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Ulead VideoStudio 9.0
Video-editing tools have to appeal to a wider range of users than most programs. At one extreme are the nontechies who simply want to burn their videos to DVD and aren't concerned with how it gets there; at the other are the dedicated hobbyists who demand professional tools and results without the professional price tag. Ulead VideoStudio 9.0 is better at meeting this wide audience than any other program we've seen. This version caters to nontechies with a new burning wizard that creates attractive results with little effort. It also satisfies video nuts with high-end features such as chroma key and ripple editing, which make it easy to create polished movies. Ulead's VideoStudio 9.0 combines the ease of with a better feature set. While VideoStudio 9.0 lacks the sophisticated audio-mixing tools of , it's far more stable. This is an impressive app and one that we feel confident recommending. Installation is quick and easy with the Ulead wizard. You'll be ready to launch the program in minutes, but we recommend that you explore the Bonus CD first. The CD offers extra DVD menu templates--a must since the basic program is light on templates--and video tutorials. You'll also find video clips and image backgrounds.
When you start the program, you'll see icons for its three different sections: DV-to-DVD Wizard for quick results; Movie Wizard, which adds more options but still keeps the process simple and streamlined; and VideoStudio Editor, which contains all the advanced features. We were happy to see that you can easily take your project from one tool to another, since all three work together. We bet that for every amateur filmmaker who spends hours tweaking his or her creation, there are at least two others who just want to burn their videos to DVD quickly and be done with it. For these basic users, Ulead has added a helpful component to VideoStudio 9.0: the new DV-to-DVD Wizard. The Wizard's QuickScan feature gives you a list of all the scenes on your DV tape in minutes. Check off the ones you want and click a button to burn them to a disc. It makes DVD creation incredibly easy and will likely be the most used part of the program.
Most of VideoStudio 9.0's new features are in the advanced VideoStudio Editor. Even here, Ulead has kept a good mixture of the advanced and the intuitive, so while there are several options for adding advanced effects, navigating around the program is easy. As before, tabs along the top let you select the part of the program you'd like to use, while a timeline with multiple display options slides along the bottom. We were impressed with the new ripple editing feature, which lets you pair items, such as a video with audio effects, and have them remain in sync even as you add or delete other content. We were also impressed with the new chroma key overlay effect (also known as blue screen), which lets you film a subject against a one-color background, then switch in a background image or video later. While you may need to dig into the instruction manual the first time you try it, setting up the chroma key is simple and fun. This is the first time we've seen the chroma key feature in a consumer editing tool.
Other new features include flash animation overlay support which lets you insert a flash cartoon into your video (a few samples are provided), autosave, and 16:9 wide-screen support. Ulead also added a few new video filters, such as ghost motion and strobe. Unfortunately, the filters in VideoStudio 9.0 are unimpressive and look junky. We like that the pan-and-zoom effect is now offered for slide shows. Unlike with , you can completely customize the pan-and-zoom effect on each picture when you're in the VideoStudio Editor.
Moviemaking always involves some waiting, but VideoStudio 9.0 is a quick performer, whether importing, creating slide shows, or burning DVDs. We had no trouble burning discs, and the application never crashed or froze up in our testing. The app supports all standard disc types, including double-layer DVDs, and it can also output your files for Web streaming, cell phone streaming (small 15fps files), or as Windows screensavers. You won't find DivX support, though, and inputting or outputting MPEG-4 files requires a separate plug-in called Ulead VideoStudio MPEG-4 Plug-in. It's available from Ulead's Web site but, unfortunately, costs $29.99.Ulead offers a nice array of support options, although you might have to dig around a little to find what you want. To see the number for the free phone support (it's not a toll-free number, but the help is free), go to the tech-support page from the top navigation menu. The line is staffed weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. The wait time is short, and the people answering are knowledgeable. The individual product support pages include links for product updates, a knowledge database, Web forums, and e-mail support.