Color Grading for the Masses

Adjusting color in your video footage does not always have to cost hundreds of dollars. ColorDirector 2 is a good example.

Color Grading is an advanced video editing technique used by all professional film makers to inject mood and energy into productions. Color Grading was, in the past, almost a science practiced by a few selected, but in fact, these days, it is accessible to almost anyone, either through specific programs or with plugins that extend functionalities of popular NLEs.

Cyberlink offers ColorDirector 2 as their own post-production color grading solution for video, to help you get the very best out of your footage. It’s  a complete and affordable package that makes sense in a time when everybody seems to create videos, with cameras, smartphones, tablets. The growth of online video in the last few years is staggering. 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Even more impressive are the forecasts for future growth. Cisco predicts that it will “take over 6 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month in 2016”.

In a scenario like the one above, it is only normal that more and more people will want to have access to tools allowing for an easy control of their videos in post-processing, along with the exploration of more sophisticated projects. Once only available to professional movie makers, color grading software is now capturing the attention of the hobbyist market, so tools like Cyberlink’s ColorDirector 2 make complete sense.

ColorDirector 2 can be used on its own and associated with other video editors, but in fact it was built to work with Cyberlink’s PowerDirector 12, a NLE program already mentioned here at Pro Video Coalition, as part of an accessible solution for video enthusiasts. The whole package, Director Suite 2, includes PowerDirector 12, ColorDirector 2, AudioDirector 4 and PhotoDirector 5, offering a complete video and photo editing solution designed for creative experts. With round-trip-editing support, the 4 applications in Director Suite work seamlessly with each other, providing the smoothest post-production environment for pro users, suggests Cyberlink.

ColorDirector is aimed at advanced amateurs and video hobbyists who are looking to take their video projects to the next level by incorporating color correction and enhancement. The program comes with a complete set of tools to correct white balance, adjust tonality, and enhance and stylize the colors within your videos. All the essential tools you need to get your videos looking better—from fixing color problems to enhancing your videos creatively and tastefully—can be found right on your desktop. And there is even support for UltraHD 4K files and a huge range of popular video formats, so you can use ColorDirector to improve all the videos you take.

The interface follows the same logic as PowerDirector 12, making a workflow between the different programs a breeze. It may take some time to get used to, but there is a tool tip for the different functions that are not immediately understoodable, and there is a help content area available from the top menu. Many of the controls have a Lightroom-like appearance, even to the extent that you can drag the mouse over an area to define its density, so I do believe many users will be familiar with this type of controls. ColorDirector 2 offers a selection of presets to automatically create moods in your video, and you can also download new presets from the Director Zone area online. But it allows you to control manually every aspect of color, either globally or locally, opening a whole new world of experiences.

ColorDirector 2 offers some new features that I do think should be pointed out here. I do believe not everybody will be interested in all of them, but it is good to know they’re there, both because you may need them someday, and also because they show how technology is evolving. So, without further ado, let’s look at the new things:

  • HDR Videos – This very popular technique with photographers looking for high dynamic range  is included in ColorDirector.
  • RGB tonal curves – You can manually adjust tonal values of shadows, midtones, and highlights in a video.
  • Detail in Low Light – The new Noise Reduction and Sharpening tools remove digital artifacts and make video look sharper without any amplification of noise.
  • Use LUTs – ColorDirector 2 supports .3dl/.mga/.m3d/.cube/.csp format LUT files, to match footage, apply a visual style or preview an output.
  • 64-bit TrueVelocity 4 Grading Engine – Native 64-bit support for improved system efficiency and faster loading of HD video footage.
  • Dual Monitor Support – expand your workspace over two screens. It is a great way to compare before/after in full screen and gain more real estate for the video editing process.
  • YouTube and Vimeo upload – ColorDirector offers direct upload capability YouTube, Vimeo and Cyberlink’s DirectorZone.
  • Live Histogram – A feature requested previously by users appears in this version. The live histogram is a useful tool for evaluating the tonal range in your images. See at a glance where all of the brightness levels contained in a scene are found. From the channels menu you can choose to show a histogram for individual color channels, or a combined view of all color channels in the same graph.

Color Director 2 has also improved some of its common features, starting with  the ability to launch the program from inside PowerDirector to cut round-trip editing, and then send the footage back to PowerDirector. One of the impressive features is the ability to track moving objects in video. ColorDirector’s intelligent tracking algorithm lets you select any object in a scene, adjust it to the color you want, then sit back and let the software do the rest. Well, almost! In some cases you may have to tweak it a bit, but it does work and spares you from having to do a frame-by-frame adjustment meaning hours and hours of editing time.

It is also possible to apply presets to give the production a cinematic edge. ColorDirector comes with a range of built-in designed presets that emulate well-known film looks, but you can also save any adjustments you make to a video as presets and use them again for future projects. I did try them out and while I understand some people will appreciate the offer, I much prefer to adjust things the way I want. Still, being able to save the presets you create is a good thing to have!

Supported formats for input in ColorDirector 2 are multiple: AVI, MPEG-1, WMV, MPEG-2,MKV (H.264), FLV (H.264), Canon & Nikon DSLR Video files, AVCHD with DDCD audio file (.M2T), AVCHD with LPCM audio file (.M2T), MPEG-4 iPod PSP, VOB, VRO with Dolby Digital 2ch, VOB, VRO with Dolby Digital 5.1ch, MOD (JVC Everio Cam format = MPEG-2 + DDCD) and TOD (JVC Everio Cam format = MPEG-2 + DDCD + MPEG-1 Audio). The program exports to WMV, MPEG-2, Video file with Dolby Digital 5.1 and M2TS.

ColorDirector Ultra costs $129,99, and this is a good indication of where the program sits when compared with the so called professional tools. Adobe After Effects costs somewhere around $900, and so do many other professional programs available in the market. While I do understand that they are essential tools for many professionals, the truth is that for many video hobbyists they’re not a viable or even logical choice. There may be some stuff missing – there is in fact – from ColorDirector 2, but for the price it more than does what it promises. It is surely better than simply eyeballing your videos to adjust color. I mean, not everybody needs to go round driving a Ferrari!

There is a trial version of ColorDirector 2 Ultra available. Download it now!

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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…