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Review: iMovie '08

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At a Glance
  • Apple iMovie '08

With the release of iMovie ’08, Apple has redefined its consumer video program’s mission and methodology. With the popularity of broadband Internet access, and particularly the YouTube video sharing Web site, iMovie is now focused on helping people quickly and easily capture, view, organize, and edit movies all in one place, and then readily share them online in a variety of formats. It does this better, faster, and more easily than any other consumer-level application I’m aware of on any platform. Think of iMovie ’08 as iPhoto for video.

However, in repositioning iMovie ’08 so firmly as a consumer product, many of the program’s more advanced features have been lost, making it an inappropriate choice for prosumers and professionals, and upsetting many users of the prior version.

Fresh code, fresh way of thinking

iMovie ’08 is a fundamental re-write, not just of the code, but of how to approach editing video. The old iMovie felt like a stripped down Final Cut ( ) program in which you worked with timelines, bins, and filters. The new iMovie is more like the difference between iPhoto ( ) and Photoshop ( )—the consumer as opposed to the professional, the quick and casual versus the precise and hard-core. In broad strokes they do the same things, but in very different ways.

In the broadest sense, video editing for consumers has not been as widely successful or adopted to the same extent as digital still photography. iMovie ’08 is Apple’s attempt to make something as easy to use as iPhoto for video editing. Indeed, iMovie ’08 feels a lot like iPhoto—for example, the library (with its new event-based organization) allows you to view, organize, and work with your entire video collection at a glance, combine and edit videos together into projects with a minimum of mouse clicks, then export your project either for your own use or to share online. A true one-stop-shop.

Getting started

Installing iMovie ’08 was a smooth process with only minor glitches on several Macs I tested it on (two G5s and a MacBook). Existing asset libraries from previous iLife installs (I have many thousands of pictures, videos, and audio files on my MacBook) loaded without a hitch. The new iMovie seemed stable: I experienced only one unexpected quit after several days of use. Launch times increase, however, with large media libraries.

Users of the previous iMovie, or of other video editing software, may be challenged at first, as iMovie doesn’t work the way other video editing applications do. The media/timeline sections are in different positions, clicking and dragging doesn’t drag a clip to a new location, and other differences that make the first five minutes frustrating. Take the time to watch the online tutorials (they make for a quicker learn than the online help, and there is no printed manual) for 10 or 20 minutes, and you’ll appreciate why the changes have been made.

Functionality: no worries, no waiting

At first glance, it would seem that Apple just cleaned up and reorganized iMovie’s interface, but the workflow and implementation of iMovie ’08 is entirely different than before.

There is an outstanding new feature in iMovie (and iPhoto) called skimming—as you move the mouse pointer over a video clip icon (in iMovie’s case), you see individual frames from the video in sequence without clicking. This is a revolutionary new way to quickly see what your video contains and determine what you want to use in your project. Need to grab a shot out of a clip? Easy—just skim, click and drag the portion of the shot you want, then click and drag into the project window.

The new version also features additional video format support, including AVCHD cameras, as well as MPEG-2 (standard definition only) and MPEG-4 (standard and high definition video formats). For these new tapeless formats, there is a slick new Import interface that lets you see thumbnails of all your shots, and you can highlight and import just the shots you want. This is vastly easier than the usual tape-based approach, and very consumer friendly.

Unlike prior versions, when you start a new project, you just tell iMovie ’08 what aspect ratio you’re working in: Standard, iPhone, or Widescreen. You don’t need to worry about any other technical details such as the frame size, frame rate, format or aspect ratio of your footage—iMovie handles all of that for you. That is a major theme throughout the program—iMovie ’08 just handles a lot of the technical complexities for you, and lets you focus on the fun part—putting together a video and sharing it.

Effects, type, and transitions

iMovie offers quick and simple ways to alter your footage. Is that shot too long? Select the part you want and right-click to choose the Trim To Selection command. Is the subject too small in the frame? Use the new Crop tool to crop the video just like you’d crop a photo. Is your footage a different aspect ratio than your project settings? No problem—iMovie ’08 offers multiple ways to get it to fit. Not happy with the color or exposure? The new Adjust Video window lets you adjust the colors exactly the way you’re used to doing in iPhoto. Need to add text? New titling tools offer good-looking templates with pleasing fonts already selected that you can alter to taste. In addition, titling is now in-place: you edit text directly on the title instead of typing into separate fields, as in the clunky old iMovie titler.

In prior versions you could automatically add a Ken Burns pan and zoom effect to every still in a project to give it a little life. In iMovie ’08, you can control, on a project-by-project basis, whether Ken Burns effects and cross dissolves are automatically applied to all shots and for how long—and even change your settings later so those changes will apply to all the existing transitions.

At a higher level, however, the program offers a variety of tools and workflows that make it easy to piece together video content that flows smoothly, is enjoyable to watch, and is quick and simple enough to be worth the effort. For instance, the Edit tool allows you to just click to add a preset length of video to the project from clips in the Library-just browse through and click, click, click to add four-second (the default) pieces of video. Set to music with transitions, this makes an engaging montage movie.

YouTube, anyone?

Another major focus and feature of iMovie ’08 is the sharing capability—besides being able to easily publish to your own iTunes Library in a variety of sizes, you can also publish to your media browser (the iLife library that the other iLife ’08 can display and point to), and to the new .Mac Web Galleries and YouTube.

New under the Share menu is the option to export your movie to four different sizes: Tiny, Mobile, Medium, and Large. A handy chart shows you which sizes are appropriate for which viewing device—iPod, iPhone, AppleTV, or Computer.

