You may have already heard of CyberLink PowerDVD, a very capable DVD decoder software that plays DVD media on your PC (recently reviewed by ivplay). CyberLink has produced a number of software applications including PowerDVD Copy, PowerVCR, PowerCinema, MediaShow and more, available in a Free Trial Download at http://www.gocyberlink.com.
Recommend this product?
The MediaShow 3 (Medi@Show3) is the new release from CyberLink. It is basically a slideshow software program that enables one to quickly put together a presentation paper, photo album or video clips in the form of a slideshow. The final result can be made into a number of formats:
1. Film File
2. Distributable File
3. Screen Saver
4. WEB publishing (HTML, Dynamic HTML)
5. VCD/DVD/mpg Formatted File
Medi@Show3 can handle (import) a number of file formats that include
Image: BMP, JFF, JPE, JPEG, JPG, JTF, PCD, PCT, PCX, PNG, TGA, WMF
Audio: MIDI, MP3, WAV, AudioCD
Video: AVI, DAT (MPEG-1), MPE, MPEG, MPG
I often put together photo images (scanned from slide film) in the form of a slideshow. In the past, I have used Roxio's PhotoSuite 5.0 and Sonic MyDVD for this type of project. I am eager to see what the MediaShow 3 has to offer. This software program is available from CyberLink in several formats: retail boxed or download version. The price varies for each; the download version is, of course, cheaper. The copy that I'm reviewing is the download version. It is not really a big file, only about 27MB, but downloading via a dial-up took me more than three hours; and I did this early in the morning when the web traffic was presumably light.
CyberLink makes two system hardware and software suggestions for MediaShow 3.
CPU: Pentium II 450MHz or Athlon AMD 500MHz for VCD; Pentium II 700MHz or Athlon AMD 700MHz for DVD recording
HDD: 1GB for VCD/SVCD or 10GB for DVD
Screen Resolution: 800x600, 16-bit color
Operating System: Windows 98SE/Me
Misc: CD-RW or DVD-RW burner, Microphone
CPU: Pentium III 800MHz or Athlon AMD 700MHz for VCD; Pentium III 1GHz or Athlon AMD 1GHz for DVD recording
RAM: 256MB DDR
HDD: 3GB for VCD/SVCD or 15GB for DVD
Screen Resolution: 1024x768, 32-bit color
Operating System: Windows 2000/XP
Misc: CD-RW or DVD-RW burner, Microphone
Note: There is a list of DVD-RW/+RW burners at cyberlink's web site. You may want to check to see if your DVD burner is compatible with Medi@Show3. I have a LiteOn LDW-411S (same as 401S) and is recognized by Medi@Show3. CyberLink did not list any compatible CD-RW burners. I suspect Medi@Show3 supports the majority of them; it detects my LiteOn LTR-40125S and I can author slideshow on VCD.
Working with large image files requires more RAM and high-speed processor to ease the work flow, particularly on processing time and handling. Since Windows XP (or Windows 2000) requires a good amount of system memory and high-speed CPU, it is not surprising that we should at least have 512MB RAM and CPU in the order of 2GHz. For this reason, I still think CyberLink's recommendation is on the conservative side.
I have tested the response and processing ability of the software on two machines:
Biostar M7NCD motherboard, AMD Athlon XP 2200 1.8GHz CPU, 256MB DDR266 RAM, ATI Radeon 7000 64MB Video Card, Windows 2000; with resolution set at 1024x768 24-bit color.
Abit AI7 u-GURU motherboard, Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU, 1024MB DDR400 RAM, ATI Radeon 9200SE 128MB Video Card, Windows XP; with resolution set at 1024x768 32-bit color.
and found the MediaShow 3 perform much better on the Abit AI7 machine. In the end, you dont really have to buy a new and fast PC in order to use CyberLink MediaShow 3. I am merely implying that with a highly capable PC system, your work is much more productive and pleasant.
Software installation was quite straightforward. The downloaded file is an executable format; double-clicking on the icon will launch the installation. A language selection was asked, followed by an agreement license for the end user, and product-key code needed to be typed in. The installed files occupy disk space less than 30MB. Any partition will be sufficient. However, the software also asks to select a working directory; and this directory is anticipated to become very large. Choosing a data partition or large partition (presumably outside the system partition) is advisable, to avoid consuming disk space in the system partition.
Features, Functions and Controls
This program is quite easy to use, every component and operation is reasonably intuitive, and does not require a lot of time to master. For the sake of completeness, let me take a moment to describe its features.
The program has only one interface (window screen) to work with at all time, either editing, viewing or exporting (saving). The large central portion of the window screen is the library that holds all work images or files. This library incorporates a few special functions (located at its lower left and right corners) that allow options for viewing all the image files.
On the left side of the window screen, there is a slide-in/slide-out control panel that can be activated by placing the mouse pointer over it. This panel houses all the important control functions, such as start a new work, open a file, save, export, import, record sound, print, playback settings, system settings, on-line help, etc. Each one is represented by the common recognizable icon.
For audio, there are two separate options to insert sound. One can be used as background music and the other as a narration.
