today. You can automatically make background music match the length of your clip or movie—very cool. I produced almost a dozen DVDs during the three week review period without even a hint of a ruined disc—very nice that was. The DVDs were recognized and played properly on a variety of DVD players (home and portable) and of course all of the PC and Mac DVD drives we tried. The software instantly recognizes a huge range of DV cameras, letting you take control of the camera's transport mechanism, automating capture and also automatically detecting individual scenes. The original scene detection routines we saw a few years ago look silly compared to the version in PowerDirector 4—it's really quite good and greatly eases the editing process. For quick movie making, you can actually plug in your DV camera (or copy MOV files shot in movie mode with your digital still camera) and put together a complete DVD (including burning) in about 20 minutes. MagicClean did a great job of balancing color and brightness in the video footage shot by my wife with her Sony DSCS90L digital camera. Highly recommended.





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