With its spunky G3 processor and generous hard drive, an iMac would seem to be a natural platform for hobbyist video editing. But because the iMac lacks expansion slots, it can't accept the video-input cards that let you connect a camcorder or VCR to the computer to digitize videotaped footage. True to its wordy name, Avid Technology's Avid Cinema for Macintosh with USB stashes video-digitizing circuitry in a small box that connects to the USB port on an iMac or a blue-and-white G3. The box and its simple editing software make an excellent entry-level video-editing systemprovided you don't need to output your finished product to videotape.
The paperback-size USB box sports one composite-video connector and one S-Video connector. To digitize video, simply plug your video device into the box and plug the box into your Mac. Avid Cinema uses the Mac's built-in audio circuitry to record sound. With the USB box, an iMac can digitize 30-frame-per-second video at a movie size of 320 by 240 pixels. That isn't full-screen video, but it's ideal for movies that will be stored on CD-ROM, compressed for the Web, or played from the Mac's hard disk.
If yours is an older iMac, you'll need to update its firmware before installing the Avid Cinema software. The Avid Cinema CD-ROM includes Apple's updater software and instructions; the process takes about a minute.
Avid Cinema's software has always offered more hand-holding than a kindergarten crossing guard; version 1.3 retains this simplicity while broadening your output options.
The Storyboard screen helps you plan the shots and editing sequence for dozens of movie types, such as birthday parties and real-estate tours. On-screen tips give shooting and editing advice, and the excellent manual elaborates on many of them. If you prefer to wing it, you can skip this screen and proceed directly to digitizing, which is as easy as pressing your VCR's Play button while clicking on Avid Cinema's Record button.
After you digitize your clips, you can change their duration and sequence, create superimposed titles, and add sound effects and music tracks (see "Avid Editing"). Avid Cinema provides all the common video effectssuch as dissolves, wipes, and spinsbut it doesn't give you precise control over their duration. Indeed, the lack of precise editing control is Avid Cinema's chief shortcoming.
When you've finished your video, you can view a full-screen version of it. You can also compress it in a variety of formats; an advanced mode lets you specify QuickTime compression settings. What you can't do is output your final product to videotapethe USB box is an input-only affair. To record a completed project to tape, you'll need to move it to a first-generation Power Mac G3 equipped with an Apple video input/output card.
Avid Cinema for Macintosh with USB's inability to record projects to tape is a show-stopping limitation for movie makers who want to commit their efforts to videocassette. But if you're content to view your movies on screen or you plan to deliver them via CD-ROM or the Web, Avid Cinema is a winner. There's no easier way to edit video with a Mac, and there's no other way to digitize video with an iMac.
RATING: PROS: High-quality video captures; extremely easy-to-use editing software; excellent manual. CONS: Can't output video to tape; imprecise editing controls. COMPANY: Avid Technology (800/949-2843, http://www.avidcinema.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED STREET PRICE: $299.
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