On the right side are the Effects mode and Effects buttons, such as transitions, text, audio, masking, image enhancement. Each of these Effects buttons is operational only when an image in the storyboard is selected. The Effects mode button alternates between the library thumbnails and a single selected image. In the single selected image mode, all the Effects buttons are operational. Also, in this mode, there is a display duration time slidebar underneath the image, adjustable from 0-60 seconds (default setting at 3 sec). This is the time interval between every displayed image/page during playback or view mode.
At the bottom of the window screen is the storyboard section. Images in the library can be moved into the storyboard in several ways (by a drag-and-drop or control-key select-all in combination with a right-click). Within the storyboard, images can be moved around by a drag-and-drop. On the left side of the storyboard are the View and storyboard Scroll Right/Left buttons. On the right side of the storyboard, there are links to CyberLink web site and CyberLink MediaShow 3 introduction page.
Using the MediaShow 3
My first project was to put together photo images in the form of a dynamic slideshow with background music and narration. Medi@Show3 begins with its Film Wizard panel with two options: create a new Film file or open an existing Film file. For a new project, a file name must be created and pointed to a desired folder or directory (preferably the one Medi@Show3 has created when installation). In the system settings, transition effect, text effect, screen resolutions and work directory can be selected. Then images can be imported. They can be from a folder or a TWAIN device.
Medi@Show3 initially detected my Nikon film scanner as a TWAIN device, but could not activate the scan software. I had to reinstall my Nikon Scan software (don't know why...). Contrary to Nikon's file saving options, Medi@Show3 offers its own file format to save the scanned image in jpg, bmp, tga, pcx, wmf, or pct. It closes the scan application after placing the image into the library. To import another image via TWAIN, we must repeat the same process again...time consuming. The best way is to prepare images in a folder ready to import.
Background audio file can also be imported at this time. I then move all the images into the storyboard. Using the Effects buttons, I select my desired transition style applied to each image. An image can be enhanced or manipulated using the masking or enhance mode, if so desired.
CyberLink has put together some of the best transition effects I have ever seen. For example, page curl or page roll transitions create poetic impact on a photo image. Blur (down) effect makes another nice transition in a flower vignette. Typhoon adds dynamic effects to the transition. There are more...and most certainly the fade effect is the classic one. The transition effect rate can vary from 0-10 sec, with default setting at 2 sec.
Medi@Show3 detected my onboard sound card automatically. With a microphone plugged into the mic port, an audio can be recorded and saved in WAV format. Recording level can be adjusted to the desired intensity. I had done some experimenting with it, and found the recorded audio was too distorted during playback. It could be from a low quality microphone or sound card. I tested recording sound from an AudioCD, and confirmed that sound quality reproduced by MediaShow was somewhat less than original. It is obvious that analog sound recording is not the most viable method.
The recorded audio file (narration) can be attached to the selected image in the storyboard. The trick is to get the audio file (its running time) to synchronize with the time interval of the displayed image. Otherwise, audio file will loop again to fit the time frame or extend to the next one (if the display time interval is shorter than the audio running time). It was not difficult at all, just a trail-and-error that could be perfected. I found it quite easy to produce the desired effect.
My finished work can be exported into several desired formats: Film file, Executable file, Screen Saver, VCD/DVD, WEB (HTML or DHTML).
Film format/ I first exported it in Film file format. This is the simplest type, but playback requires Medi@Show3 software application. With an extension .flm, this file is Medi@Show3's native format. It can be re-opened, viewed, edited and re-exported (to a different format).
VCD/DVD file/ I exported the file in MPEG format. In VCD mode, only file and burn-to-disc options are available, while file, dvd-folder and burn-to-disc are available for DVD. In mpg format, all images and audio files are grouped into one large file. Exporting this file containing 30 images with a 12-sec time interval took about 4 minutes. The exported file can be viewed on any DVD decoder software application. I tested it on my WinDVD Player 6 Gold Edition and RealPlayer ver. 10. I am quite positive (but haven't tried it yet) that it will play on PowerDVD.
In VCD/DVD export mode, several video formats are available. In DVD, there are Long, Standard and High Quality NTSC or PAL. In VCD, in addition to NTSC and PAL, there are High Resolution Slideshow for both formats. Even though, both DVD file and folder can play on a DVD media software application, there is a slight distinction between them. File is exported in mpg, while folder is DVD ready that contains both video and audio in separate folders (AUDIO_TS & VIDEO_TS), containing IFO, BUP and VOB files. DVD file can be viewed on a multimedia software application as well as Medi@Show3 program, but DVD folder can only be viewed on DVD media player or multimedia application.
Medi@Show3 can also burn project onto a disc. This process takes longer, since Medi@Show3 has to perform video production and disc authoring before project can be burnt onto disc (a three-step process). But the finished product can be viewed on any home DVD players (those that can read writeable or rewriteable DVDs or CDs). I have tested burning a couple rewriteable DVDs (for DVD) and CDs (for VCD), and the results are quite good. The only problem is that Medi@Show3 does not provide any options on chapter navigation.
