Ulead: A Total Video Classic From The Fledgling Years

uvcThe nonlinear editing (NLE) system is an extremely sophisticated bit of computer software. It functions as an input device capturing and storing huge amounts of data. It must perform as a creative tool, with demands that push the limits of computer image manipulation. Finally, it must output that data in a variety of forms and formats, from digital DVDs and Web video to VHS tape.

While hardware is an essential component of any NLE, it is the software that is our gateway to the world of editing, says Jason Willard of Diiva.org, a video standards group. We ask a lot of nonlinear editing software, and perhaps that is why the person purchasing an NLE system deliberates long and hard before making a buying decision. The relationship between an editor and his or her software is one developed over many hours of study and use. We invest a great deal of time and effort in learning the unique set of commands and controls that give us the ability to edit our own videos.

Ulead Systems’ Video Studio 5 is a powerful set of tools that deliver broad flexibility in project development. Batch capture video, arrange it on the Timeline, complete with titles, effects, narration and background music, then output to DV, DVD or Web formats, like Real Player and Windows Media Player. The person seeking sophistication or simplicity can jump into Video Studio ($99.95 MSRP) and assemble full-blown edited productions that can be watched and appreciated in a wide variety of ways.

It is important to remember that nonlinear editing software is but one part of the complete editing system. NLE software must have a video hardware counterpart, the internal or external video card. Capture and playback quality is also determined by hard disk speed. Composite, S-video, and IEEE1394 digital input/output, 7400 RPM drives, high-speed central processors–all of these work together to give you maximum performance. Skimp in any one direction and you may find yourself with a system that has limits to it its capabilities.

The Video Studio 5 workspace is designed to give you the feeling of a console, with your monitor in the center and relevant controls on either side. Familiar icons are used throughout the program. For example, speaker icons represent audio files, and familiar VCR-style controls work for playback and review of Library clips or the project Timeline.

The video Storyboard and project Timeline run across the bottom of the screen. The Timeline consists of a video track, a title track and two audio tracks, all layered one after the other. Linear time is indicated across the top edge from left to right. Captured clips are dragged and arranged on the Timeline. Audio tracks are labeled Voice or Music, to help the novice understand how the editing project is arranged.

You can also view your editing project in a Storyboard view. Here, large icons depict images representing your video clips, helping you to visualize your production and the desired order for the selected scenes along the Timeline.

Across the top of the screen are words representing the important elements of video production: Capture, Titier, Effects, and Finish, the final processing necessary for export to a distribution format. As you choose a heading, the console screen below changes to a command center for each element of production. It also gives you access to the appropriate tracks of the Timeline.

Capturing Video

One could say a nonlinear editing system can be judged by its video capture sophistication, both in the degree of control and in the format options available to the end user. Video Studio 5 meets the challenge with a broad range of options and features.

One of the unique aspects of Video Studio is that it allows you to capture directly to an MPEG format. Capture to MPEG-1 or even MPEG-2, suitable for DVD recording. Video Studio actually gives you a very long list of formats, resolutions, and compression types. By knowing the intended distribution format for your edited video, you can save time and effort by capturing at the proper resolution, image size and compression level, all at same time.

Digitize video through a dedicated video card installed inside your computer or from a USB video device such as Dazzle, from Dazzle Multimedia. Video Studio 5 is DV-ready with direct capture through a digital 1394, or FireWire, interface. In older versions of Video Studio, you could capture up to 20 minutes (4GB) of continuous DV video. Now, with Video Studio 5, capture time is extended even longer. In technical terms, the digitized media is captured in 4MB segments, which are linked or stitched together so that, to the editor and in the clip library, the video appears as one continuous clip.

The 1394 signal permits direct time code control over your camcorder as a playback device. Batch Capture uses time code, so that you can go through your recorded material marking in and out points, then let Video Studio 5 capture and digitize while you do something else. With time code accuracy, you can rest assured that your digitized clips will be exactly as you instructed.

An additional feature of video capture is automatic Scene Detection. With the Mini DV format, when you press Record on your camcorder, the time of day is embedded into the tape. Return to Pause and the clock stops, at least on the tape. When you start recording again, a new time is stored. Video Studio 5 can detect these changes as it digitizes and will automatically split the captured video into separate clips. Your library of clips is generated with almost no effort.

Turn video into stills with the Freeze Frame video-capture button. Images are saved as either JPEGs or as Bitmaps. Still images can be used in your videos or attached to e-mails.

Remember, video capture is directly related to the quality and speed of your hardware, namely the capture/video card and your hard drives. This hardware is your pipeline, and unless it is rated for high volume, there will be some compromises that must be accepted. Video Studio 5 shows how many (if any) video frames are dropped in process of digitizing. When using standard-speed hard drives, it is simply not possible to capture and save the video fast enough, especially at full-screen dimensions. Consequently, you will notice that some frames are dropped and information is lost.

This may or may not present a problem. For example, with Web video, you shouldn’t expect full 30-frame-per-second playback anyway. Understand your capabilities and your limitations to insure satisfactory and realistic results.

Titles

Video Studio uses its own built-in titler, rather than a third-party plug-in. For the person looking for an easy way to get started, a number of pre-made titles are included in the supplied Library. However, a full titler–with extensive control over font style, point size and color–is at your service.

