Are you looking for an experience similar to gathering around your family’s old Kodak Carousel to view, laugh at, reminisce about, or otherwise comment on slides from your last vacation? Me, too. The proliferation of digital images on my hard drive is fueling my desire to find an easy way to share those memories with friends and family. Emphasis on the word easy: I can shoot and store hundreds of images on the 1GB or 2GB flash memory card in my camera, and finding a way to sort through those images (let alone create a slide-show disc) can be challenging.
Plenty of applications can create slide shows, including packages that focus on disc burning and imaging. But many of these products, such as Google’s free Picasa and ACDSee’s eponymous package, will produce slide shows on CDs only. Slide-show CDs have several drawbacks, not the least of which is limited capacity (700MB on a CD vs. 4.7GB on a DVD) and limited image quality: To enable playback on a DVD player, slide shows on CD are typically encoded as MPEG-1 Video CD or Super VCD, as compared with the higher-quality MPEG-2 video that can be burned onto a DVD.
I tried out two slide-show creation packages that can burn to DVD: Nero’s $40 PhotoShow Deluxe 4 and Photodex’s $70 ProShow Gold 2.6. Although each suite had its good points, neither quite proved to be the simple solution I was hoping for.
Nero PhotoShow Deluxe 4
Nero’s PhotoShow Deluxe 4, a retail version of software originally developed by a company called Simple Star, is vastly improved over its previous iteration. For starters, this version’s interface is no longer entirely Flash-based, meaning you have some control over the placement of the application window, at least. In fact, the overall interface is also improved, with a visually inviting, although functionally frustrating, graphical design.
Although PhotoShow Deluxe strives to be a one-stop shop for organizing photos as well as creating slide shows and other projects, I can’t say I found anything that would make me rely on this package over apps such as Picasa or ACDSee. Rather than providing room to grow as your demands change and your image collection expands, the software ends up limiting your creativity. For example, a new slide show’s default intro name and starting text derives from the PhotoShow name. And because the interface does not provide a familiar file-folder tree, you can’t easily rename files, folders, or even PhotoShows.
However, I liked PhotoShow Deluxe’s reasonably automated slide-show creation and its convenient ability to output to VCD or an MPEG-2 DVD. (To create a MPEG-2 DVD, though, you must provide your e-mail address; Nero activates MPEG-2 encoding only for users who request it since the company has to pay a license fee based on usage of the technology.) It’s exceptionally easy to create a PhotoShow disc from a folder of files, or just a slew of files, including video clips. The slide shows can be configured on a disc with the original images in a folder, too, which is great for photo archiving. But while you can control some aspects of the show–for example, you can remove intro credits, edit images by fixing red-eye or adjusting contrast, and rotate images–you don’t get much control over other aspects, such as transitions or the length of video clips, which are limited to 15 seconds.
In addition to creating slide shows and managing images, PhotoShow has tie-ins to Shutterfly and Snapfish for sharing images and buying prints and photo gifts. Annoyingly, such marketing offers are very prominent in the software’s interface, as is Nero’s logo and copyright info in the slide show itself. The software lets you create screen savers and active desktops from your PhotoShows. You can also share a PhotoShow via your own, password-protected PhotoShow Circle Web site, hosted by Simple Star (accounts are free, with unlimited storage).
Photodex ProShow Gold 2.6
Where PhotoShow Deluxe caters to neophytes, Photodex’s ProShow Gold 2.6 takes the completely opposite tack, providing user control right down to the smallest minutiae.
With the program’s lack of a start-up wizard or clear workflow path, neophytes run the risk of launching the software and not having a clue where to start. But a little perseverance can pay off here: The package is loaded with features and capabilities. You just need the patience to explore them, and painstakingly and professionally craft your slide show. This app is not well-suited for a speedy dump of images to DVD. However, it does put creativity completely in your hands.
Version 2.6 adds a number of enhancements. Photodex ProShow can now recognize transparency effects for Adobe Photoshop files and other file formats. It lets you sharpen your images and enhance contrast from within the application. You can create slide-show menus and customized window layouts, so the screen you see each time you launch the program matches your chosen task.
Most notably, ProShow Gold now offers support for dual-layer and double-layer DVD drives and media, so you can create shows that are up to twice as long as those supported in previous versions–up to 2 hours on an 8.5GB disc compared to 1 hour on a standard 4.7GB disc. (Nero’s PhotoShow Deluxe does not support 8.5GB media.) ProShow Gold generates slide shows for CDs, VCDs, SVDs, and Web pages; and it can create self-executable files. You can post slide shows online using Photodex’s Online Sharing feature; Photodex offers its users free accounts, with no limit on capacity or storage length.
In stark contrast to PhotoShow Deluxe, ProShow Gold provides tremendous control over your slide shows. You can specify how long a slide appears and choose the transitions and effects applied to any given slide. Niftier still is ProShow Gold’s handling of audio and video clips. Intermixing clips with still images is simple–just drag and drop within the Lightbox view for the slide show–and you can adjust the start and end points of a video clip via a real-time preview. It’s a terrific way to intermix still images with video clips from a digital camera, for example.
Aside from its lack of a clearly defined workflow path, ProShow Gold suffers to a degree from its focus on user controls. Sometimes even those who want control need some automation, and this package lacks an obvious means of automatically generating slide shows.
Easy Is in the Hardware
Either Nero’s PhotoShow Deluxe 4 or Photodex’s ProShow Gold 2.6 can do the job; which one is best for you will depend, in part, upon how much effort you’re willing to expend on your slide show, and what you want to do with it.
If you’re willing to invest in hardware, one of the most straightforward ways of creating a photo slide show is with Sony’s new $300 DVDirect VRD-MC1 external burner. Equipped with media card slots on one side and video inputs on the other, DVDirect is intended for use either in stand-alone mode or connected to a PC.
When using the device on its own, you can plug in a memory card and DVDirect will automatically create a photo disc on DVD-R media from the images on that card. The resulting disc can be played in most any DVD player, and it includes the original still images in addition to the MPEG-2 movie of the slide show.
There are some drawbacks, however: You wouldn’t want to rely on this approach if you had lots of vertical images, because DVDirect won’t rotate them automatically; you can’t control transitions; and your photo DVD won’t have any musical accompaniment. Still, DVDirect does get the job done.