My website is full of videos, mostly related to ham radio or motorcycling. I’ve tried different methods for making them, and after considerable frustration with Roxio VideoWave’s lack of stability, I converted to CyberLink PowerDirector (PDR). As it turned out, my HP PC already had a free starter version of CyberLink PowerDirector, which I tried and found to be far more stable than the Roxio software I’d paid for. So I ordered PDR version 9 from CyberLink, which I found to be easy to use and—important to me—far more stable than the Roxio software (keep in mind this is a couple years ago—Roxio may have improved). I enjoyed the clean PDR interface for trimming and joining video segments, adding royalty-free music from SmartSound, and creating titles. And it even autosaves the project periodically, something Roxio didn’t do back then.
Since then I upgraded to PDR 10, then PDR 11, and now PDR 12. For the PDR 12 update, I opted for the “suite,” meaning that ColorDirector and AudioDirector are included. The first version of PDR 12 that I downloaded, Build 2027, was disappointingly slow. But CyberLink has issued two free updates since then: Build 2230 and Build 2420. These fixed the slowness issue. Overall, with the correct settings, I’d say that the PDR 12 video output, after uploading to YouTube, is the best I’ve seen of all the PDR versions. You can’t tell the difference between playing a rendered video locally or playing the YouTube version. (Another update, already available as a beta, will soon be available. I tried the beta version and had a couple issues, so I backed off to Build 2420.)
A word about the various PowerDirector Version 12 editions. Each builds on the previous. Let me translate their marketing language for you. Prices are web download editions as of today.
|Edition name||What it really means||Price|
|Deluxe||The most basic edition. Fairly capable, but lacks a few of the tools.||$58.99|
|Ultra||A step up. Adds some special effects and transitions.||$74.99|
|Ultimate||A nice step up in capability. Adds lots of special effects and what CyberLink calls “packs,” meaning themes and overlays. For most video work, you could stay at this level.||$109.99|
|Ultimate Suite||The same as the Ultimate, plus two new features that are pretty much programs in their own right: ColorDirector, which allows all sorts of color grading, fixing, and generally massaging your video, and AudioDirector, which provides tools for massaging your audio. Both are integrated into PDR—when you want to use either of them, clicking in the right place takes you to the auxiliary program, then when you’re done you can go right back to where you left off. ColorDirector is better integrated than AudioDirector.||$199.99—note the big price jump.|
|Director Suite||Adds CyberLink’s photo editing tool, PhotoDirector. I haven’t used it yet.||$239|
You can read CyberLink’s comparision by clicking here. You can see what the full feature set is by reading their website. I haven’t used all the features, so this is a review of those I have.
A couple words: video editing requires a relatively powerful desktop or laptop. My desktop is several years old, and even though it sports an NVIDIA graphics card, which PDR uses to accelerate processing, my new Toshiba laptop beats it hands down. I now do all my editing and rendering on the laptop. CyberLink natively supports 64-bit processing. A word to the wise: the CyberLink code is huge. When I downloaded the Ultimate version of PDR 12, the files added up to six gigabytes. If that’s too big a download for you, you can order a disc (they call it a CD, but it’s a couple of DVDs) for an extra $15 plus shipping.
Oh, and beware that your video collection will grow quickly, and video files are large. I’ve found that a day’s motorcycle ride worth of GoPro Hero 2 video can be as much as 16 GB. You can very quickly fill up a 1 TB hard drive. A suggestion is to use an external drive to hold your video clips. Also, PDR 12 allows you to “pack” the project into a single directory that contains all the files actually used to create the video, so you can go back and edit the project again. I like to copy these packed directories to data DVDs (sometimes having to use the bigger and more expensive 8 GB double-layer DVDs to contain all the clips and the rendered video). I also store a copy of the packed project onto a network hard drive, and then I clean my laptop of all the video and project files to manage my disk space back. BEWARE that when PD packs your project, it does NOT include the rendered output file, so you’ll need to copy this separately.
Okay, so what do I like about PDR 12 Ultimate Suite and what don’t I like? Let’s start with the things I like:
- It’s intuitive. You can use it at a novice level up to an expert level, and it doesn’t force you to know a lot to use it as a novice. You can do simple slideshows set to music easily and quickly. You can add titles easily.
- It’s stable. This is very important to me. The ham radio training videos I create take literally hours in the editing seat, and having the program crash just as you add that final cool feature is extraordinarily aggravating. Caveat: It’s stable on my Windows 7 desktop and my Windows 8.1 laptop. I obviously can’t say how stable it’ll be on your machine, but I don’t see complaints on the web about stability issues.
- It autosaves your project at user-selectable intervals. The default is that the autosave feature is ON, which is exactly as it should be.
- It grows with you. If you want to use additional features you can—otherwise they stay silent in the background.
- The rendering quality is superb, better than previous versions. It renders sharp, clear HD video (assuming the original video clip is sharp and clear). For my ham radio videos, I render using the H.264 settings, at 1080p at 24 frames/second for YouTube upload. (Note: PDR refers to rendering as “producing”…uh…most of the time, but sometimes calls it rendering. The term “rendering” means turning your project into a finished video.)
- The chroma key (green screen) capability is much improved. And, one of the included NewBlue plugins offers an even better chroma key capability. This is particularly important to me for the training videos I create.
- The editing screen allows you to layer video on video. You can add picture-in-picture effects, title overlays, and so on. It also makes it easy for me to sync up separately-recorded audio with the associated video clip. (It also has a multi-cam capability that I haven’t used yet.) The voice-over feature is straightforward.
