In the brand-new Corel Digital Studio 2010, Corel has turned out a consumer-friendly suite of photo and video editing software; think Apple's iMovie and iPhoto, but for the PC. With it, you can edit photos and videos, burn your media to a variety of disks, create movies and fun photo projects, and share your clips and creations online. There's no shortage of competing multimedia suites for Windows, like Roxio Creator 2010, Nero, and, to some extent, stand-alone freeware like Windows Live Movie Maker and Google's Picasa photo editor. Corel Digital Studio 2010 falls somewhere in the middle of the pack of consumer suites in terms of features, and is on the higher end in terms of usability and design. With the studio's slimmed-down features and an easy-to-use design, Corel is reaching out to new users of the point-and-shoot crowd, and to those who want to upgrade older software.
The suite is an amalgam of four applications: Corel VideoStudio Express 2010 (the video editor), Corel PaintShop Photo Express 2010 (the photo editor), Corel DVD Factory 2010 (the media burner), and Corel WinDVD 2010 (the movie player). It also includes Corel Instant Viewer for displaying images on your computer without editing them. The applications within Corel's suite represent new configurations of previous Corel software, bundled and unified within a single suite. Corel VideoStudio Express 2010, for instance, builds off the technology found in Corel VideoStudio Pro; likewise with Corel PaintShop Photo Express 2010 and a previous Pro version.
Corel Digital Studio 2010 nicely balances clean, accessible design with features powerful enough to create meaningful multimedia projects. The suite is easy to use, tackling the conventional tasks of tidying photos and video clips with aplomb, while also providing canned templates to make creating photo books, movies and discs easy. It also quickly uploads your media to Flickr, YouTube and Facebook, and can copy your media files to devices like the iPhone and PSP. But while Corel Digital Studio is packed with everyday tools, oversights are impossible to avoid in a package intended to keep things simple. It lacks some of the sophisticated photo- and video-editing tools one would expect from a premium suite, though it does nail many commonly used features.
At just over a gigabyte, Corel Digital Studio 2010 is not a program to install lightly. Although it will run indiscriminately on XP, Vista and Windows 7 machines, Corel recommends a 2GHz processor or higher, 4GB of free hard-drive space, plus 2GB of RAM, and 256MB of VGA VRAM (the video card). You can get by with half of both RAM counts, according to Corel's specifications, but the dual-core processor is key. The suite will still install on lesser machines, but you may not be able to access all the video tools as a result. Installation took between 10 and 15 minutes on each computer — we tested on a Vista desktop and on a high-powered Vista laptop with a 32-bit, 2.33GHz Intel Centrino Duo processor and 3GB of RAM. In addition to the four main applications, Corel comes with a desktop gadget that includes quick-link icons to easily switch among the apps.
If you're running Corel Digital Studio 2010 on Windows 7, you'll notice that the suite takes advantage of Windows 7 optimisations, like jump lists, and libraries that group together related content across the system. The suite is compatible with Windows Touch computers.
Interface and features
The first time you fire up one of the apps, Corel scans your computer for any media already stored on your hard drive. You can also import media from various sources, including a camera, a video camera, or a memory card; a mobile phone or a thumb drive (known in the app as Other Devices); and a webcam or a scanner. Note that if the media on your flash drive is stored in folders, you'll have to manually browse for files within Corel's import screen. We wish the app would automatically load them instead.
Corel has given its four applications a dark, polished look that's consistent from app to app. With the exception of the WinDVD video player, each one opens with a media gallery; that is, a collection of thumbnail images of your photos and videos. These thumbnails are bordered by menus and buttons that are easy to identify and access. We especially like the large icons that pop out of the navigation bar when you hover over an item, like Import, Create, or Share.
There are other nice touches, too, including a small "play" arrow that appears over video in the media gallery. Previewing the video here helps you quickly find the right video without having to individually open each one. Another favourite feature in the editing apps lets you erase changes with the click of a button, returning to your original, untampered-with photo or video.
Corel PaintShop Photo Express 2010
For its photo-editing tool, Corel is reaching for a mix of editing features that aren't too advanced or too simplistic, but somewhere in between. There are commonly used tools to straighten, crop and remove red eye. They do the job adequately. A Quick Fix button applies algorithmic changes predicted to improve your picture (much like Picasa's "I'm Feeling Lucky" button). The Quick Fix almost never does as well as you can on your own using the application's adjustment tools, which you can find in a pinnable slide-out sidebar. Slider controls determine the degree of fill flash, brightness and sharpening. The zoom slider bar in the top right corner makes applying cosmetic details like whitening teeth and blotting out blemishes more accurate.
Our complaints: we'd like to type in numeric values in addition to using the slider, and we'd prefer to see an instant preview thumbnail before applying changes. The processing between image modifications could also be speedier; the 1- or 2-second pause adds up when you're editing by trial and error. The four effects that can turn your photos black and white, sepia, "antiqued", or softly focused are far skimpier than competitors'.
While the editing tools are more than passable, the program's real value lies in post-production. You can upload photos and projects directly from Corel to Flickr and Facebook, email them to a friend, or burn them to a disc. Uploading is a common feature of multimedia suites like Roxio Creator 2010 and Apple's iPhoto and iMovie. On both our test computers, the Flickr log-in screen hung up and we were not able to upload; Corel has told us this bug is highly unusual. YouTube and Facebook uploads ran smoothly.
