Visual Communicator retail price £258 www.seriousmagic.com
¦ Ease 4* ¦ Features 5*¦ Quality 5*
Whenever I show good software to a colleague, he has this habit and disarming knack of telling me he could do ‘that’ using PowerPoint. So I am lining him up to see Visual Communicator (VC), which allows pupils to create high calibre presentations to match the TV news.
Kids will love the fun of this so much they will not notice your strategy to get them presenting ideas in a concise, fast-paced way. And with its pre-made styles and effects, you gain an efficient tool to present book reviews, historical reports or science discoveries.
VC fits a lesson called ‘do me a presentation’. It offers a TV newsroom on a PC and it outputs video to a file, the web or a CD/DVD. You line up the broadcast elements, stills, graphs, captions and backgrounds on a timeline that runs down the screen. What you can add beggars belief and includes video, photos, music files and ‘we-can’t escape-them’ PowerPoints. For each media item you choose a layout like picture-in-picture, or a transition effect where screens peel away or shatter like glass. Surprisingly these effects ran in real-time on my slug of a computer, so there’s efficient software inside.
Alongside the ingredients is your teleprompter that scrolls your script up the screen during recording. You could voice over the visuals but the heart beats faster with a camcorder pointing at you. A webcam costing under £30 works the same, and using a green sheet as a background you can already see or ‘chroma-key’ yourself as the on the spot reporter at historical events, including the re-election of George Bush. Amazingly, you can put yourself in a ‘virtual room’ talk from the plasma screen and experience a missed calling. Whether you’ve any feel for this medium or not, a slick result is not far away.
Despite USA taint from some hilarious anchor-man clips, VC is a fabulous new arrival which my friend now says he could do in Pinnacle Studio. He’s right, Studio’s awesome but this is a tool for a different job so he’ll be working late after the class has gone.
Pinnacle Studio 9
If Pinnacle Studio ranks as one of the easiest of the video editing packages, Studio 9 extends the accolade to the easiest and most versatile package you can buy. With it's lovely intuitive feel Studio was always going to win through. It's about as drag and drop as you can get. Not only this but at each stage of assembling one clip after another, Studio aims to help by showing you just how it's going to look on screen. Add an video effect or a transition of which there are now countless possibilities, and you see quickly what you're getting.
Studio gains merit for a great set of video output options. You can choose your file type - WMV or MPEG or AVI - and you can choose your media as 'file', 'CD' or 'DVD'. This isn't to be sneezed at either because the output features here are robust. Over ages of use Studio's output section has never thrown a complaint or crash. The video input side isn't as good - Studio can't mix parallel tracks running at different frame rates (eg you have clips originated on PAL and NTSC machines), but pretty much all else is possible.
Studio Version 9 Plus, and nine is quite a big number, brings a highly evolved product with green-screen chroma-key effects that put you in some other clip as you talk to the camera. Add the ability to handle pan-and-zoom photoslide shows and you really have got the ability to produce the most awesome video with a handfull of stills and an MP3 music track. For school or home, Studio 9 is unparalled and highly recommended. An upgraded version, called Studio Media Suite adds a massive set of applications to copy DVDs or edit sounds and pictures. If a lot of functionality is what you hanker for this is the one to go for but, if you have all this already, the best buy is the more manageable Studio 9 Plus.
Roger Frost December 2004