Throw that carousel projector away. Now you can build your own slideshow that doesn't require turning down the lights.
Of course, it's probably not terribly hard to use your current video-centric editing software to create a movie consisting of your digital stills. It's not terribly hard, but it also isn't as easy as it could be. If you just want to throw together a quick slideshow, there are a number of inexpensive programs dedicated to just that task.
What features do you need to have in order to find your way to slideshow nirvana? Join us now as we dig into some of the elements to look for when considering the purchase of slideshow software. The features listed here correspond to the column headings in our Buyer's Guide grid.
Download (ESD) Price You can easily download many smaller applications, especially over a broadband connection. Sure, you won't get a box or a printed manual, but the price is often a little cheaper and you get instant gratification.
Trial Version Available A number of publishers will let you try out their software to make sure it fits your needs before you actually put down some money to buy a full license for it. Trial versions are limited in some way. Sometimes the functionality is limited (for example, you can create a project, but you can't burn it to a DVD) or it will only operate for a certain length of time.
Operating System, Minimum Processor and Minimum RAM These are the system requirements your system will need to match to run the software. Some software work with older versions of Windows, but a number of programs require you to have a more up-to-date system. Mac users will run into similar issues, since practically all of the current software out there requires a G3 (or higher) processor and Mac OS X.
Imports Directly from Digital Camera/Memory Card Reader Whether the software can import images directly from your digital camera or, if you have a digital camera that uses interchangeable memory cards, whether you can import images from a memory card inserted into a reader. This is primarily a question of speed and convenience.
Pan/Zoom Effects, better known as the "Ken Burns effect," this is the cool slow movement of the camera across the image, as seen in documentaries such as The Civil War and Baseball. Not all video editing programs are capable of pulling off pans and zooms as easily as some slideshow software can, which generally involves a few mouse clicks to specify the direction you want to move and any zooming.
Image Editing Capabilities generally include such functions as cropping, red-eye reduction, basic color correction and brightness/contrast adjustments. These controls are generally all that you need for most images that don't require some serious work with a serious image editor, such as Adobe Photoshop, Ulead Photo Impact or the GIMP.
Number of Transitions this is the number of wipes, dissolves, fades and other transitions that the software uses between slides. While most video uses cuts-only editing, slideshows are clearly different creatures where crossfades add interest and emotion. Since you're dealing mostly with still images, you have a little more room to play with different transitions.
Number of Image Filters is the number of special effects filters that the software offers for tasks such as color manipulation, sharpening, warping and blurring.
Titler allows you to place text on your slides. Generally, you can use all of the fonts that you have on your computer, but a number of programs are bundled with extra fonts. The included fonts tend to be video-friendly, and show up nicely on television sets.
Maximum Photos per Slideshow The number of photos is generally limited only by the capacity of the disc you're burning the slideshow to. (We label these "dc" for disc capacity.) However, a few programs do impose limits on the number of photos you can have in your slideshow.
Minimum Duration Per Slide and Maximum Duration Per Slide determine the time the slide stays on the screen. Most programs do not impose a limit, but some do. Minimum durations are in frames, while maximum durations are in seconds.
Disc Output Format shows the types of discs that the software burns. CD=CD-ROM that plays in a computer, DVD, VCD, Super Video CD (SVCD), extended VCD (xVCD) and extended SVCD (xSVCD). DVDs are the most compatible with living room DVD players, but the various VCD formats, which burn to CDs, may also be compatible, especially with newer players. The quality may be lower and the duration is limited to 12-20 minutes, but that may be all you need.
File Output Format includes the numerous types of files that these programs can generate. The most common formats are MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, AVI and Windows Media, but there are other formats supported by some programs on the market.
Disc Label Creator software allows you to create disc labels for your newly burned disc. A few disc label creators also play nicely with some of the newer disc printers on the market as well, which is a better way to label DVDs than by affixing sticky labels on them.
Creating a slideshow doesn't have to be a tedious affair requiring multiple pots of coffee to stave off boredom. Shoot them, assemble them, burn them and share them -- your vacation photos never looked so good.
Charles Fulton is an Associate Editor for Videomaker.