Utility software

Mac 911 - Oct. 2007

Blurry iMovie stills

Q: Even if my pictures are sharp in iPhoto, they lose quality when I add them to an iMovie project and then burn them to disk with iDVD. After a transition, each picture appears fuzzy before snapping into focus. Is there anything I can do to solve this problem?— Jim Houle

A: There’s no quick fix for this one, but you can do a few things to get better results with Apple’s iMovie HD (/Applications). First, it’s important to realize that iMovie doesn’t display previews of still images all that well. You can improve this by choosing iMovie HD: Preferences, clicking on Playback, and enabling the Highest (Field Blending) option. This will make the previews look better—although still not great. Luckily, what you’re seeing is only a preview, not the real thing. The rendered images will look better when you export the movie.

To make the finished product look as good as possible, check that your still images are at least 640 by 480 pixels. Anything less, and iMovie will blow up the images to fit the frame, which leads to unsightly pixelation (see “Pixelated Preview”).

I also recommend that you avoid using iMovie transitions such as fades and dissolves with your stills. During and just after the transition, the images can look pixelated and grainy. A quick cut will provide cleaner-looking video.

You can also improve picture quality by exporting your movie using QuickTime’s Expert Settings rather than sending it directly to iDVD via iMovie’s Share: iDVD command. Choose Share: QuickTime, select Expert Settings from the Compress Movie For pop-up menu, click on Share, and, in the resulting Save Exported File As dialog box, choose Movie To MPEG-4 from the Export pop-up menu and LAN/Intranet from the Use pop-up menu. Click on Save. Once you’ve saved the movie, you can drag it into an iDVD project to add it.

Finally, if you really want to make the best-looking slide shows possible in iDVD, skip iMovie and just use iDVD to create them. To do this, open iDVD and choose Project: Add Slideshow, and then double-click on the My Slideshow entry that appears on your project’s main screen. In the screen that reads Drag Images Here, do exactly what it says—either by selecting and dragging images from the Media Browser or by dragging images from the Finder into the window. Use the Slide Duration pop-up menu to choose how long you’d like the images to appear on screen, add a transition and music, and click on the play button to see how the slide show will look when burned to DVD. I think you’ll be far happier with the results you get.

The nonprinting printer

Q: I own an Epson Stylus Color 880 printer. The last time I installed new cartridges, I used third-party inks instead of Epson’s to save a few bucks. The printer thinks these cartridges are half full, yet it still won’t print. What’s going on?— John Boyd

A: The printer thinks the printer cartridges are half full because, quite likely, they are. The most probable reason it won’t print is because the nozzles are gunked up. Although it would be easy to blame the non-Epson inks you used, it’s possible that gunk has accumulated because you haven’t used the printer very often. I’ve owned a few Epson ink-jets, and my experience has been that unless I print at least every three to five days, the print head’s nozzles get clogged. And I’m not alone. If you look, you’ll notice that Epson’s FAQ for this printer puts clogged print nozzles at the top of the list of the most common issues.

Epson recommends that you use its printer utility to perform head-cleaning and nozzle-check tests. These should blow the gunk out of the nozzles. Run the tests up to three times. If that doesn’t work, the company suggests trying a new cartridge. If that’s a no-go as well, Epson recommends that you take the printer in for service.

Because such service can be expensive, I’ll suggest one other thing to try before you send it to the shop. The Web site Fixyourownprinter.com offers cleaning kits for a wide variety of printers. For $10 plus shipping and handling, the company will sell you a bottle of print-head cleaning solution, which the company claims matches Epson’s formula.

iMovie chapters as iDVD clips

Q: I use iMovie and iDVD to make DVDs of family video clips. I would like to map the DVD chapters so that after each one plays, you return to the DVD menu instead of continuing on to the end of the DVD. Is there a way to do this, either as part of the iMovie building process or when I’m working in iDVD?— Bob Flint

A: iMovie’s description of chapter designations as markers is apt (they’re called chapter s after you’ve imported the video into the iDVD project). The markers don’t actually divide the video—they’re simply bookmarks pointing to a particular position within it. Although you can select one of the markers to begin watching the video at that point, playback doesn’t stop at the beginning of a new chapter.

Getting the results you seek is kind of a pain, but it is possible. Return to the original iMovie project and select the contents of your first chapter—this can include the opening title, scenes and transitions, and any extra audio tracks you’ve included. (Note that if you want to include both video and extra audio tracks, you’ll need to drag a selection rectangle over all the tracks, as iMovie doesn’t allow you to select multiple tracks by Command-clicking.)

Copy the selected material. Create a new iMovie project and paste the selected material into the new movie. If the pasted material ends without a transition, add a fade-out so that the chapter doesn’t end abruptly. If it ends with a transition other than a fade-out, replace the current transition with a fade-out. Save your project and repeat this copy, paste, and save process for every chapter, giving each one a descriptive name when you save it. It’s also a good idea to add a fade-in transition for succeeding chapters so that their beginnings seem a little smoother.

Now, launch iDVD and, from the main page, choose Project: Add Submenu. The label My Submenu will appear on the iDVD screen. Change the name to reflect what you’re going to put here—call it Individual Scenes, for example. Then double-click on this new submenu to move to its screen.

In the Finder, locate the iMovie project files you created and drag them, in order, into this screen. When you burn your DVD, you will now be able to access the individual chapters from your Individual Scenes screen.

If you have enough room on the DVD, it’s worthwhile to include these individual scenes and the original movie with its chapter marks (see “Chapters and Clips”). That way you can navigate your video in the traditional way—playing it straight through from the beginning or from a selected chapter to the end—or you can select individual chapters and return to the DVD’s menu after each one plays.

Sync select contacts

Q: Is there a way to archive the phone numbers and addresses of contacts I don’t need any more? I sync my Motorola Razr phone with my iMac’s address book, but the latter includes names of people I’m no longer in touch with, as well as business contacts I don’t currently use. Ideally I’d like to have two address books—one to sync with my Razr and one for archiving.— Andrew Harris

A: There’s no need for two address books when one will do the job. Thanks to the Group feature within Apple’s Address Book (in /Applications), you don’t need multiple address books. Just click on the plus-sign (+) button beneath the Group pane at the left of the Address Book window, create a new group called Old Contacts, and drag the contacts you no longer need into this group. If you’d like to make a backup of the group so you can then delete these contacts from Address Book, just drag Old Contacts to the desktop. This creates a single vCard file containing the contacts. Store it wherever you like. To retrieve its contents, drag it back into Address Book.

Now create a new group and call it something like Phone Contacts. Drag into this group any contacts that you would like to sync with your phone. Open iSync (in /Applications), select your phone at the top of the window, and, from the Synchronize pop-up menu that appears under the Contacts heading, choose your Phone Contacts group. If you want to transfer only those contacts with phone numbers to the Razr, click on the More Options button at the bottom of the window and make sure the Only Synchronize Contacts With Phone Numbers option is selected.

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, second edition (Peachpit Press, 2007) and The iPhone Pocket Guide (Peachpit Press, 2007). ]

Pixelated Preview: The still image of this flower looks crisp (A). But when you use it in a slide show in iMovie, you get a fuzzy preview (B) by default.Chapters and Clips: If you have the desire (and room on your disc), you can create a DVD that gives you the choice to either play individual clips from a movie or just watch the whole thing in one long sequence.

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