Distributable file/ This is probably the most popular file. Being "distributable," this file is viewable on any PC without Medi@Show3 software application. The down side is that the file can consume a lot of disk space, depending on the length of the slide show, and takes longer to process. It is one of my favorites, because I can give this file anyone who wants to see my slide show on the PC.
HTML/DHTML/ Exporting my finished project as HTML or Dynamic HTML is quite simple; this is perhaps Medi@Show3's best available features. Medi@Show3 copies all the image files into the specified folder. It also creates an HTML source code for every tag image file. I took a peak in the HTML source code. It appeared that the source generator was from the previous version (Medi@Show 2.0). The image files were renamed using numeral for redirection. Needless to mention, in HTML, its display mechanics is static and requires pressing a key to move on to the next display page, whereas DHTML display file is automatic; its display page progresses to the end, then stops.
Screen Saver/ Medi@Show3 can export the finished project into a screen saver program. This file appears to be executable. The manual did not explain about setting the screen saver or how to get it to work. However, once exported, this file contains most functions operational with a right-click button, which contains: Test, Configure, Install, Create Shortcut on Desktop, etc. The Test option will execute the screen saver, just like a slide show. To set screen saver mode, the Install option should be selected, and it will bring up the desktop's Display Properties with the screen saver file name selected and ready to apply with just an OK click button.
MS Office 97 PowerPoint Presentation
My second project was to produce a presentation slideshow, using files created by MS Office 97 PowerPoint, in combination with some photo and graph images in JPEG. PowerPoint file must be stored as individual page either in JPEG or PowerPoint Presentation format, or Medi@Show3 wont import it. The process of arranging the presentation is similar to the first project. This time I exported the finished project into WEB page as well as distributable and Film file.
Compared to the slideshow involving images, this one is very easy to process. Conversion was quick. In addition to HTML and DHTML exporting, there is also an internet streaming format. Medi@Show3 can be a quick solution to help someone post WEB page on the fly.
Slideshow of Video Clip
Medi@Show3 does not really support video application (or author video per se), but it can import several types of video files and compose them, and/or combine with image files, into a slideshow. My Roxio VideoWave Editor can capture video from my Hi-8mm camcorder via a video capture card (and audio via a sound card) and store it in AVI format. Then Medi@Show3 can import it for manipulation. The audio that comes attached with the AVI video clip cannot be deactivated, unless the video was captured without its audio.
These video clips can be viewed using Medi@Show3 software. However, unlike image files, they cannot be exported. I had done a combined slideshow consisting of still images and AVI video files, exporting it to DVD file. When played on my WinDVD Player 6, only still images were displayed. Nonetheless, Medi@Show3 can allow you to preview your captured video files.
Discussion and Conclusion
Initially, I had a number of problems with Medi@Show3. Features like burn-to-disc, dvd-folder, screen saver did not work. Sometimes the final function did not respond and sometimes Medi@Show3 came back with an "Export Failed!" message. It turned out that the file I downloaded earlier got contaminated or some kind, during download. After another download and reinstalling, the program works just as CyberLink claims. Medi@Show3 is designed to be quite simple to use, but when any problems occur, it chooses to be discrete about it and less informative.
I found the user's manual somewhat helpful, since it merely provides a step-by-step approach on how to use the available functions and nothing more. For example, during preview, the entire screen is switched to preview mode; and it appears that you have to wait for the preview to finish. However, if you realize that you want to edit the slide and don't want to wait for it to finish, pressing the ESC key (or double-click on the left mouse's button) will exit the preview and back into edit mode. The 52-page manual did not specify this.
Medi@Show3 has a phone help support as well as on-line support. Technical phone support is only available to registered users. According to the manual, it appears that the phone support center is based in Taiwan (listed its local time -- GMT+8:00). I did not make any phone call; so I cannot comment further. However, I visited the on-line technical support. There are a list of questions and answers, and if you still cannot find the answers you are looking for, you can submit your questions and they will probably respond to them. I personally think that the Medi@Show3 is very simple enough that the chance of having unresolved problems on your own is very slim.
Medi@Show3 supports virtually all kinds of image formats, except TIFF. It makes perfect sense since the executable file will take an enormous amount of disk space and much longer processing time. The problem is that all my scanned images are in TIFF format, and I had to convert them into JPEG (and in reduced resolution from the original, using PhotoShop 7.0). (I prefer images in TIFF because they contain superior quality in a photo image; TIFF preserves every aspect of the photo.)
For PowerPoint presentation in the form of a slide show or WEB format, I think MS Office Suite, StarOffice or OpenOffice Suite in the Linux environment, are cable of providing the same level of constructive and productive application. The only difference is that Medi@Show3 can export slide show in an executable format, which is quite advantageous.
Medi@Show3 is probably the best slide show program I have used. It is not sophisticated; yet it is capable of providing and producing top quality presentation with style. I like the fact that Medi@Show3 provides two channels for inserting an audio file, one as a background and the other as a narration (or foreground). The fact that it offers several export formats makes Medi@Show3 quite a versatile program. That alone is a selling point for me.
Unlike other software programs that offer a "Suite" of applications, Medi@Show3 has only one application to offer: slideshow. And it does it very well. The procedure is user's friendly and extremely simple; anyone can do it.
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