First Look: iMovie HD 6

I almost wish Apple hadn’t introduced Themes into iMovie HD 6, because they’re bound to obscure some cool new features in the video editing component of iLife ’06. I mean, themes are cool—you can add well-designed title sequences customized with your own photos and video clips—but they’re cool in that flashy, pop singer, look-at-me kind of way.

Just because Apple is promoting themes as iMovie’s most important feature—they took up the bulk of the demo time Steve Jobs allotted to iMovie in his keynote —doesn’t mean it’s the only addition to the digital-video editing application that deserves attention. Let’s shine some light on what else is exciting about this release. (For an evaluation of these features, read my full review of iMovie HD 6.)

A new look, in real time

First off, iMovie HD 6 looks different than previous versions. Following the aesthetic of iTunes, the brushed metal interface is gone, as is the border between the Monitor and the left edge of the iMovie window. This isn’t a big deal except that the playhead at the bottom of the Monitor perpetually looks as if it isn’t fully rewound (to account for the size of the playhead itself).

To keep everything on the same screen (this is iMovie, after all), Apple’s engineers have had to get creative when allocating screen space. The buttons below the Shelf now reflect categories of tasks instead of direct features—for example, titles, transitions, and effects are now all located in the Editing pane.

Those panes are missing an iMovie fixture from the early days: the preview window. Now, when you click a title, transition, or effect, it’s previewed in the Monitor in real time. (The performance depends on your Mac’s graphics card, since many of the effects are based on Mac OS X’s Core Video components.) Instead of guessing at what an effect might look like, you get to see it (and potentially change it) right away, before rendering the clip.

All effects and titles are previewed in the main monitor in real-time.

This feature is helpful when creating titles. In the past, the preview of your title too often didn’t match the end result. iMovie applies field blending and sub-pixel rendering to improve the quality of text onscreen.

But one sneaky new titling feature remains partially hidden: Control-click a text field and, in the contextual menu that appears, choose Show Fonts from the Font menu. According to Apple, you can use the controls in the Fonts dialog to customize text settings beyond the basic controls in the Titles pane. Unfortunately, this capability doesn’t appear to work in the first shipping version of iMovie HD 6; Apple is aware of the issue and is looking into it. However, you can access the Character palette from here, enabling you to insert glyphs, dingbats, and other characters that wouldn’t be available normally.

And here’s a feature straight out of 1984: you can finally have more than one iMovie project open at the same time. This novel approach is functional, too: you can drag clips between projects without having to import or export them first. Speaking of exporting, you can drag clips from the Timeline directly to other applications or the Desktop, if you want.

Audio effects

iMovie is a visual application, and I’d wager that most users pay much more attention to the video images than to the audio. Editing audio in iMovie used to entail just trimming sound clips and changing volume levels. Now, eight new audio effects (or “Audio FX,” as they’re listed in the Editing pane) add depth to iMovie’s audio manipulation capabilities.

Add depth and remove minor extraneous noise from audio clips using new audio effects.

A graphic equalizer gives you 10 sliders and seven presets for shaping an audio clip’s sound. Other effects, such as Reverb and Delay, are more showy, but the Noise Reducer does a pretty good job of filtering out poor white noise (such as camera motor hum). You won’t confuse these tools with what something like Soundtrack Pro can accomplish, but for most types of movie-editing in iMovie, they add dimension to audio.

Thanks to iLife integration, you can directly preview and import GarageBand songs without having to export them to iTunes first. The small catch is that you need to save songs in GarageBand with an iLife preview.

More ways to share

In addition to exporting video to tape, QuickTime files, and iDVD, an option under the Share menu lets you create a version that’s ready for the iPod with video. More interesting, I think, is the opportunity to export your movie to GarageBand 3 for scoring. I realize I’m touting a GarageBand feature in a look at iMovie, but the interplay between the two will save you a lot of time.

Also new is the capability to publish your movie using iWeb instead of to a .Mac HomePage, giving you more options for designing your content.

Themes

iMovie’s new themes add professional-looking motion graphics to your movies.

Finally, we return to themes. Think of a theme as having your own in-house motion graphics department creating interesting video segues between your scenes. Although there are only five themes included with iMovie HD 6, each is made up of between five and eight components ranging from opening title sequences to “bumpers” (transitions between scenes) to end credits.

Since Apple has done all of the design work up front, all you have to do is drop your photos or movies onto the Drop Zone editor to populate the theme with your own content. After looking over the real-time preview, drag the theme into the Timeline; it’s rendered as just another video clip.

We’ll see if the limited number of themes gets old, but I’ll bet that a collection of new themes from third-party developers are already underway. And then you can really put together your flashy, look-at-me videos for everyone to see.

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