Friday, 27 January 2012

Review: SlideShowPro Director

Editing an album within SlideShowPro Director 

Around twelve months ago, i heard about the content management and publishing application called SlideShowPro Director while reading through a photographer's blog. The post featured a glowing review of the features and abilities of the software. Recently, while updating my website, i decided to buy the application myself. After around six weeks of using the platform, I thought i'd add my opinions about this content management system to this blog. Here is my review.

Login Screen
Galleries. There, I've said it! That little word has caused me no end of aggravation in the past. While most of the plugins, add-ons and 'gallery engines' pledge that they have been designed to make the job of putting together a slideshow an easy task, often they do the exact opposite. Building a gallery should be easy. Straightforward. Simple. A photographer shouldn't have to spend his time fighting with the very system that is supposed to be helping him. When it came to a recent re-design of my main website at the end of last year, i wanted to completely update the gallery system on the website. I remembered SlideShowPro Director and decided, after a look around at what was available, to use that publishing platform on the new site.

Upload Screen
Purchasing is very straightforward and the download process went equally smoothly. The self install is priced at $59, which works out at just under £40 for any Brits reading this. I should mention at this point, that i did pay for my own copy of SlideShowPro Director. No paid or sponsored endorsements here.  I decided to go for the self hosted version of SlideShowPro, but a hosted version at slideshowpro.com is also available. The license for the self install applies to one domain name only and the activation key is quickly emailed to you on confirmation of purchase. If you aren't technically minded or don't like the idea of hosting the platform on your own server, then the SlideShowPro.com hosted version may be the route to go. Prices are very reasonable at $49.00 per year, $80 for two years or just $29.00 for six months.

Snapshot Screen
Installation was simple. If you can install WordPress or Drupal onto a server, then you will find have no problem installing SlideShowPro Director. I was surprised that the download file was a very small 6kb in size. A very useful and intuitive install wizard guides you through the install process, making sure every server setting is correct. As soon as MySQL databases are set up, username and password selected,  the small installation file will install the SlideShowPro Director software direct to your server. The demands on the server were something i was slightly concerned about, but so far the impact on my server host has been minimal - more space has been used and there has been a marginal increase in bandwidth use.  SlideShowPro Director can upload large images with the default (it can be altered) on my installation being set at 8Mb, but to conserve space on the server, I've limited my image file sizes to around 1Mb. You are then ready to start creating your own photo albums and embedding them onto your website.

Albums Overview
To access SlideShowPro Director, the user goes to a login page, enters their username and password - you then enter the management system. After login, the first screen you arrive at is the 'snapshot' page that gives you an overview of recent uploads, recent gallery/album updates and SlideShowPro news. In the top left hand corner is the tap navigation that helps you get around. As well as the snapshot and user area, there is a help section and most important of all, two sections concerned with the uploading and management of images. The one that you will spend the majority of your time in is the albums sections. Here you are offered standard and smart albums. The standard album format is simple enough - place images in an album, move them around via drag n' drop, then embed the code into your website page to get your slideshow. Smart albums offers a more controlled, smarter display option where rules can be applied to image display, the most common in use being the 'recent' and ' past month' galleries displaying recently uploaded material. The system does enable more sophisticated edits to be made so that an image or collection of images can appear and disappear whenever required. The galleries section simple determines which albums are shown together within the embedded media player. This offers the viewer the ability to go from one slideshow to another easily and it's a great way of grouping related work together and navigating through it all.

Embed options Screen
 SlideShowPro Director embeds a Flash version of the slideshow AND a useful HTML5 version for iPhone, iPad and Android visitors to your website. Viewers access the different versions of the player depending on the device they view the website with. Embedding the slideshow is easy enough. After choosing from a range of style options, you then just simple press the 'copy embed code' button, and paste the javascript code to the chosen page. Simple. One thing to be aware of though, is how some website restrict the use of embedded javascript code. For example, self hosted WordPress websites should be OK, but WordPress.com hosted sites don't allow embedded javascript. The best method to find out if Director will work with your current website is to try the free 14 day trial, and test it with your set-up before purchasing a license. SlideShowPro also provide a small file that you download to your server to test server compatibility with the software. Most good server hosts should easily conform to the requirements needed to access SlideShowPro Director. If in doubt, download and use the14 day trial to test all the features.

Slideshow Navigation
After six weeks of use, i've come to really love SlideShowPro Director. It's easy to use, powerful and flexible. I've added galleries in minutes and best of all it's improved the visual dynamics of the website immensely. Images are easier to find and manage, and the viewing experience, especially when using the full screen option, is now excellent. The application has been well thought out to include more functions than you can shake a stick at. The fact that you can also embed video to your website using this package makes Director an ideal presentation solution for any photographers using video too. I haven't tried that function yet, but i intend to at a later date. Customisation of the media player is possible using some of the components and plugins available from the SlideShowPro website. If you want to style your own universal media player to suit the design of your website, the tools are there so that you can achieve that.

In conclusion, I've found SlideShowPro Director to be a delight. Maintaining slideshows is easy and because the application is based online, i can add work, create new presentations, etc from wherever i happen to be - all i need is the laptop and an internet connection. The fact that Director can handle video and has HTML5 support for viewers using mobile devices is just the icing on the cake.

Highly Recommended 5/5

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