Photodex ProShow Gold may not be the easiest-to-use presentation program on the market, but it's the best tool for creating professional-looking slide shows in which pictures and video dominate. Because of its focus on content and effects, this program is the key to a memorable, media-heavy presentation; however, it relegates text to a supporting role. It also lacks a charting feature for turning numbers into a graph, making it a poor choice for sales-oriented presentations. ProShow Gold is a bargain at $80, but if you need support for text and charts, it would behoove you to spend a bit more for a product that can support your needs, such as PowerPoint. Luckily, you can download a free trial version of ProShow Gold before committing to the full licensing fee.
From the start, Photodex ProShow Gold is like no other presentation program. It occupies a mere 11MB of RAM, installs in less than a minute, and is easy to jump right into. If you do need help, Photodex includes a massive 362-page manual. Keeping in line with ProShow Gold's focus on pictures and video, the main interface has a prominent time line at the bottom and a preview screen on the right, much like a video-editing program. Overall, the main interface feels cramped, particularly if you're pulling components of your presentation from several open windows.
Photodex ProShow Gold places the priority squarely on audio, images, and video; text is almost an afterthought. Many presentation veterans will feel like ProShow Gold makes them do everything backward, but the results are spectacular. Rather than starting with canned templates full of clichéd backgrounds, you can start with any image as a background. The focus of the program is the File list, which shows you the resources you have on hand, such as audio, video, and image files. The program works with just about every file format you could need (it supports about 100 formats). Just click items in the File list and drag and drop them into the thumbnail of the correct slide on the Slide list below. You can add text by typing it in, but your options are very limited, especially compared to those in programs such as PowerPoint. Next, add transitions and music, and you're done.
You can customize just about every aspect of your presentation. For instance, double-click an image to adjust its color, brightness, and balance, and even rotate it--all from within the ProShow environment. While we like the autocorrect function for fixing low-quality digital snapshots, you can't crop images. ProShow Gold provides hundreds of transitions and effects, and you can control their speed at a very granular level. You can even mesh two effects for a custom look. If you don't like the effect you just created, you're in luck: ProShow Gold allows for unlimited undos and redos, so you can go back and forth while deciding whether you like the effect. Strangely enough, you can't do some basic things, such as put two images side by side on a single slide or print slides--the latter of which is a key drawback when it comes to creating handouts. Output options are plentiful. You can instantly convert any show into a self-contained Web site or a screensaver; you can also burn it to various types of discs. With so much emphasis on media, we were surprised at how nimble the program is. It never slowed us down, and in a thoughtful touch, the designers included a slider that shows the size of your file as you create it. Our test slide show took up 9.4MB, including the viewer.
Photodex provides lifetime support for the product--a rarity in the software world. Phone support is toll-free, but the hours are limited to weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT. Photodex's Web site has downloads and tips as well as a link to e-mail support.