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Jack Kenny looks at a software collection that offers amazing value for money

Adobe School Collection 2.0 (Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0, plus Adobe Premiere Elements 1.0) From pound;9.99 per user for 10-user pack and pound;29.99 per user for 200-user pack List of education suppliers at:

This could be the bargain of the year. Two "lite" versions of key programs for video editing and image editing at an unbeatable price (for Windows XP Home and Professional). Both programs in Adobe School Collection are siblings of the two major packages in use throughout the commercial worlds of image and video-editing. Premiere Pro alone costs around pound;600.

This is an opportunity to introduce students to industry standard packages at a fraction of the full price. With progression in mind, these programs could be an appealing place to start. It all sounds tempting, but first you need to think, is this what we need?

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 has many of Photoshop's best and most powerful features without being too overpowering for the new user, and it hasn't been cut down to the point where it will deter the experienced.

A key skill in digital photography is not how well you deal with "red-eye", but how well you can find a particular image out of the hundreds you have taken. Photoshop Elements 3.0 integrates the image browsing and organising software Photoshop Album. This enables you to organise your images and create slideshows, CDs, photo galleries, postcards and photo albums. You can deal with red-eye in "quick fix", adjust lighting and colour, and sharpen the image, with a "before" and "after" view of the two pictures.

Completely new is the "healing brush", which enables you to re-touch pictures, while the "cookie cutter" tool helps crop pictures into interesting shapes. In the "help" section, the "how to" is genuinely useful, especially when you first start the program. Photoshop does not yield up its riches instantly; you have to stick with it if you want great results.

Adobe Premiere Elements is not for the beginner. It is one stage up: experienced beginner. The main competitors for this program are offerings from Pinnacle, Ulead and Magix. Basic editing can be done with Microsoft's free program MovieMaker (if you have Windows XP).

At first sight the program works in the same way as most others - there's a screen, time-line and clip desk. The difference with Premiere is that the appearance of the software changes as you go through the editing. There is a set of tabs along the top taking you through the film-making procedure: capture, edit, effects, titles, DVD and export. Selecting a tab gives you a unique working area. Whatever stage you are at, it has the exact tools you need.

Speed of preparing your final video (rendering) is a strong point. A weakness is the way that audio is done. You can add multiple audio tracks, but balancing one against another is fiddly and lacks precision.

Admittedly, you can add many effects to the audio, as indeed you can with the video, but the basic operation of adjusting the balances should be better than this.

A great strength, and this is not apparent in many programs, is the way that you can drop in video files from archives and re-edit them. For many people who are just beginning to enjoy the luxury and riches of the British Pathe Film Archive or Channel 4's ClipBank library the ease with which this can be done will be a recommendation.

Most video-editing programs are unstable; this one isn't. Premiere outputs to all the major video formats, and not many programs will do that. This is the first version of the cut-down software and if the problems with the sound can be ironed out it will be unbeatable. As it is, it is worth having if what these programs can achieve are what you need.

* A user guide for Adobe School Collection 2.0 can be downloaded from the Adobe website (see box)

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