You can publish to YouTube in as little as three clicks, and your creation will be viewable by millions of people in minutes. Imagine going to an event, shooting a cool clip, and being able to have that footage online 10 minutes after you get home. You can do that with iMovie ’08.

Performance: Fast, but a bit fuzzy

Generally, iMovie’s performance on all kinds of Macs, and with a variety of projects, was very good with only a few glitches. High definition footage played back in real time, in full screen mode, on my Power Mac G5 Quad ( ) with a 1,920-by-1,200-pixel display. I stacked several effects and modifications on a clip and never saw a progress bar. Footage played smoothly, with only a tiny glitch from time to time as it cut between video and a high-resolution photos. This is fabulous for consumers—nothing kills the fun like waiting on an inching progress bar. On my first generation MacBook, however, performance was not as brisk-the frame rate dropped during transitions, for example—and that wasn’t even with high definition footage.

Exporting to the preferred H.264 QuickTime format was also pleasantly snappy, but for large movies, expect to wait several times the movie duration for Sharing to finish. For example, a one-minute movie will take several minutes to encode and upload.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that in order to get this real time performance without renders or progress bars, there is some sacrifice in quality. For interlaced video such as DV and 1080i HDV, iMovie now uses single-field processing. This means every other horizontal line of the video is thrown out, which reduces the sharpness of the footage. High definition (HD) footage is processed internally at 960-by-540 pixels at most, and that’s not as high resolution or sharp as it could be (and was in prior versions), but with the output from many HD consumer cameras, the visible difference between Full (1,920-by-1,080) and Large (960-by-540) will likely be slight to negligible for most users. In short, if you want maximum quality output from an HD device, don’t use iMovie ’08.

Seeming to acknowledge this change and other shortcomings as compared to prior releases, Apple allows iLife ’08 users to download the last version, iMovie HD 6 ( ) from Apple Support and use that instead. iMovie HD 6 projects can be imported into iMovie 08, but with severe limitations-all transitions become cross dissolves; titles, still images, and music tracks don’t import at all.

Also, because of this rewrite, third-party plug-in support has been lost—old plug-ins don’t work, and there is no API for new plug-ins in iMovie ’08, as of this writing. Apple has been very pleased with their third-party iMovie developers in the past and is looking into ways to allow third party plug-ins while maintaining the speedy performance of iMovie ’08.

Other losses include the following: The new version has no chapter markers for DVD or Web; no Themes; no video playthrough to a FireWire device; no precise audio controls; and surprisingly, no export back to tape-all of which point to a philosophical shift away from a traditional video editing workflow to a casual, Web deliverable workflow. Apple is clear that this is a 1.0 release that it will build upon, so I would hope and expect some of these features to return in future releases. These changes indicate that iMovie ’08 is clearly a different kind of program for a different purpose than iMovie HD 6.

This new version also has stiffer hardware requirements—you must have a Mac with an Intel processor, a Power Mac G5 (dual 2.0GHz or faster), or an iMac G5 (1.9GHz or faster) to run it at all (no Powerbooks), and HD video requires at least 1 GB of RAM.

Simplicity rules

A few years ago, the idea of making a DVD and mailing it to friends and relatives made the most sense, but these days, the Internet is often the easiest choice for a growing number of people—and iMovie ’08 is the easiest tool to get your video there. The program lets you quickly and easily bring in media from a wide variety of sources (music from your iTunes library, stills and video from iPhoto, video from a wide variety of consumer formats), arrange it together quickly and easily, and then share it in a variety of ways.

Its ease of use cannot be overstated. This is the first video editing application that I could imagine my Mom using. And that is exactly Apple’s intent—to make video editing so simple, fast, and fun that everybody will want to use it, and not be daunted by the complexity of the task.

The downside of this new goal is that many of the more advanced features that Apple may have considered confusing for the broad casual editing market—features that were appealing and that previous users had gotten used to—are now gone. iMovie ’08 quite clearly delineates itself as a casual consumer editing program, implying that Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro—or Adobe’s Premiere Pro—are now firmly the prosumer and professional choices.

Macworld’s buying advice

iMovie ’08 is ideal for consumers who want quick and easy editing for a variety of video formats and the ability to three-click publish to YouTube or a .Mac Gallery. For speed and convenience of browsing, simple editing, and sharing, nothing in its class can touch it. While great for its intended audience, the video-quality issues and editing limitations make this a poor option for users with heavier editing demands. If you want better quality video processing for DV or HDV footage or third-party plug-ins, or if you need any of the other now-missing features, stick with iMovie HD 6.

[ Mike Curtis runs HD for Indies, a consultancy and Web site focused on high-definition video/film production, with an emphasis on HD cameras and workflow, as well as postproduction hardware and software. ]

The main interface of iMovie ’08 differs significantly from prior versions. The program allows you to swap the default positions of the Library and Projects windows to suit your personal preferences.Sharing your movies in a variety of sizes, formats, and to a variety of destinations is a major new feature and focus of iMovie ’08. You can export your video for viewing on an iPod, iPhone, AppleTV, .Mac, or YouTube.Publishing to YouTube can be accomplished in three mouse clicks.You can export and post video to your iTunes library or to the iLife suite’s Media Browser so other iLife programs can access and use them. You can also publish online to a .Mac Web gallery or to YouTube with just a few clicks.
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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Fast, no-render, no wait performance while editing
    • Convenient centralized video library
    • Easy exporting and sharing of movies to YouTube and the improved .Mac Galleries
    • Much improved interface for new users
    • Wide and seamless support of video formats


    • Decreased video quality due to single field processing
    • Simplification means the loss of themes, third-party plug-ins, and advanced audio controls
    • Steep hardware requirements
    • Slow load time for large media libraries
    • Unfamiliar interface and workflow for those used to other video editing programs
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