Review: Serif MoviePlus X3
By Adam Boozer
The latest version of Serif’s video editing tool, MoviePlus X3, is a solid evolution in this software’s almost 10 year history. Easily usable by both the novice video editor as well as the more seasoned professional, this application provides a wide range of tools that can enable almost anyone to deliver a high quality end product.
Full disclosure, I am a Final Cut Pro user and a Mac guy, so I approached the review of this application with the attitude of “how good could this little PC-only app really be?” I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was the application incredibly easy to use, I actually found it fun to import my video assets and play with the wide range of tools available to me.
The interface for MoviePlus X3 is well organized and is actually centered around an integrated “How To” system. This instructional system removes the barrier found in more complex video applications by approaching the user with a series of common tasks. I like the idea of asking the user what it is they want to do and then walking them through the necessary steps to accomplish the task. Of course, more sophisticated users can disable this function, or new users can simply wean themselves off of it over time.
The feature that most impressed me was the manner in which MoviePlus X3 handled the native video files from my Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The h.264 compressed files that the 5D Mark II creates are processor-intensive to play back, and I find that most users transcode the video into other formats to edit. When I imported my clips into MoviePlus X3 to test, I was excited to see that it immediately made lower resolution proxy files for me to edit with. This allowed for very speedy playback within the application and gave me the flexibility to play with effects, titles, etc. without the lag time associated with the original h.264 files. The best part is that this is automatic. When I was ready to export my final project, the application referenced my original high resolution files.
When it comes to actually editing your material into a sequence, many first-time editors will find the new Storyboard Mode (below) a comfortable place to start. This visual way to arrange video clips, still images, transitions, text and audio by simply dragging them into the order you want them to appear is simple enough for anyone and allows for quick mock-ups. However, users will quickly find that they will need to return to a more traditional timeline-style view when they want to really trim and tweak the sequence for timing and pacing. The ability to easily switch between each mode is simple enough and a workflow that begins in Storyboard Mode will make sense for many users.
I didn't spend much time with the gallery of transitions and effects, as I don’t often use them in my type of work. However, I was very impressed with the wide range of options available, from fairly realistic, aged film looks to more subtle cinema style color balance. Applying effects is a straightforward drag-and-drop action, and you can tweak the properties of each effect via a panel with both numeric input and sliders. Unfortunately, the application doesn't have a feature to stabilize shaky footage. For the new user who would be editing their projects with MoviePlus X3, it is a safe assumption that their skills as a shooter might be new as well. The ability to smooth out or motion-stabilize a handheld shot would be a highly valuable addition. Used conservatively, the effects toolset could easily improve almost anyone’s project.
As someone who has worked with digital video for longer than he would like to admit, I find that the most complicated aspect of any project for people who do not work regularly with video is output and compression. Bit rates, formats, pixel dimensions, YouTube, iPods—everything is different. MoviePlus X3 has done an excellent job in simplifying the export process by providing a large range of standard templates for a number of formats and devices. I found it easy to export my project straight into a YouTube-ready file with only a few clicks, but I also was happy to see that I had all of the advanced options available to export essentially any type of file I might want.
The Menu Designer and DVD output capabilities of MoviePlus X3 I found approachable, yet flexible, in that I had a great deal of control over many aspects of layout and functionality. There are many DVD themes in the gallery that ship with the software, many of which I found to be above average, dare I say, “Apple Like” in their design. I think many wedding and event videographers will find that the gallery will provide them with more than enough to work with and certainly enough to get them inspired.
While MoviePlus X3 won’t go out and shoot your video for you, it will make your life easier when it comes to post-production. From easy input to editing and output, the application is built around ease of use and speed. It is approachable for the novice and powerful enough for the developing professional. The price is $79.99, and it is a solid purchase for the photographer who’s just getting started with video, or one who only produces a few projects a year.