R E V I E W

DreamSuite (Series 1) - Auto FX Software.
Estimated Street Price: US$299.00

Reviewer: Graham Jupp, Australia
Test machine: Celeron 450mhz, 256mb RAM, Win2k

I was recently invited to review the latest software application from Auto FX and after a brief visit to their website I decided to take them up on their offer. A week or so later a package arrived at my home office on the east coast of Australia and I was ready to go. After a week of trialing the software these are my thoughts. Its important to note that I don't grade software using any type of scale, I simply tell it like it is, so if you are looking for a mark out of ten you wont find one here.

To kick off, here's a brief description lifted straight from the Auto FX News Release which adequately describes this very polished software application.

"DreamSuite is a visual enhancement program created to work with images, type and graphics. DreamSuite includes 18 premium effects that are unrivaled in their photo realistic quality, ease of use and creative options. It works as either a stand-alone application or as a plug-in for image editing programs like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Elements and Paint Shop Pro. DreamSuite Series One is the first of several DreamSuite series to be released by Auto FX Software."


Initial Thoughts:

Right from the word go, Auto FX were going to have to win me over on an important issue, PRICE. At an estimated street price of US$299 this was not a cheap piece of software and so would need to shine in other areas to gain a glowing review, luckily for Auto FX, shine it did.

System Requirements:
DreamSuite requires 128mb of RAM minimum but recommends 256MB+ for best results. Windows 98/NT/2000/2000 ME
Macintosh: Mac OS 9.0 or higher including full support for OS X

Installation:
Installation was quick, easy and posed no problems.

Interface:
Auto FX have pulled out the stops and done some great work with the interface of this application, with design elements reminiscent of Kai's power tools and Bryce. Smooth, semi-organic shapes and textures together with the ability to change the colour scheme to suit your mood makes for a nice working environment.

Dropdown/Popout menus feature transparency and dropshadows (at least in windows 2000, I cannot confirm these effects in other operating systems.)

Popup help is very well done and features two levels of popup button descriptions, leave the mouse over an icon for a few moments and a short description of its function appears, wait a few moments more and you will be presented with an in-depth description, two thumbs up for that one.

Some of the preset naming is a little obscure and whilst the manual does provide an image of each preset it would have been nice to somehow incorporate this into the program itself. The program does however sport a "proxy preview" whereby the user can opt to perform a quick render on a lower resolution version of their image before applying it to the full resolution image, this saves a great deal of time rendering as you can quickly test the suitability of an effect without wasting time on complex rendering.

Scrolling through long lists of presets such as the Photoborders tended to be a little slow on the Celeron 450 test machine. I found that it was not keeping up terribly well with rapid mouse clicks. I'm sure with a faster machine this would be less of a problem.

The interface appears to be designed so that future effects can be easily added in further down the track.

The Effects:
Ah... now its time to get down to business. Dreamsuite features 18 visual effects to add some zest to your images. I was very impressed by the quality and seemingly infinite variations which could be obtained by adjusting the effects. Dreamsuite Series 1 effects include:

  • 35mm Frame
  • Chisel
  • Crackle
  • Crease
  • Cubism
  • Deckle
  • Dimension X
  • Focus
  • Hot Stamp
  • Instamatic
  • Liquid Metal
  • Metal Mixer
  • PhotoBorder
  • PhotoDepth
  • Phototone
  • Putty
  • Ripple
  • Tape

Rather than comment on each of the effects, I've picked a few which most impressed me and given a brief description. For more detail and images of each effect I suggest checking the Auto FX website.

Attention to detail is very evident with DreamSuite, take for instance the Crackle effect, this allows you to create either mud cracks or paint crackles over your image in a variety of ways. Click on an individual flake on the image and you are able to 'flick' off that flake to reveal the canvas or surface behind the image, WOW!

Liquid metal is sure to be a big hit amongst users and makes light work of creating highly detailed reflective metal text or shapes.

PhotoDepth gives your images the tattered photo look and allows you to age your photos in ways that would have previously taken a master artist hours to create. This is more than just simple page curls,it really does give the impression of a 50 year old photo that has been mistreated. Like all the effects, this one is highly configurable.

The Deckle effect allows you to create ultra-realistic torn paper effects and works well in conjunction with PhotoDepth. You can easily select the exact path of the tear and proceed to rip till your heart's content, very therapeutic

The Focus effect will be appreciated by those who use their Computers as a digital dark room. Complex focal effect can be created in an instant on what were once plain photos, turning them into a creative piece of photography in moments.

Ease of Use:
Whilst more suited to a professional many of the effects can be just as easily created by a beginner with little design knowledge, this is mainly due to the fact that each effect has presets whereby the user can select a previously saved effect and simply apply it to the current image. Professionals will love the seemingly infinite variety of sliders, allowing for incredibly in-depth control over the majority of effects. Inputs can also be fine tuned using "more or less" arrows for precise control or can be typed manually.

Rendering speed seems good when working with images for web resolution, naturally though, things tend to slow down when working with high resolution images. The test machine of a Celeron 450mhz with 256mb ram sped along quite nicely with most effects at web resolution but a faster machine is definitely recommended for those of you with little patience. The proxy preview mentioned earlier is a godsend for those of us with slower machines.

Effects are resolution independent so can easily be adapted for either web or print media of differing resolutions.

It is possible to turn off or delay realtime rendering of effects, this is handy for slower machines as the program will wait for a few seconds until after you have finished moving a slider before it proceeds to render. This prevents the machine from rendering every time you move a slider one notch. You can also tell the program to render on demand via a button rather than in realtime.

'Memory Dots' enable you to easily click and capture a custom effect which you can revert to at a later stage, this is in addition to being able to save preset effects. You simple click on the memory dot icon to save the current 'look'.

Documentation:
Dreamsuite is notably lacking a hardcopy manual and for a program that costs $299.00 this is somewhat disappointing. However, a full colour electronic manual is included on the CD in PDF format and is very well written and easy to follow. It provides detailed descriptions and examples of each effect enabling you to get the most from the program. One of the few criticisms I have with the software is a lack of preset previews within the program itself. Thankfully, a separate PDF file is included which provides images of each preset.

Conclusion:
Dreamsuite is most likely more suited to designers rather than hobbyists unless you have the dollars to throw around, it has a distinct professional quality that is reflected by its price. As a tool for designers it will quickly pay for itself by saving untold hours in complex design work and most likely get you a pat on the back for your 'creativity'.

Auto FX allows customers to save $$$ by purchasing individual effects to suite their needs. This will be a godsend for those on a budget, although the cost of individual effects may seem a little pricey when compared with buying the full suite as a whole, therefore if you intend on purchasing more than 5 individual effects it would be more cost efficient to buy the entire set of 18.

DreamSuite's only real faults are a lack of hardcopy manual and perhaps a price tag that is a little more than you would normally expect for a package of this nature.

DreamSuite is extremely capable software with a high level of configuration options to suit your needs. A worthy addition to any professional designers arsenal of software tools.

Two Thumbs up for DreamSuite.

Visit the autofx.com website for more info on DreamSuite.






 
 



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