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4 video editors: Pro results for ambitious amateurs

By Serdar Yegulalp
April 26, 2013 06:00 AM ET

CyberLink PowerDirector 11

CyberLink Corp.
Price: $54.99; Ultra edition, $79.99; Ultimate edition, $103.99; Ultimate Suite edition, $199.99
OS: Windows XP and later

CyberLink PowerDirector 11 takes some of the high-end features from Adobe's and Sony's products, and wraps them in an interface reminiscent of Corel's for ease of use -- right down to the "Capture / Edit / Produce / Create Disc" workflow menu along the top of the screen. While the results aren't as full-bore professional as the Adobe and Sony suites, they're still impressive, especially at these prices.

The friendly approach is clear from the beginning. When you launch the program, you are given three options. First, you can run the full-featured version of the program. You can also fire up a stripped-down Easy Editor, which builds movies according to existing themed templates. Finally, you can launch an even more basic slideshow-creation tool. (You can always open projects created with one of the simpler wizards in the full editor later for more precise work.)

CyberLink PowerDirector 11
CyberLink PowerDirector 11's "content-aware editing" can automatically apply fixes for common issues such as shaky video or bad lighting.

When you import HD video into a project, PowerDirector offers, like other programs here, to create "shadow files" (low-resolution proxies) to make editing easier. This is especially useful, because PowerDirector can support AVCHD 2.0 files and video up to 4K resolution; it can also make use of GPU-based acceleration, such as AMD's OpenCL.

However, PowerDirector doesn't support Redcode, and can produce videos only at NTSC or PAL frame rates: 25, 29.97, 30, 50 and 60 FPS. By contrast, Corel VideoStudio lets you work with and export 24 FPS footage, (although CyberLink confirmed with me it plans to add 24 FPS support in the next version of PowerDirector). On the other hand, PowerDirector has remarkably thorough support for 3D, including the ability to export 3D video to YouTube.

PowerDirector's most touted feature is the way it automates the editing process via content-analysis tools. The Magic Cut function, for instance, automatically creates an edited clip from source footage by letting you select the types of things you want to see preserved, such as "scene with moving objects" or "scenes with people speaking." I've used these tools in previous versions of PowerDirector and, while they're both no substitute for native editing expertise and need to be experimented with to be useful, they can be a handy way to extract certain types of footage from longer clips without foraging manually.

A similar feature is Content Aware Editing, in which PowerDirector analyzes a given video clip, singles out shots that are stable and well-lit, and offers you the opportunity to fix shots that are shaky or dark. The resulting report is remarkably informative: You see details about the kinds of motion taking place in different parts of the clip -- zooming, panning, the presence of faces, etc. -- and can even see a before-and-after view of applied fixes. Video with camera shake repaired looks a little watery, but is quite comparable to the results I got from the Adobe or Sony products.

The full suite version of PowerDirector includes programs like those that flank Premiere Pro in Adobe Creative Suite. ColorDirector is CyberLink's color-grading tool, which allows more detailed manipulation of colors than what's available in PowerDirector itself, and can also use motion tracking to apply color effects. AudioDirector lets you perform detailed editing on audio, including automatic noise reduction and a fascinating repair tool that lets you use Photoshop-like editing on a waveform. This last is especially good for removing clicks and pops.

The more basic WaveEditor product (which ships with other SKUs of PowerDirector as well) is also included. PhotoDirector is for quick, guided editing of still images, a la Photoshop Elements, or generating slideshows.

Each of these apps cross-integrates with PowerDirector itself: e.g., if you're in PowerDirector and you open a clip for grading in ColorDirector, changes are automatically saved back to the same clip in PowerDirector.

Bottom line

What it lacks in some pro-level features like 24fps editing, PowerDirector makes up for in the edit-automation tools it provides for the less technical user and its support for 3D authoring.

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CyberLink PowerDirector 11 lets you run it in three different modes; there's excellent camera-shake correction; there are other features such as audio restore.

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