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Want to test the waters of digital video production? Need to create simple videos for business presentations or personal Web sites? Has Apple got a program for you. It's called iMovie, and it costs exactly nothing.

iMovie is the video-editing software that Apple accompanies the iMac DV and iMac DV Special Edition (see " The iMac is Back "). These iMac models contain FireWire ports that can connect to DV-format camcorders (see " Camcorder Casting Call "). The combination of FireWire and iMovie makes it easy and downright fun to bring high-quality digital video into the Mac, edit it, and then record it back to tape.

Initially, the only way to get iMovie was to buy an iMac DV. But reports soon surfaced that iMovie also ran on other Mac models, including blue-and-white G3s as well as G4s -- all of which also have FireWire ports. Owners of these Macs begged Apple to bundle iMovie with the Mac OS or at least sell it separately. iMovie CD-ROMs even appeared on auction sites such as eBay, sometimes selling for over $120.

Apple responded to the ruckus by making iMovie available free for the downloading. Apple's generosity may have been inspired in part by Microsoft, which, in a dazzling display of its ability to innovate to the benefit of consumers everywhere, has announced plans to include an iMovie-like program with its forthcoming Windows Millennium Edition.

Big Download, Bigger Exaggeration

The iMovie 1.0.2 download weighs in at over 19MB. If you can't endure lengthy downloads, you can order an iMovie CD-ROM for $20 ($30 in Canada). The CD-ROM includes tutorial footage that the download version lacks. That footage aside, the downloadable iMovie is identical to the version bundled with the iMac DV models.

iMovie's system requirements call for a Power Mac G4 or FireWire-equipped PowerBook running Mac OS 9.0.4 and QuickTime 4.1 or later. Baloney. iMovie runs beautifully on blue-and-white G3 Power Macs and under Mac OS 8.6. I also tried iMovie on an older (Revision B) iMac; it worked fine, although its installer crashed when the iMac's screen resolution was set to 640 by 480 pixels. Many users have even reported successful results from beige Power Macs containing G3 upgrade cards and third-party FireWire cards such as Orange Micro's OrangeLink family.

Camcorder compatibility is another story. One of the beauties of FireWire is that it enables device control -- iMovie controls your DV camcorder as you press the on-screen Play, Rewind, and Stop buttons. But this works only if you're using an iMovie-compatible camcorder or video deck. Apple has published a list of iMovie-compatible gear at Stray from this list, and you risk problems, such as the inability to record a completed project back to tape.

No Manual Needed

iMovie has great online help, but you probably won't refer to it often -- iMovie is that easy. (For some insights into iMovie's subtleties, see " Home-Movie Magic. ")

iMovie packs all the features you need to make digital videos into a clean, easy-to-use interface.

iMovie divides the screen into several regions (see the image above). A monitor region displays video from a FireWire-connected camcorder and also shows a preview of your epic. To its right is the shelf , which holds movie clips as well as still images (iMovie imports PICT, JPEG, and GIF images, among others).

Below the shelf are four buttons -- click on one, and a tool palette slides out that enables you to add visual transitions between scenes; create titles whose text can be superimposed over a scene or over black; import music from audio CDs; or add sound effects from a small library included with iMovie.

Across the bottom of the screen is iMovie's timeline-like clip viewer , where you do most of your editing. To add a freshly captured scene to a movie, drag it from the shelf into the clip viewer. To add a transition between two scenes, drag the transition icon to the clip viewer, and the two scenes separate to make room for it. It's all so straightforward that you'll be making movies in minutes.

When you've finished, you can record your movie back to DV videotape via FireWire, with iMovie controlling the camcorder for you. You can also export to a standalone QuickTime movie that you can post on a Web site, include in a PowerPoint presentation, or burn to a CD.

Macworld's Buying Advice

iMovie excels at simple editing, but it falls flat at more advanced tasks. Its audio features are weak. You can't separate the audio and video of a scene so that you can cut away to a second shot while the first shot's audio continues to play. Nor can you precisely adjust volume levels so that, say, background music fades slightly when narration begins.

iMovie also lacks the range of effects found in programs such as Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro. You can't pan across a still image, composite one video clip within another, or create slow-motion effects.

But criticizing iMovie for these shortcomings is like criticizing the toy surprise inside a box of Cracker Jack. iMovie is splendid software, and it's free . Go download it now.


4.5 mice
PROS: Extremely easy to use; runs on wide range of Macs. CONS: Limited audio and effects features. COMPANY: Apple Computer (408/996-1010, PRICE: free (CD-ROM version, $20).

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