Budget video editing has never had it so good. With the capabilities of an average PC now easily able to cope with the demands of cutting, overlaying and playing back video edits in real time, the competition among providers vying to offer the best features for the best price – along with ease of use – has really heated up.

That’s great news for editors, but the problem still remains of which option to go for – which is more important, in-house effects and pre-prepared style templates, or in-depth functionality allowing greater creativity? Ultimately, you have to take a look at what’s on offer and decide what suits you best, but PowerDirector enjoys a decent reputation, offering the ability to make good edits without a steep learning curve, while it also offers a fair amount of style templates to experiment with and some decent customisation.

Design and layout

The main screen at start up is the editing setup, made up of a preview screen at the top-right, the timeline along the bottom and, at top-left, a tabbed screen gives access to the libraries of media (video, images and sound), video effects, picture-in-picture effects, titles, transitions, audio-mixing capabilities, voiceovers, and panes for the addition of chapter markers and subtitles for DVD preparation.

Along the top of the screen are buttons that show you where you are in the edit process: Capture, Edit, Produce and Create Disc. By default, you start at the Edit stage, but clicking on Capture prompts the program to look for all the attached audio and video devices. 

If you have a DV camcorder already attached by FireWire it should pick this up immediately and you can import footage using the program to control the cam. Alternatively, if you have a webcam connected to the PC, the program should also pick this up, and you can actually start recording MPEG files from this into PowerDirector directly.

The media library at the Edit stage allows you to import video already stored on the system, as well as any images and sound clips you want to use. We had some trouble importing clips that weren’t shot withPAL settings – the program warns that non-standard video will be converted to PAL with some loss in quality, but some clips shot with mobile phones and stills cameras that we tried to import failed when dragged to the timeline. Footage shot with a camcorder or ripped from disc imported with no problem.

Features

The timeline is clearly laid out with a Video track, Effects track, Picture-in-Picture track, Title track, Voice track and Music track. The Video and Picture-in-Picture tracks make it easy to understand the process of overlaying video, and there are plenty of options for customising the effect using the PiP Designer.

Transparency and motion as well as size are all fully customisable and the Chromakey effect is especially good for making certain areas of colour in the PiP video transparent, making this quite a sophisticated overlay effects editor. 

The split audio function for clips on the main video track combined with the lock function for all tracks can be manipulated to give professional style J- and L-cuts, where the audio from the second clip comes in before the video, making the transition smoother and less noticeable to viewers.

There is a large array of effects on offer in PowerDirector, and many are genuinely useful – although the more flashy effects are best kept to a minimum. The best thing about them is the level of customisation possible. 

Each effect has its own set of parameters that can be individually adjusted to give the best results. On our fairly modest system the preview had no trouble playing back all the effects we tried in real time, so it shouldn’t be a strain on an average PC for you to get an idea of what each particular effect will look like.

The remaining tabs for audio, titles and transitions are all self explanatory and well featured, with templates providing a decent starting point for customising your own titles and effects.

CyberLink provides its Magic suite of automatic effects with PowerDirector – Magic Movie Wizard and Magic Music – as well as associated effects to clean up shaky video or enhance colours. Movie Wizard puts clips together in its own style, and Magic Music fits a soundtrack to the length and pace of your own finished edits. 

The clean-up effects and Magic Music are arguably the most useful, as these add to your own work, whereas the Wizard is fairly random in the way it puts clips together. Still, it’s a good example of what a project could look like, and may give you ideas for different editing tricks to try.

Performance

Overall performance is good, with previews of edits and effects playing back fine on our fairly modest system, and all parts of the interface working as they should. Everything on PowerDirector is clearly laid out so you shouldn’t have any problems finding your way around the program. The only real problem we encountered was when using large imagesfor DVD menu backgrounds. This caused some jitters in playback but nothing a higher-specced system wouldn’t cope with.

Conclusion

The look and feel of PowerDirector 6 is great, making the process of putting clips together simple and easy, while offering the possibility to do more advanced edits at the same time. For the price, there’s a huge amount of features and functionality on offer, not least because there’s a fully fledged DVD menu editor and burning application included, but also because of the customisation possibilities for effects, titles, transitions and audio. 

PowerDirector 6 offers everything the beginner needs to create impressive-looking DVDs and video clips for sharing and uploading, and it should stay the course for anyone wanting to explore more advanced features of video editing too.