PowerPlugs: Ultimate Combo 9
Reviewed: Geetesh Bajaj
Last Updated: February 27th 2009
What's In The Box?
A Few Details
Headings And Slides That Win!
Pricing And Support
Too much of a good thing - that's the sort of thought that lingered when I opened the pack of Ultimate Combo 9 that CrystalGraphics sent me. I know it is unfair to think so positively when you're beginning to take a critical look at a product for review. So, why don't you all join me in creating a blank slate - or something like a zero rating for the product. We'll add up values on the way - let's get going.
Meanwhile, you'll find more info about the product at it's homepage:
They say packaging is everything nowadays - after all only those who take care of every small factor will take a connoisseur's approach to packaging. Well, Ultimate Combo 9 is packed differently - in a transparent blue CD shaped box that reminds you of Apple's iMac designs and Microsoft's packaging for Office 2001. The box feels good and sturdy - it holds 8 CDs, although there are grooves for two more. In all, the box is something you'll use often while travelling - good to see that something useful is included by way of packaging.
The box contains no less than 9 full products from CrystalGraphic's award winning stable of PowerPoint add-ins. Presentations magazine conferred its standing ovation award to the precursor of this lline of products - and that's no mean achievement. Needless to add, with Ultimate Combo 9, CrystalGraphics have got to surpass previous expectations.
The last version's backgrounds and templates are gone - in place you are provided with 30,000 templates - that's certainly a whopping number. CrystalGraphics also includes their Quotations add-in which works from within both Word and PowerPoint. Also bundled is the Slides That Win! CBT product.
Beyond these improvements, other changes are not that obvious. In all, Ultimate Combo 9 comprises:
- Templates I VI
- 3D Titles I and II
- Transitions I and II
- Slides That Win!
- PhotoActive FX I and II
- SuperShapes I and II
- Headings I and II
You'll find basic definitions of each product later in this review - however, you might as well be aware that each individual product is worthy of an independent review. In fact two of their products are already reviewed elsewhere on Indezine:
You need to be aware that this is a combo of products - not an integrated suite. Having said that, it is impressive that a combined installation routine is provided. If you allow the setup to install all products, be ready with two things - lots of hard disk space and lots of time to spare.
The combo-install in fact installs only 7 of the 9 products - which is quite unfortunate considering the fact that the two products not installed - Templates and Slides That Win! only place direct shortcuts as part of their own setup routines - these shortcuts could have been easily installed from the first CD itself. This minor gripe aside, the full install requires 510 mb of hard disk space - the installation also proceeds very smoothly and initiates all the add-ins within PowerPoint automatically.
CrystalGraphics claims that all 9 products are compatible with PowerPoint versions 97, 2000 and 2002 (aka XP).
First we'll look at all products except Templates. All add-ins have shortcuts in the Start Menu - and most of them include demo presentations showing their actual implementation.
Certain add-ins like 3D Titles, Transitions and PhotoActive FX need a fairly powerful processor - almost any processor released during the last year should be able to pump through enough adrenalin to run them. 3D Titles and Transitions also tend to run better only on systems equipped with these add-ins - if you need to transport them to other systems, both the 3D Titles and Transitions can be rendered as AVI files - a satisfactory, although not-so-elegant solution. Making you aware of these limitations at the onset will equip us to look at these products with a better perspective.
3D Titles adds capabilities to include both still and animated 3D titles to your PowerPoint presentation. You get plenty of options to tweak these designs to your satisfaction - the basic mode allows you to change the background, text, font, music score and speed - an advanced mode allows you to edit materials and assign specific colours and contrast - you can also choose to stretch or rotate elements. It's like a mini 3D application within PowerPoint - what's more you can save your custom settings.
Transitions must be CrystalGraphics' most famous add-in for PowerPoint - it adds sorely missed TV style transition effects to your repertoire of standard transition styles. The transitions play fabulously on well equipped systems - you can choose to render all transitions to AVI files for systems without the add-in installed. An excellent wizard assists you in transporting such presentations to other systems.
The transitions themselves can be characterized as show-stoppers - your audience would want to know how you did it!
PowerPlugs Charts is an improvement on PowerPoint's own graph module - you can create eye-popping charts complete with detailed rendering. There are choices galore too - every aspect can be customized. All charts created are editable on the original system and PowerPlugs Charts can also be run in standalone mode.
