Playback performance in ProShow

ProShow Gold, ProShow Producer

ProShow provides best-in-class playback of slide shows. Understanding what can affect playback performance can help you improve the performance of your shows.

In most cases, ProShow’s playback performance will be superior.  If you’re seeing issues with playback performance, there are a several different things to check and consider.

How well ProShow can play a show on your computer depends on a number of factors:

  • How the show is being played. Playback performance tends to be better if you’re playing a video of the show, rather than playing the show from within ProShow.
  • How complex is the show. Many of today’s coolest effects can really strain your system.  The more things happening on-screen at once, the more work ProShow has to do during playback.
  • How fast is your computer. A great computer from just a few years ago may already be dated by today’s standards.  Even the most high-end computers can still struggle if the show is complex enough.

Let’s take a look at each of these factors in a little more detail.

How the Show is Being Played

Playing a show requires that your photos, videos and text are combined using all your chosen settings to produce the visual images you see on the screen.  This process of producing the show is called rendering.  When you play a show from within ProShow, the software is rendering the show real-time.  While the show is playing, it is also being rendered.  When you create a video from a show and play it back, the rendering happens during video creation – not during playback.

Real-time rendering and playback has advantages.  There’s no waiting while a video is created.  You hit play, and the show typically starts playing.  With ProShow 5’s GPU accelerated rendering, your show is rendered and played at full resolution, giving you the best quality for your display.  There are also some disadvantages.  Since the rendering is happening real-time, if your computer can’t quite keep up, you’ll see stalls or jittering.  How the show plays is very dependent on your computer.

When you create and play a video, the hard work (rendering) is done before playback.  This means less work during playback, resulting in smoother playback.  If you create a video file from your show, you’ll typically be able to play that video back on your computer with no stalling or jerkiness.  The downside to video is the creation delay (you have to wait while the video is created before you can play your show).  From a quality perspective, creating a 1080p video file in ProShow will typically give great quality.

Suggestion: If you want to ensure smooth playback, create a 1080p video from your slideshow, and play that video on your computer.

How Complex is the Show

A big factor affecting playback is the complexity of the show.  Slideshows have come a long way in the last few years, and each new level of creativity puts more demand on your computer.  Many of the effects that ProShow users easily add with a few clicks were things that required high-end video production hardware just a decade ago.  As effects have gotten more complex, photos and videos have gotten bigger.  Just a few years ago, the average photographer might dump a few dozen 2 megapixel images into a show.  Now they might dump a few hundred 18 megapixel photos in a show.

ProShow will render just about anything you throw at it, but your computer may not be able to do it fast enough.

If you’ve used photo editors like Photoshop, you’re probably used to the slight delays that happen you resize, blur, or add other effects to a photo.  Photoshop may stall for just a fraction of a second, or it may ask you to sit for several seconds.  When you’ve got a complex slide with tons of effects and layers, you might be asking ProShow to do the same kind of work in 1/60th of a second, and on many more photos.

Things that add complexity fast:

  • Using lots of effects at once (blur, shadows, tilt, rotation, etc).
  • Using lots of high resolution photos in one slide.
  • Using really short slide or transition times, which gives ProShow less time to work on each slide.

If you’re seeing your show bog down at the same spot frequently, you’ve probably got a slide that is too complex for ProShow to play back real-time.

  • Try removing some effects from the slide.
  • Increase the slide time (gives ProShow more time to work).
  • Create a video file (see the section above!)

Suggestion: If you go a little crazy with effects, create a video when your ready to play your show.  If you absolutely need real-time playback within ProShow, try simplifying your slides.

How Fast is Your Computer

Obviously, the faster your computer is, the better your shows will play.  However, even the fastest personal computers may not keep up with everything you can create in ProShow.  Understanding the which parts of your computer can affect playback can help you decide if its time for a new system.

ProShow 5 introduced GPU Accelerated Rendering.  This lets ProShow use your computer’s video card to help play your show.  When this is available and enabled, you’ll typically get much better playback.  You can check if ProShow is using GPU Accelerated Rendering by going to Preferences > Playback.

Some systems may not be able to use GPU Accelerated Rendering.  ProShow automatically tests your system, and if your computer scores well enough we enable GPU Accelerated Rendering.  If your score is too low, we disable it.  In ProShow, go to Help > About, and you’ll see your GPU Benchmark listed.  This number is your score.  Anything above about a 50 is decent, and anything over 100 is pretty great.  If you’ve got a really low number, your computer is probably in need of some attention.

When GPU Accelerated Rendering is enabled, ProShow plays back shows at your full monitor resolution.  This gives you the best quality, and is a big improvement over earlier versions of ProShow.  However, this means that your monitor resolution has a big impact on performance.  If you’ve got a high resolution monitor (like 1920 x 1080), ProShow is doing a lot more work to play your show.  In fact, rendering to 1920 x 1080 is very similar to rendering a full HD Blu-ray disc in real-time.  Not many programs can do that real time, but in most cases ProShow will play that just with GPU Accelerated Rendering.

If your system doesn’t score well enough to run with GPU Accelerated Rendering, or if you’ve turned it off, ProShow will fall back to what we call the ‘software renderer.’  When this happens, ProShow renders your show using the same engine that was used in earlier versions.  It is slower, so ProShow reduces the resolution.  Instead of playing the show at your monitor resolution, ProShow plays your show at 800×600 and zooms it up to your monitor size.  That’s why you’ll sometimes see a little blurriness when playing fullscreen.  You can change that size in the preferences, but doing so may cause playback to stall or get a little jittery.

So what parts of your computer affect playback?  Pretty much all of them.

  • The CPU.  Obviously, the processor in your computer makes a big difference.  Faster is always better.  The processor does 100% of the work in software rendering, and is still very important in GPU Accelerated Rendering (preparing photos, etc).
  • The GPU.  Your video card is crucial in determining if your computer can use the new GPU Accelerated Rendering.  You’ll want a video card made in the last couple of years, and you’ll want at least 256 MB of video memory.
  • Hard Drives.  Every photo, video and music track in your show lives somewhere on your hard drive.  When ProShow plays your show, it has to load each file from the drive.  If your drives are slow or having errors, it can cause loading content to take a lot longer.  Pulling content from a network drive, or external drive (including USB/Firewire) will almost always cause extra delays.  Always use content off your actual hard drives.
  • Memory.  If your computer runs low on memory, Windows starts using your hard drive as RAM.  That’s really slow.  Your computer should have at least 4GB of memory, and 2GB of that should be free when you start ProShow.

Sometimes you can greatly improve performance by just rebooting, and using ProShow without starting any other applications.  Sometimes running a few utilities to scan your computer for problems can make a big difference.  Sometimes it’s just time to upgrade.

Suggestions: Make sure your computer is in good working order.  Upgrade any old components.  If you’re just asking your computer to do more work than it can handle, create a video file from your show and play that instead.