As with competitors, Corel Digital Studio 2010 provides templates for helping you make slideshows, greeting cards, collages and photo books that you order through Corel. As with the editing process, creating photo projects is intuitive. Turning pages in the photo book creator adds a layer of rich interaction, while dragging and dropping images around the pages and to and from the media tray keeps production practical. It's too bad that the program doesn't quote a price before you upload a batch of photos or a book to the Shopping Cart. It's the least Corel could do for channelling users to purchase projects through its online store.
You'll be able to print photos at home or order prints online to be mailed to you. The US$0.15 cents per print is a comparable price to other online printers, like Shutterfly.com, but pricier than Snapfish.com, which sells 4x6-inch photos for 9 cents (US) apiece. Unlike independent online services, you can only order through Corel and its behind-the-scenes printing partner in your global region; you can't choose your print provider and can't pick up the photos or other creations like calendars and cards at a local store.
Printed items are available for customers in a variety of global regions. Photo books start at a minimum of 26 pages, with about US$2 for each additional set of two pages. They cost US$32.95 for leather binding and US$28.95 for linen. Both come in a variety of colours. Calendars go for about US$15, collages for US$3.25, and 5x7-inch cards for about US$1.50 a piece. Prices are comparable with competing services.
Corel PaintShop Photo Express 2010 supports incoming images in BMP, PNG, JPEG, GIF, TIFF/TIF, RAW, PSPImage, JP2 and JPC formats. It outputs images as BMP, PNG, JPEG, GIF and TIFF/TIF.
Corel VideoStudio Express 2010
Photo editing may be the suite's bread and butter with most camera owners, but the video studio is where Corel hopes to ingratiate itself. The commonly used tools in the editing view are to trim or split a video and take a still shot. The tool menus adjust white balance and brightness, and reduce noise and shake, both useful for videos captured with point-and-shoot cameras. But again, the best features are the movie maker and the sharing buttons that post videos to YouTube, Facebook and Flickr.
Corel's built-in movie maker presents templates for a more polished look, but you can also make a more basic movie on your own. If you pick a template, Corel's application inserts a musical score, titles and transitions, which you can later change from the slide-out Settings menu. You can also record a voice-over. Corel movies save for standard or widescreens, and in standard or high-def formats. As with other movie makers on the market, video clips and photos can sit on a movie timeline side by side; you could also make a movie from photos alone.
The app accepts video in AVI, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, HDV, AVCHD, M2T, MPEG-4, H.264, QuickTime, Windows Media, MOD (JVC MOD format), M2TS, TOD, BDMV, 3GPP and 3GPP2 file formats. It produces videos in DV, AVI, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, QuickTime, Windows Media, 3GPP and 3GPP2 formats. And yes, FireWire fans, it does support 1394 FireWire cards (for DV/D8/HDV camcorders).
Corel DVD Factory 2010
Corel DVD Factory is the burning app of the suite, the practical workhorse that creates video, audio and backup discs of your media. It also copies collections and projects to a mobile phone or to your external storage device. You can print, share and import content, and you can edit photos or videos one last time before you burn them to disc.
In addition to burning video and photos to disc, you can also make music CDs.
Things get more hands-on as you burn your content. For instance, as you make a video disc, you can still choose a soundtrack and stylised templates. There are also options for burning to DVD video or to the high-def AVCHD format. You'll have a say over various other formats and audio settings, which is especially useful if you're creating a disc to play on the TV. In audioland, you'll choose between creating an audio or MP3 disc, again choosing from a handful of settings in the slide-out menu. Copying is quick and seamless. A click of a button returns you to a DVD's main menu or root menu; another click ejects the DVD for good.
Corel WinDVD 2010
DVDs and other videos played crisply in WinDVD 2010, Corel's DVD player, with movies looking clear in full screen on a 17-inch monitor. As with similar players, the navigation bars vanish while the video plays and re-materialise after jostling the mouse. In addition to playing movies, Corel's player can open an optical drive, file or folder. There are more powerful tools, besides, to tweak playback enhancements (like audio and colour), or even record from a playing video or capture a still shot of the screen.
We also appreciate the bookmark tool that flags a certain spot on the timeline, so you can easily return to the clip. Corel WinDVD 2010 will support AVCHD video, which you can also play on a Blu-ray player. However, it won't play back your Blu-ray DVDs. For that you'll need to upgrade to the Pro version, which costs about US$100 (no AU pricing as yet), minus a per cent discount for Corel Digital Studio users. This doesn't strike us as much of a bargain, but the app is sometimes known to go on sale.
At AU$169, Corel Digital Studio 2010 fits into the price slot of one of its strongest competitors, Roxio Media Creator 2010 (which we have not tested in depth). Corel's slimmed-down multimedia suite for consumers is missing some of Roxio Creator's extras, like robust music tools and archiving TiVo shows. However, Corel's offering is easier on the eye and may be less daunting to novices. Those looking for a more powerful, professional media suite on the market should consider a different package.
It is possible to cobble together the elements of Corels' digital suite for free, but the studio's intuitive work flow, exciting photo and video projects, and effortless copying to devices will serve most home users well. The top-notch WinDVD 2010 player, which costs about AU$55 on its own, also adds value, though that value decreases if you need to buy the Corel WinDVD Pro upgrade in order to get Blu-ray support. Although there are still a few other rough patches, like photo-editing tools that are a tad weaker and slower than we'd like, the pros in Corel Digital Studio 2010 definitely outweigh the cons.