Photos on CD & DVD 2.0 Deluxe

Reviewed by: Lianne Reitter, September 2004, send e-mail
Published by: Magix, go to the web site
Requires: Pentium II/266MHz or faster, 256MB RAM, 300MB free hard drive space for program files, 700MB-4.7GB free hard drive space for storage of temporary files during CD or DVD burning, Windows 98, 98SE, ME, 2000 or XP
MSRP: UK£24.99 (v3 also available - £24.99; US product is called PhotoStory on CD & DVD - $39.99)

My father is a terrific photographer and has been for a very long time. One of his great pleasures is putting together slide shows of his travels to Europe and Africa. He goes all out too, with a proper mixer for music, narration and a recorded click track that allows him to use two slide projectors to cross fade between slides. This turns an otherwise boring prospect into a real viewing pleasure that is enjoyed by family, friends and the occasional community group.

Now Dad is an analog kind of guy—after all he's been at this for a long time. He does however like the idea of being able to share his shows by simply giving a CD or DVD to friends and family both here and abroad and not having to bring everyone to his home for a private viewing. But getting into the digital side of things means a big change. It's one thing to buy a computer and a digital camera, and another to bring the whole thing together in the same effective way as he has with his analog hardware over the years. And with all due respect to my dad, the learning curve on anything computer related has to be, well, a flat line. Thankfully, Photos on CD & DVD 2.0 Deluxe is available because it simplifies an otherwise unwieldy task.

The program's interface is simple and will be familiar to anyone who has looked at similar offerings. A good sized viewing screen sits to the left and a standard file tree is to the right showing the drives of your computer, your My Pictures and My Music folders and the program's folders for easy access to different borders and photo effects. Below these two areas is the storyboard which forms the assembly and working area for your slide show.

Step one is as easy as finding the photos you want to include in your show and either double clicking on each, or dragging them onto the storyboard. All popular image file formats are supported. Each photo will present itself surrounded by icons for easy manipulation. Rotate the photo, add text, zoom or my favourite: Pan. This simple feature puts to shame anything Dad ever did (sorry Pop). If you have ever seen a great historical documentary where the whole show consists only of still images, you'll know what I mean. It's called the Ken Burns effect. Ken Burns is a film maker who has been making award winning documentary films for over two decades. Many of his works have been aired on the United States Public Broadcasting System (PBS), a non-profit media enterprise that provides quality and educational programming to the American public as well as abroad. Since making his Academy Award nominated "Brooklyn Bridge" in 1981, Burns has gone on to produce other acclaimed documentaries including "The Civil War" "Jazz" and "Mark Twain" all insightful and audience-captivating. In dealing with mostly historical material (all of which predates film and video, hence the absence of stock footage), Burns uses many still images in his works. Employing a technique of panning and zooming, he adds dynamic impact to the still images, literally bringing the historical subjects to life. This technique of panning and zooming over still images has become popularly known as the "Ken Burns Effect" and has been used in many cinematography applications. It's remarkable to experiment with in Photos of CD & DVD Deluxe and tremendously effective.

There are many more effects to choose from including some very nice 3D transitions. Using transitions is another effect that makes a slide show less of a strain on the eye. Photos on CD & DVD defaults to a straight cut transition and an 8 second display time for each photo but each are easily changed for each picture. Professionals most often stick with the straight cut but I like to change the transition to the cross fade. I use it as a standard transition as I like its smooth movement from one shot to the next. You don't have to stick with the simple stuff though; you can get creative with closing doors, raising blinds, page turn effects and dozens more.

One notable convenience included in the program is something called Photo Clinic, Magix's photo editing software. You can color correct photos, adjust brightness & contrast, and remove red-eye after photos are laid out on the storyboard. Photo Clinic has a lot of Photoshop-like features and you can even access your Adobe plug-ins. About the only thing you can't do in Photo Clinic is crop the picture and that's a shame. You can get around it by masking out the portion of the picture you want to keep and then using the cut or copy command and then the Save As command, but then you have to go back and delete the first picture in order to load in the picture you just saved and frankly just describing this gives me a headache. I can't imagine having to repeat the procedure for more than one or two pictures in any one project.

Adding music is very easy. You can choose songs (MP3 or WMA files) of any length because the software will automatically fade a song at the end of the slide show. If you're not into digital audio, the software is supplied with several well composed pieces of background music. Adding voice narration is just as simple. All you need is a microphone, some peace and quiet and a few choice things to say. You can record the track as many times as you wish until you are happy with the results or edit specific sections by switching to Timeline mode. One small part of a voice track was just too quiet and the background music was drowning it out. With a simple drag of the mouse I was able to fade that small part of the voice track down to nothing at all, virtually deleting the item without having to cut anything out or re-recording the entire track.

Photos on CD & DVD includes a CD/DVD burning component which lets you store your slide shows in Video CD (VCD) format or as a multimedia DVD complete with a navigation menus. You can choose your menu layout, the background graphic, text style and chapter composition. It really makes your final product look like you took it to a professional and paid hundreds of dollars for it. As I found out quickly, CD & DVD burning works beautifully if you read the clear and concise instructions in the product documentation. We also recommend staying away from DVD+/-RW for this sort of application. How good are the results? Dad sat up and took notice for sure and that's the best sign of all. Recommended.

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