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Review: Ulead MediaStudio Pro 7
Posted Jul 1, 2003 Print Version     « previous Page 2of 2

Real-time preview has become a key differentiating feature for video editors, with vendors attempting to prove that you don't need hardware DV cards to achieve real-time performance. Ulead is a leader here, with both more preview modes and the ability to preview more layers of effects without dropping frames.

Like Vegas, MSP can preview out the FireWire port, though lacking Vegas' lovely split screen, before-and-after display. However, MSP also supports real-time preview to an analog monitor via a board like Matrox's Parhelia, so you can put your camcorder on the shelf where it belongs. Those considering this option should check Ulead's Web site for tutorials on getting the board up and running, since it is a touch complicated. Once installed, however, you'll be rewarded with real-time previews from the timeline and when setting controls for video effects and transitions.

MSP offers two preview modes: high-quality playback, which renders the project before preview, and instant playback, for real-time preview. Instant playback has several controls that impact pre-display rendering time, which ultimately depends upon the complexity of the effects used in your project.

At one extreme, you can set instant playback to start playing immediately, irrespective of effect complexity, which could lead to dropped frames. Or, you can choose one of four settings, directing MSP to render any effects on the timeline at or above the selected levels. You can also control how much of the timeline MSP "pre-fetches" into memory before starting preview, which promotes smoother playback.

If it all sounds complicated that's because it is, except that on our Intel 3.06gHz system, we operated at full bore, previewing effects instantaneously with minimal pre-fetch. Our most complex project involved four video layers, the background video, a blue screen overlay, a spinning logo, and a title with motion effects, as well as two audio tracks. Preview was instantaneous and near flawless, with one or two dropped frames during a 3D transition. Of course, your mileage may vary based on processor and graphics card, but users with hot systems will be rewarded with hardware-like performance without the expense or hassle of installing a DV card.

PremiereVegasUlead MSPPercentage (MSP vs. Premiere)
1. Render 20-second blue screen0:451:580:3578%
2. Add spinning logo1:082:500:5479%
3. Write to tape (one-minute project with preceding elements and color correction)2:303:582:1187%
4. Change transition0:162:510:16100%
5. Render project to MPEG-2--First7:368:032:1129%
6. Render project to MPEG-2--Second7:397:190:276%
all times in minutes:seconds.

Table 1, above, says all there is to say about rendering performance. Ulead clearly committed significant resources to accelerating the rendering process, winning all benchmark tests, particularly when encoding to MPEG-2. Most impressively, MSP was the only vendor to use smart rendering with MPEG-2 files, cutting re-encoding times down to the bare minimum. In terms of quality, the files were indistinguishable from Premiere MPEG-2s rendered in and Vegas.

Note that during our first rendering trials, audio levels were mysteriously down on our background audio track. When we discussed this with Ulead representatives, they advised us that this problem had been addressed in a soon-to-be-available update. As with all programs, check for updates immediately after installing MSP.

Regarding the other modules, we spent no time with video paint, focusing on more traditional video capture and editing capabilities. The audio editor is capable if you don't have a separate program, and while character generation was useful, it ultimately should be folded into the main program's titling capabilities. As mentioned earlier, Movie Factory is a consumer-oriented authoring program; serious DVD publishers should consider Ulead's new $795 StudioQuartet bundle ($895 after introductory period), which includes MSP, DVD Workshop, Ulead's excellent image editor PhotoImpact, and Cool3D Studio, a great title and object animator.

So where does this leave us? To be sure, performance cures many interface ills, and MSP's rendering speed and preview capabilities are extraordinary. Still, if you find yourself doing lots of color correction, image pans, or other motion effects, you'll be disappointed with MSP's interface. On the other hand, most other interface issues are grease spots and exposed springs you'll soon learn to work around and live with.

In our quest for the perfect video editor, we don't want much, just Vegas' precision and audio capabilities, Premiere's titling and general interface integrity, and MSP's performance. More to the point, neither Vegas nor MSP proved perfect, leaving a clear window of opportunity for Adobe to regain the lead when they update Premiere later this year.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Microsoft Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, XP
  • Intel Pentium III or equivalent system (500mHz CPU)
  • 128MB RAM (256 or higher recommended)
  • 300MB available HDD space
  • CD or DVD-ROM drive

Recommended for reliable real-time performance:

  • Pentium 4, 2gHz CPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 7200RPM IDE dedicated HDD
  • Dual head (AV out) graphics card for output


Adobe Systems, Inc.
Matrox Graphics, Inc.
Sony Pictures Digital (Sonic Foundry Vegas)

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