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Adobe Visual Communicator 3 Visual Presentation Software Review

Adobe Visual Communicator 3 Visual Presentation Software Review

Streaming Video Made Simple... Adobe Visual Communicator 3 turns your computer into a production studio with streaming video capabilities.

Streaming Video Made Simple

Adobe Visual Communicator 3 fits the needs of the web video producer who wants to quickly and easily create content. It's especially ideal where the producer needs to rely on a script and where the production cycle is reoccuring, such as with video podcasting and vlogging. It has a lot of bells and whistles that give the user the potential to create video above the standard quality expectations of online video (i.e., home videos on YouTube). At $399 (upgrade $149), it's not for people testing the web video waters, but the educational price ($169) makes it approachable for students and educators who want to experiment. The application is powerful and user-friendly, but the additional styled themes, music and graphics are somewhat outdated. It appears that this old Serious Magic software may not have had a full makeover when Adobe took over several years ago. However, for the web professional or serious hobbyist, we suspect you'll want to bypass the styled themes for your own branding.

Install It All

The install was a snap. We advise installing the additional content, so you can identify what's possible. To be fair, there are a few gems you can use for a variety of projects. We tested the software on an HP Pavilion zd8000 running Windows XP with an Intel P4 2.8GHz processor, 512MB RAM and ATI Mobility Radeon X600 graphics card.

GUI Overview

The GUI is well laid out. It's focused on giving you the ability to be both program director and on-camera talent. In the left corner is the preview monitor, which shows you how the graphics and video will play out and also plays the role of the program monitor for rehearsal and playback, giving you a live view of the program video. To the right of the preview monitor are the TelePrompTer and the vertical bar that holds the titles, effects and graphics. These two scroll together during your production. This brilliant part of the software allows the talent to read the script via an easy-to-read TelePrompTer, with upcoming visual changes scrolling upwards. In this method, timing is everything, and the Rehearse and Review buttons are key to fine-tuning your delivery.

The next bunch of GUI windows gives the user full control of settings, media and effects. Here the GUI seems a little crowded, mostly because of so many options. On the left-lower side are the main program details, from project information to individual visual-effect controls. On the right-lower side, a basic browser window gives you instant access to all critical media, effects, styles and more. The oversized program clock at bottom left counts up during rehearsal and recording and reminds us of one important web video quality: brevity. We really like this feature.

In the Control Room

Attention to detail shows in Visual Communicator 3. We quickly found a few favorites. First, the advance setup for video sources is a nice touch, allowing you to adjust the video image from a webcam or video camcorder. You can adjust brightness, color, contrast and more to give incoming video the necessary adjustments, so that it really pops. Manipulating the lighting is your best bet for creating stunning images.

V-Screen, a greenscreen utility, pulls a key from a live video source quickly and easily. Put up a green sheet, and V-Screen creates an alpha channel and runs a new graphic, dynamic animation or video. If the key isn't perfect, the advanced features make it cleaner.

In Action

We quickly set up a Sony HDR-FX1 via FireWire to a laptop. If you plan to use a high-definition camcorder, make sure you can switch it into standard-definition mode. Visual Communicator 3 won't accept HD signals. It takes video inputs from FireWire and USB, as well as from an embedded webcam. We preferred an external camcorder for control of lens length and positioning, although the other options are perfect for schools or for down-and-dirty, quick setups. Mixing three input sources gives advanced users plenty of possibilities.

We found the preferred distance from on-camera talent to TelePrompTer screen and camcorder to be about 5 feet, giving the talent a better eye line into the camcorder. If the talent sits directly in front of the laptop, the eye line is lower, and the talent doesn't appear to be looking into the camcorder or reading the prompter. Even from 5 feet away, the prompter text is easy to read. With this positioning, you can't also be a live director, unless you can move your keyboard and mouse 5 feet towards you. When you use a webcam embedded into a laptop, the eye-line problem is reduced, as the camera eye is closer to the prompter text.

Audio inputs can come from your camcorder, webcam (if it has a mic), USB microphone or the mic input on your computer. Audio setup will help you choose the source, adjust volume and decide whether or not to bypass the computer speakers. An external microphone via the computer's mic input will deliver the best-sounding audio.

We were pleased with the ease of use. Adding text to the TelePrompTer from a script takes a simple copy-and-paste. Adding video or a simple graphic was a snap: drag and drop. Building your project tends to slow down when you introduce effects, titles and transitions. If you do an appropriate number and use the Favorites folder, you can save yourself some hassle.

When all is perfectly timed and rehearsed, the Record button activates a countdown leader, so you can take position. You can stop recording if something goes wrong. When you've completed the program, recording automatically stops, and you can hit the Review button to view the program in the preview monitor. If you like what you see, it's time to publish.

The publishing wizard is a breeze and will walk you through your delivery method - e-mail, server, hard drive, etc. In most cases, you'll be making either a Flash video (.flv), Window Media video (.wmv), RealMedia video (.rm) or DV file (.avi). Choose a quality setting from presets or customize within the publishing wizard. If you're courageous enough, you can broadcast yourself via live streaming broadband video. You'll need to subscribe to a live streaming server for this to work.

Last Considerations

We discovered a few helpful hints to get the best-looking web video production using Visual Communicator 3. First, experiment with your lighting. Big, soft, even light usually is a cure-all, but feel free to get creative. Second, the best place to put a camcorder is just above the screen's bevel; most tripods are too tall for a desk setup. We did find the Joby Gorillapod (www.joby.com) a close fit with a phone book for that extra boost. Webcams are easier to place in the appropriate position, but they might not give you the quality or control you're looking for.

With a little time, you can turn a computer into a web video production studio capable of delivering high-quality presentations. With Visual Communicator 3, you can quickly start your web video adventure or take your time and develop a program far beyond the expectations of web video. At its price point, we don't expect to find too many dabblers or infrequent vloggers, but the value is certainly there for the dedicated web video publisher.

Conclusion

Adobe Visual Communicator 3 turns your computer into a production studio with streaming video capabilities.

TECH SPECS

OS: Windows XP (Pro or Home Edition with SP2), Windows Vista
Processor: 933MHz Intel P4, Intel Celeron 2, AMD Athlon XP
Memory: 256MB RAM
Optical Drive: DVD-ROM for installation
Storage: 2.3GB of available hard-disk space for installation
Audio Hardware: Standard PC audio card with microphone
Video Hardware: 16MB AGP graphics card with 3D acceleration
Webcam Users: Standard DirectShow-compatible Windows driver
Video Input Device: OHCI-compatible IEEE-1394 video interface card for DV or capture card for analog signals
Video Card: Dual-head video card required for full-screen output
For Streaming
Processor: 2.4GHz Intel P4
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce or ATI Radeon-based AGP video card

Strengths

  • Powerful controls and options
  • Live streaming video
  • Unique TelePrompTer GUI

Weaknesses

  • Not for the web video dabbler
  • Windows only
  • Outdated styles

SUMMARY

Adobe Visual Communicator 3 turns your computer into a production studio with streaming video capabilities.

Mark Montgomery is Videomaker's Technical Editor.

Adobe Systems, Inc.
345 Park Ave.
San Jose, CA 95110
www.adobe.com
$399 / $149 upgrade

Tags:  October 2008
Mark
Montgomery
Wed, 10/01/2008 - 12:00am