By Neil Bennett | on January 04, 2005
Price: 258 . 448
Company: Serious Magic
Pros: The easiest live video tool so far. Even for video professionals it’s fast and efficient. Keying of presenters works well.
Cons: Awful and US-centric stock media. Inability to add your own templates. Installation bugs. PAL support tacked on.
I’m going to have to admit an initial bias against Visual Communicator. It’s a production system designed to make creating video-based corporate presentations – such as sales pitches and in-house training – easy enough that a marketing or sales department can do it itself. As this is essentially taking bread from the mouths of video-producing Digit readers, I was quite happy to slag it off. However, as Serious Magic is also pitching it as a way for video professionals to make such presentations quicker, we thought we’d give it a proper review instead.
The Pro version is an application that ships with a large collection of templates and stock media, a clip-on microphone and a large green sheet that serves as a makeshift screen for keying against. The Studio version adds streaming video output, more media and effects, multiple camera support, and more.
Easy but cheesy
Setting up a presentation is incredibly easy – learning the software takes about half an hour. A wizard takes you through the process of building a template from a series of styles in a couple of minutes – as long as you don’t spend too long laughing at the gimpy-looking presenters in the template mock-ups.
Once your template is created, you’re onto the main interface, which is based around a vertical teleprompter with an aligned single timeline of effects and media. Tabs give you access to a host of pre-recorded effects and media, to which you can add you own – including PowerPoint presentations.
Central to the application is the ability to key out your presenter in front of the green screen (or V-Screen as the application calls it). As Serious Magic is the developer of the Ultra keying software, this delivers near-perfect results assuming your lighting is half-decent.
Visual Communicator really is the easiest piece of software we’ve seen all year – hence its many plaudits and awards in its native America. However, what damns it is a set of stock media that’s more over the top than The Day Today and cheesier than a Hello wedding. The provided templates are laughable to the point of being unusable – unless satire is your intention. There’s also far too many recognizable US landmarks, dollar signs and other US-only media that limit your options. You could use your own media, but this denies you access to the wizard that makes Visual Communicator so easy to use.
The application also suffers from buggy installation, a teleprompter that’s hard to see from a distance on a laptop, the occasional tendency to fall over and seems to have PAL support added as an afterthought. It’s best avoided.