As you scroll through the font options, a display window shows you their appearance, helping you visually choose the best font for your title needs. Titles are anti-aliased for smooth lines and a professional appearance. Choose a font color from the basic color palette, or use the Ulead color picker to select a color, for an almost limitless choice in hue. Add shadows to give your titles dimension, with controls over shadow transparency, soft or hard edge, style and color.

Created titles can be static or made to move about the screen through 16 autoanimated motions that can be applied. Set the duration or length of time for the animation to have the title’s speed appropriately match your creative needs. Scroll (moving across the bottom) and title rolls (up or down the screen) are definitely included. Fade titles in or out as part of an animated transition.

Another unique way to increase your title options is to import video and animations into the Title track. Video Studio 5 will automatically recognize alpha channels and make them transparent, enabling you to overlay animations created in other programs on top of your video. For example, animations from Ulead’s Cool 3D can be inserted in the Title layer for quick-and-easy 3-D moving titles.

Video clips placed in this layer can be scaled to any size for Picture In Picture (PIP) effects. Apply motion effects, or use motion paths, to move the video overlay about the screen.

Effects

There are over 100 different wipes and transition effects, including the ever-important dissolve (called a CrossFade in Video Studio 5). This includes a decent selection of 3-D animated moves, converting the screen image to an object with dimension (like a cube) as it spins away. Many of the wipes and transitions allow you to modify their direction and other parameters, customizing their appearance. Adding a transition to the project Timeline is as simple as dragging an effect between two clips. Choose a duration, the length of time in frames or seconds it takes to transition from screen A to B, then watch a preview.

Video Filters

An impressive new addition to Video Studio 5 is the Video Filter section. Selecting one of the 30 different filters allows you to transform video clips, adjusting things like Color Balance, Hue and Saturation, or you can apply visual distortions, like Ripple or Kaleidoscope, Mirror or Mosaic.

With all Video Studio 5 effects, you are given six or more preset variations that can be applied by a click of a mouse. In addition, you can go into an advanced options menu and manually modify the effect for a custom setting. It is also worth noting that all effects are Pentium 4 optimized for faster rendering, helping to make your editing time more efficient.

The Video Project

Begin by creating a new project, giving it a name and saving to a location on your hard drive. When you first get started, each menu selection triggers a corresponding Help window (Visual Help Guide). It’s like the instruction manual turning to the right page for you, allowing you to learn as you go. Turn off this option after you get familiar with the program.

Capture video and audio to the Project Library, then drag the clips down to the Storyboard in the order that they will appear. To insert a new scene between two existing clips, all you do is drag the new video over the old. Everything moves aside to accommodate the new insertion.

In the Storyboard view, we see the scene icons strung together like links in a chain. A blank square between each clip is awaiting an effect or transition. Choose one and drag it to the Storyboard between the two clips you want to link.

The Storyboard mode lets you quickly assemble, arrange and preview your production. Once you are more or less satisfied with the order of things, switch to the Timeline view. Now, you can get more precise, trimming away excess and unnecessary video at the beginning or end of each clip, tightening up your edits into a polished production.

The Timeline shows your video clips from the Storyboard and their placement in the Video track. Below the Video track is the Title track. Titles you create are stored in their own library. Drag your title from the Library down to the Title track, sliding it up or down along the Timeline to the right spot.

You can also drag and drop audio clips from the Library directly to the Timeline. Choose Voice from the menu bar and the Voice Audio track becomes active. The Library now displays captured WAV files, which can only be inserted on the selected Audio track. Choose Music from the menu bar, and WAV files can be placed on the second Audio track. Again, control their placement along the Timeline by dragging the audio clip and letting go.

Technically, you have a third Audio track, audio linked to captured video. This means you can have narration, music and natural sound all in one project.

Audio track parameters can be modified and adjusted through a mixer control panel. Fade sound in or out, up or down. The mixer lets you boost audio volume up to 500 percent above the original record level or down to zero percent for total muted silence.

The Finish

Although it’s called The Finish, it helps to know what your end goal is as soon as you get started. Is this streaming video for a Web site or a full-screen MPEG-2 video for DVD? Because the Web has become such a popular medium for sharing video, Video Studio 5 gives you direct menu access for quick-and-easy creation of things like Video E-Mails and Electronic Greeting Cards.

Choosing Electronic Greeting Cards creates an executable file (EXE) that not only includes the video clip but also the necessary software for playback. All a person on the receiving end has to do is run the file, and the movie plays back for them. To complete the greeting card effect, Ulead places the movie in an attractive background (your choice).

DVD

One of the important new achievements for Video Studio 5 is its DVD plug-in. Available as $39.95 downloadable option, this authoring tool helps you assemble DVDs (complete with a menu), and it will even allow you to add a video intro that will play before the menu opens. Ulead provides a number of menu templates to make creation easy, as well as attractive.

The Ulead DVD software is one of the only systems that gives you the ability to record directly to DVD without using a separate program. It’s DVD creation to burning in one package. Of course, you’ll need a DVD burner to go with that, and it is expected that prices on these will probably drop into the truly affordable range ($500-$700) sometime this year. Although initially sold as an optional plug-in, Ulead will release a complete DVD version of Video Studio sometime this summer.

Video Studio 5 is a good choice for the digital camcorder owner or for anyone looking for a basic nonlinear editing system. It brings many of the important features of professional NLEs, like batch capture and MPEG-2 output, within reach of those editing as a hobby or semi-professionally. At the same time, its intuitive approach and its Web features make it a good match for the beginning home-video enthusiast. Affordable and effective, Video Studio 5 can take you there!

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