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It's been two years since Apple last revamped its easy-to-use video-editing application, and for many users, it looks as though the company's time has been well spent. iMovie 3.0.1 sports a number of deep enhancements, and the program benefits immensely from integration with the rest of the iLife suite.

Refined Interface

From the outset, iMovie 3 presents a more refined, yet still familiar, interface. Instead of taking over your entire screen, the application's contents reside inside a single resizable window -- especially great news for users with large monitors who want access to the rest of their screen real estate. The iMovie monitor, Clips pane, clip viewer, and timeline viewer remain in the same relative positions.

The way you work within the clip viewer is much like it was before -- but now when you drag a piece of video from the Clips pane into a sequence, the other clips fluidly make room for the newcomer.

iMovie 3's difference is more apparent in the timeline viewer, where a new and very useful option called Edit Volume lets you adjust volume throughout a clip to create audio fade-ins and -outs, cut unwelcome noise, and boost weak voices.

However, we did find that iMovie 3 was noticeably sluggish in some cases, including when we edited projects converted from iMovie 2, pressed the spacebar to begin playing a clip, and first opened a project. iMovie 2 users on slower systems should upgrade with caution.

Integration

iMovie 3's expanded iMedia Browser is where iMovie and the rest of the iLife apps interact.

iPhoto Pressing the new Photos button displays the contents of your iPhoto 2 Photo Library. You can easily grab photos from iPhoto and slide them into your timeline, or you can animate them with the new Ken Burns Effect tool. Named after the documentary filmmaker behind Jazz, Baseball, and The Civil War, the Ken Burns Effect is a powerful feature that lets you zoom into and pan across still images. To use it, establish the position and size of the image at the start of the clip and then set the position and the size for the end -- iMovie animates the in-between movement. Unfortunately, iMovie applies the same settings to all subsequent still images you add to your sequence; this isn't helpful because you'll rarely want to animate two images in exactly the same way. It would be more logical -- and reduce mouse-clicks -- if iMovie's default photo treatment was a standard still image. To make matters worse, it's not easy to turn the Ken Burns Effect off. There isn't a reset button for the effect. To turn it off, you need to load the clip into the Ken Burns Effect window and set the Start and Finish points to a Zoom value of 1.00.

iTunes Next in the iMedia browser is the Audio button. Pressing it reveals a pane that gives you access to your entire iTunes Library, as well as an expanded set of sound effects. While this is a helpful element, the interface is clunky -- there's only a Play button for previewing music and sound. This forces you to preview the audio clips in real time from the start, which can be very annoying with long clips.

iDVD In iMovie 3's iDVD pane, you can set chapter markers at logical breaks in your project, giving viewers the option of skipping ahead to particular scenes while they're watching your movie on a DVD created in iDVD 3. To create a chapter marker, place the playhead on the timeline, click on the Add Chapter button in the iDVD pane, and name the chapter.

When you've finished editing your project, you can transfer the project to iDVD just by choosing Create iDVD Project -- you no longer need to perform a lengthy QuickTime export of your movie, and the transfer to iDVD 3 takes only a few moments.

Welcome Changes

Beyond the marquee features, there are a few other new touches that make iMovie 3 even more of an impressive update.

Special Effects iMovie 3 includes an expanded set of video effects with filters such as Aged Film, Fairy Dust, Ghost Trails, and Earthquake. These filters take iMovie one step closer to its more-professional counterparts. The Title tool has similarly been updated with additional settings.

Video Import Click on the Clips button, and you'll see the familiar Clips pane, which stores and catalogs recorded video elements. But now you can import all sorts of different clips into the pane, instead of just footage from a DV camcorder. iMovie 3 lets you import any QuickTime movies (provided that the resulting clip is less than 9 minutes, 57 seconds in length -- a 2GB file-size limit). You can drag them into the Clips pane or choose Import from the File menu. Either way, you can easily import DV clips from Final Cut Pro or AVI movies from your digital camera into iMovie.

Macworld's Buying Advice

iMovie 3 is a significant upgrade to Apple's easy-to-use video-editing program. iMovie benefits greatly from integration with all the other iLife applications, both in terms of easy access to source media and easy links to iDVD for disc burning. -- anton linecker

iMovie 3 Tips and Tricks

These tips will help you overcome the limitations of the Ken Burns Effect and use iMovie's new audio tool.

Controlling Ken The Ken Burns Effect animates still images between the beginning and end of a clip, but the image is in constant motion. Often, constant motion is all you need, but sometimes you don't want the image to begin moving immediately at the cut -- or you may want to hold on an image after the animation is done. Indeed, in many of Ken Burns's documentaries, a pan or zoom will stop on an image to emphasize its importance.

To hold on an image before the animation starts or after it ends, you need to treat the animation and the still images separately. First, apply the Ken Burns Effect to an image and add it to your timeline. At this point, you have a clip with different pan and zoom positions for the beginning and the end. If you want the animation to start on a still image, position your playhead at the beginning of your animated clip. Choose Create Still Image (shift-1-S). This creates a still image in the Clips pane. Insert the still image ahead of the animated clip, and choose the amount of time you want the still image to linger.

If you want to end the animation with a still frame, choose the animated clip in the sequence and place the playhead at the tail of the clip. Again, create a still image and drag the new still from the Clips pane to your timeline after the animated clip.

Volume versus Volume When iMovie is in timeline mode, you'll see two volume sliders -- one above the timeline and one underneath. Although they look identical, they actually do very different things. The slider above the timeline is a permanent fixture in iMovie that controls the computer playback volume. The second volume slider appears only in the timeline window -- it's the clip volume control. To activate the slider, click on the Edit Volume button.

To adjust a clip's audio, click on the section of the clip you want to adjust and either drag the marker (also known as a keyframe) up or down, or move the slider. This way, you can reduce the volume of background music when you want to hear someone speaking in your movie, for example, and you can make as many adjustments as you like. -- anton linecker

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