- This may seem like a nit, but if you create PNG files that have transparent spaces in them, PDR 12 respects those. This can really be helpful here and there.
- PDR allows you to preview a clip, an effect, a sound, a transition, or whatever, before actually applying it to the timeline.
- You can burn a DVD directly without having to render first. It has lots of templates for DVD menus, which you can modify.
- Overall PDR is incredibly flexible. You can do some amazing things. A good way to find what you like is to sit and play with it. Use a short video clip and try the special effects, the transitions, the titles, etc. Add some Magic Music, which can be tailored to last exactly as long as your clip. Try changing the video to black and white. Or increase the color saturation. Warp the video. Stick another video on top and blend the two together. And on and on and on…
So what’s not to like? Well, nothing is perfect. And, with as many hours I’m in the editing seat, minor frustrations can become major annoyances. But I don’t see anything better out there that solves these problems. Hopefully future editions will address these gripes:
- Like nearly all software today, PDR is “lightly documented.” In other words, the 250+ page user’s manual that you can download and print only touches on each of the features. In many cases it doesn’t tell you how to use them, and certainly doesn’t say “be careful of this because….” The on-screen help system doesn’t add much more. The online tutorials are a good introduction to basic capabilities (and the novice will be grateful for them). Also, there are any number of YouTube tutorials, ranging from well done to, well, not well done, so sometimes a Google search on a particular feature will bring results. What I’d love to see CyberLink do is create a comprehensive on-line reference that customers can add to, like a moderated wiki or like the WordPress Codex.
- Along those lines, the NewBlue special effects (Fx) aren’t documented except via help files. Each has a video from NewBlue that you can get to by first applying the effect (drag it on top of a video clip on the timeline), then clicking “Effect” on the same bar where you find “Split” and so on, then clicking “Help.” However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the video or help file tells you the way it really works. For example, the excellent NewBlue Chroma Key effect needs to know the color of the green (or blue, or whatever) background. It says to use the color picker, but the color picker isn’t implemented in PDR 12. So I have to take a snapshot of the video frame and use Paint, or use a separate piece of software such as FastStone Capture, to get the RGB value. Once that value is obtained, it must be manually entered into the color panel, and then the magic begins. (Helpful hints on using NewBlue’s Chroma Key Fx will be a post all unto itself.)
- I really wish there was a way to truly keep everything about a project in a single directory. As it now stands, you can specify the input and output directories for media files, but that doesn’t mean that when you save the project (meaning save your edits) that the project PDS file will end up in the output directory. And, if you have to go to some other directory to get a clip, PDR automagically (and frustratingly) changes the default input directory to the other directory. The lack of this wished-for feature, probably more than anything else, drives me nuts, because I’m constantly trying to figure out where a file went.
- I dearly wish AudioDirector would allow me to save custom presets. I record the ham radio videos in a studio under controlled conditions. That means I need to do the identical audio processing to as many as ten or fifteen clips. I have to open each one, watch PDR switch to AD, select compression, set all the parameters, then switch back to PDR. What a pain! If I could save a preset, that would be a major step in the right direction. Even better, load that preset back into PDR so I can apply it to multiple audio clips the same way you can do with ColorDirector!
- I’m not sure Audio Director does anything more than Audacity, and Audacity is free and has more flexibility.
- Adding backgrounds and default clips requires some sleuthing to discover where PDR 12 puts them. To save you the trouble of finding them, here’s where they are. In Windows 7, 64-bit, it stores 16×9 backgrounds in this directory: C:\Program Files\CyberLink\PowerDirector12\Background\16_9. The sample clips that come up every time you open the program are in this directory: C:\Program Files\CyberLink\PowerDirector12\SampleClips. You can add your own content to these directories. Or take out what’s already there.
- The software will render your video and put it up on YouTube or Vimeo for you. Personally I prefer to render the video the way I want (H.264) and upload manually. PDR will not automatically upload videos longer than 15 minutes.
- You’ll need to do considerable experimentation to decide how you want PDR to render your video. I opt for H.264, 1080p at 24 frames/second (see an example by clicking here). This seems to be a good setting for the instructional videos. Unfortunately PDR’s rendering instructions are along the lines of “if you want MP4, press this button,” but they don’t tell you what each is useful for or why you’d want one over another. If PDR were marketed to high-end video professionals, the users could be expected to have this knowledge already, but given this is aimed at the consumer, some helpful hints (or even a wizard asking what you’ll use the video for) would be nice.
- ColorDirector, unlike AudioDirector, will carry a custom preset back into PDR and allow you to apply it to multiple clips.
- As with any major piece of software, there are often multiple ways of doing something. For example, I find that splitting a clip is an easier way to trim it than the trim feature.
PDR 12 has many features I haven’t used, such as the multi-cam feature, 3D, and 4K. In fact, it has so many features I’ll probably never use them all.
How many stars do I give PDR 12? Well, it does frustrate me sometimes, so not five, but maybe four and a half. Okay, given the superb rendering that’s quite an improvement over PDR 11, maybe four and three quarters.
To be fair, I’ll point out that CyberLink recently added me to their “Most Valued Professional” (MVP) program (see here). They approached me based on all the videos I put on YouTube. I got a cool tee shirt. There are other perks too. They specifically asked me to review PDR, and made it clear they wanted both the good and the bad. You’re reading that review.