Ulead VideoStudio 9
This version of Ulead's flagship program offers a trio of video-creation modes to cater for all movie directors, regardless of experience.
The program's new DV (digital video) to DVD Wizard mode, which reduces the video-authoring process to just a couple of steps, is particularly welcome. Although it's not the first ever automation wizard, Ulead's software provides the fastest way we've seen to produce a video DVD from scratch. This is thanks to the program's ability to quickly scan scenes from an attached DV camera.
You can view thumbnails to select the clips you wish to batch import, then decorate them with pre-built theme templates - intros, titles, music and menus. These might not be quite up to cinema standard, but they're easily good enough for amateur use.
VideoStudio's Movie Wizard is designed for newcomers. Its simplified interface limits editing to adjusting clip sequence and in- and out-points. As with the DV wizard, this program can take the grunt work off your hands, automatically dumping badly shot or out-of-focus clips before applying theme templates - should you have selected the latter option.
VideoStudio's Editor mode offers a more powerful, seven-step authoring process, wrapped in the traditional video-editing interface - a clip library on the right and a multi-track project timeline below.
As well as the standard storyboard and timeline views, an audio window lets you make visual adjustments to soundtrack and microphone levels. The Editor mode's capture options are comprehensive. Content can be culled from DV camera, DVD or disk, then added to the library using the same quick method as the DV wizard.
Equally notable is an extra video overlay track which supports transparency. At its most simple, this means you can add things such as logos on top of your main footage.
The most dramatic new feature here is support for Chroma key (see "Chroma therapy"). When you a shoot a subject against a single-colour backdrop you can remove this so that the subject appears to be in the scene shown in the main video track.
Much more useful for everyday editing is the addition of Flash animation overlay clips. You can mask or frame the main video track this way.
As well as resizing clips to provide a picture-in-picture effect, you can distort video in the overlay track simply by dragging one of the nodes surrounding the clip. It works in real time and, sensibly, the video remains editable in its original dimensions.
As usual, VideoStudio 9 has managed to pack in some stunning transitions and effects. The pick of a pretty outstanding bunch is a sublime photo album transition that makes it look as though you're turning the pages of a book between clips. Niggles and video-editing programs tend to go hand in hand, but here they relate only to interface issues such as odd button placement, and these flaws are overshadowed by ease of use elsewhere.
The program's versatility is especially marked when it comes to sharing video. Alongside standard export options, including DVD-Video Recording, you can now work in smart phone and PDA-compatible formats. It's a nice touch.
VideoStudio's increasingly polished wizards mean novices will get up to speed quickly. Even experienced moviemakers may be surprised at the results they can achieve with this powerful bargain. There's a lot more under the hood than you'd expect from a mid-range package and it's extremely good value.
VideoStudio 9's new chroma keying abilities mimic the technique used in television weather reports, where a presenter is filmed in front of a blue background, which is filtered out by a compositing process then replaced by a map.
You can achieve a similar effect using VideoStudio by filming your subject in front of a flat colour background and adding the footage to the Overlay track. In the clip's Attributes tab, simply select "Apply overlay options" and choose Chroma key as the type. Choose the Sample tool and click on the area to be made transparent, or select a colour matching the background from the palette. The background of the overlay should now disappear and the main video track will show through.
In general, we found it best to use a green or blue background. Using red tended to apply transparency to flesh tones. Don't expect spectacular results first time, and know that there are dedicated alternatives such as ULTRA 2.
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