Unfortunately, you cannot animate series to create chart builds - as you could doing PowerPoint's native offerings - this means you have to choose either great looking charts or chart builds - pity you cannot have them both!
This has got to me my favourite PowerPlugs component - since anything created on the host machine can be distributed anywhere. PhotoActive FX is a module through which you can impart eye-catching effects such as borders, colour correction, rotation, fine art effects, textures, etc. to ordinary pictures.
Select a picture and click either the still or animated PhotoActive FX button to launch the add-in. Using the still effects module, you can impart interesting effects to photos - the animated module provides options to create videos from still pictures - using preset animation effects - an advanced mode allows niceties like key-frame editing.
Put together, both the still and animated modules of PowerPlugs PhotoActive FX provide you with an arsenal of effects - it's like a whole new program within PowerPoint - there's a lot of detailed info, which I might take up sometime in a standalone review on PhotoActive FX.
However, one needs to be aware that this module does not work well under PowerPoint 2002 - all sorts of graphic distortion occurs on the filtered images - CrystalGraphics is aware of this bug - and a solution might be available soon.
SuperShapes is something that PowerPoint's own AutoShapes could have been - it places at your disposal an assortment of anti-aliased shapes of arrows, separators, banners, text frames and buttons. Each shape can be customized to the maximum extent - with aspects like colour, shape, lighting, text, fill, etc.
You can also choose to create animated SuperShapes - with all customization options available again. All effects are seamlessly carried over to systems with no SuperShapes available.
Both PhotoActive FX and SuperShapes are compatible with all PowerPoint versions - although no Mac versions of these add-ins are available, effects created on Windows transfer without any problem to PowerPoint on the Mac.
Since both these products are covered by full page reviews at Indezine, I think I would rather lead you to those links than elaborate them here.
Suffice to mention that both products are exemplary in their own right. Here are the links:
Once in a while, there comes along a program that's almost timeless - something where version numbers don't matter any more. Quotations is such a program - in its basic definition, it is a compilation of more than 45,000 quotes - CrystalGraphics proudly claims that this is the largest collection of quotes commercially available.
Interestingly, Quotations works with both PowerPoint and Word. You insert a quote using the Insert -> Quotation command. The resultant dialog box allows you to search by keywords, topics and authors.
How do I find Quotations? - would it be enough to mention that I keep getting to this add-in frequently these days - now if only this add-in was able to run in standalone mode as well. Guess you can't get everything!
How many templates are sufficient - a hundred, a thousand? Now imagine 30,000 templates with 60,000 backgrounds - distributed over 6 CDs - if you want to install them on your hard disk, you'll need 3.5 GB of space! Thankfully, they run off the CDs.
That's PowerPlugs Templates - CrystalGraphics' newest offering - all templates are classified using colour - such as blue, green, red, yellow, etc. The product itself is phenomenal - in both quality and quantity - so much so, you will wish they had a printed catalog to go with the product - or maybe they should have included a catalog application with the program - and given an option to copy all thumbnails to the hard disk.
The PowerPlugs Ultimate Combo 9 product retails at US$599 - although CrystalGraphics did have a scheme some time ago to procure the entire collection for US$499.
At either price, the Ultimate Combo 9 is real value for money - although you might not even use half its contents in one lifetime! Also, volume discounts are available for multiple licenses - you can request more info from the CrystalGraphics site.
Support options include FAQs online and free software updates. Registered owners of CrystalGraphics software can find additional benefits in the Owners' Club area of the site. If your support questions are not covered by these options, you are encouraged to avail email support.
The whole product is amazing - its breadth can leave you in awe. You get almost anything you might want to use to energize your PowerPoint presentations.
However, one cannot help imagining that such a product would be a perfect candidate for DVD distribution - to avoid the hassles of swapping multiple CDs. Also, the Charts module does look positively ancient compared to other state-of-the-art modules - it really needs an update with an option to avail chart builds and series animations.
In all, if you even use a part of the contents available in Ultimate Combo 9, you'll have recovered your original cost. To find a product that is so complete and packed is reason enough to want to own it - if you are in any way involved with presentations of any kind, you'll love Ultimate Combo 9.