When it was introduced last year, iMovie HD (
) added groundbreaking features to Apple’s entry-level video editor: support for high-definition video editing, the ability to include multiple formats (such as HD, standard DV, and wide-screen DV) in the same project, and performance enhancements that longtime iMovie fans had been waiting for.
With iMovie HD 6, Apple cleaned house a bit by sprucing up the application with slickly designed themes and a rearranged interface, and adding welcome features such as audio adjustments and real-time effect previews that give the update some heft. (I covered many of the changes in this new version with my
first look at iMovie HD 6.)
Apple always leads with its prettiest attribute when touting new features, and the new Themes feature certainly qualifies. Themes are similar to iDVD motion menus—they’re previously created movies into which you can add your own photos and video clips; the Road Trip theme, for instance, resembles a camera moving over a cluttered desk, with photos appearing in open books.
Populating a theme is as easy as dragging clips or photos to a new Drop Zone palette, and then entering a text title. When you add the theme to your movie, iMovie renders it as a new video clip. The advantage here is that you can edit it as you would any other clip; the Open variant of the Reflection-White theme, for example, was longer than I wanted, so I trimmed it to display only one appearance in my drop zones.
The disadvantage of an applied theme is that you can’t easily go back and edit what you’ve created. If you want to change a photo or title, you need to re-create the theme from scratch. Also, the drop zone contents don’t always render at a sufficiently high resolution: the Chapter component of Reflection-White ends by zooming in on an image in the drop zone so that it fills the entire frame, but both photos and videos rendered poorly.
Add photos and video clips to the new Drop Zones palette to populate iMovie’s new themes.
I’d like to see more than the five included themes (each of which, to be fair, has as many as nine components), but I’m sure we’ll see custom themes from third-party developers soon; there doesn’t appear to be an easy way for average users to create themes.
Real-time previews and new effects
When you click on a theme, transition, title, or effect in iMovie HD 6, a preview appears in the main monitor window. On the two Macs I used for testing—an older 1.25GHz PowerBook G4 and a dual-processor 2.3GHz Power Mac G5—the preview playback was occasionally jerky, but I expected that from an unrendered preview. When you do preview something, it plays back as a continuous loop (which you can stop playing by clicking on a button in the monitor). I especially enjoyed this feature when I was previewing video effects, such as the new batch of Quartz Composer effects.
Much more interesting are the new audio effects, which use OS X’s Core Audio features to apply reverb and delay, change the pitch of people’s voices, and add other effects. The Graphic EQ effect provides a 10-slider equalizer for manually adjusting audio, with seven presets to get you started.
Using iMovie’s new Noise Reducer audio effect, I’ve cut out annoying camera noise from the second half of this clip, as you can see by looking at the audio waveforms.
And I’m happy to note the inclusion of the Noise Reducer control, which can help to eliminate sounds such as the motor hum created (and recorded by) many portable camcorders. It appears to be a brute-force tool—just one slider controls the degree to which the effect is applied—but it worked well in my tests.
Apple also spotlights tools I’ve wanted for years: more precise typographic controls. Control-clicking on a text field allows you to choose OS X’s Font dialog box, from which you can choose font sizes numerically, as well as apply other attributes. However, I couldn’t get this feature to work at all. Apple is looking into the problem. From the Font dialog box, though, you can bring up OS X’s Character Palette to insert special symbol characters that are difficult to access via the keyboard.
New features are welcome, of course, but how does iMovie HD 6 perform? As with some previous releases, the answer is not consistent.
On my two Macs, I encountered very few problems: one crash while importing video, and some sluggish playback when several applications were running and my PowerBook hadn’t been restarted for several days. Since restarting, I haven’t encountered any slow playback. On my Power Mac G5, performance has been stellar. However, reports from some
editors and readers indicate that some people are running into slow, choppy playback and other glitches. (One early culprit with iMovie and QuickTime 7.0.4 was Telestream’s Flip4Mac, a free utility that enables Windows Media files to play back under QuickTime Player.)
Unfortunately, iMovie has exhibited this behavior since at least version 4: it runs perfectly fine for some people, and poorly for others, even given similar hardware and software. So from my experience alone, iMovie HD 6 seems solid and consistent with the gains made in iMovie HD 5.
The Quartz Composer video effects, such as Glass Distortion (shown here), are previewed in real time in the monitor, enabling you to see what you’re getting before applying the effect.
That’s not to say there aren’t bugs. For example, clicking on a photo in the Media pane prompts a preview incorporating the Ken Burns Effect even if that option isn’t selected in the new Photo Settings palette; applying the effect on the photo works correctly, however. On the upside, the Ken Burns Effect now consistently eases in and out, making it more useful than in the previous version of iMovie.
I also found that audio clips held in place by the Lock Audio Clip At Playhead command sometimes didn’t remain locked.
If the past two iMovie releases are an indication, Apple will likely issue a bug fix release fairly soon (hopefully, by the time you read this).
Macworld’s buying advice
iMovie HD 6 isn’t as revolutionary as the previous iMovie release, but there are enough improvements—such as real-time previews and audio effects—to make it a solid upgrade, especially since it comes packaged with the rest of the iLife ’06 suite
Jeff Carlson is the author of
iMovie HD and iDVD 5 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide
(Peachpit Press, 2005).
EDITOR’S NOTE: On February 15, after this review was originally published, Apple
released an update to iMovie HD. The update addressed a number of issues raised in our original review; please read our updated review of
iMovie HD 6.0.1.