iMovie 3, by Apple Computers
Posted: 10-Nov-2003

5 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Type: FREEWARE

Reviewer: Diane Love Class: MULTIMEDIA

Review systems:
iMac 1Ghz G4, 1GB memory, 80 GB hard disk, 1440 x 900 display

Review Project
Turn 3 DV tapes and 100+ digital images of an annual open-air musical event into DVDs!

iMovie is the modern "killer app" for the Mac versus Windows. Amazingly, what we take for granted on Macs - that we can capture video, edit it and turn it into finished video or DVD - is still hard going for PC users.

Even on Macs though, it's hasn't always been easy. Video capture is very demanding of processor speed, memory, disk space and disk transfer speeds. An older machine may cease to work for video when a new version of the operating system makes increased demands.

This was the position I was left in when I discovered that the video I had captured from the 2002 event would no longer play glitch-free on our 500MHz iBook.

Around the time of the 2003 event I got a new iMac, equipped with a DVD burner and pre-loaded with the iLife suite.

Upgrading to iMovie 3
With iMovie 3 on my new machine I was able to capture the DV from the 2003 event without issue and edit the movies pretty quickly. Having done that, I then connected up the firewire disk containing the nearly finished project of the 2002 event and finished that too. After all the DVDs were burned, labeled and distributed, my review copy of "iMovie 3 and iDVD the Missing Manual" arrived. Here I discovered that it's actually not a good idea to work on an iMovie 2 project in iMovie 3 - you are recommended to finish it in iMovie 2. Seems I got lucky.

Improvements over previous versions
For me the worst feature of the previous iMovie was the infamous ghostly triangles. Given that the program was designed to edit video, you'd think the controls for selecting points to cut, copy and paste would have been visible and easy to manipulate. Incredibly, in the previous iMovie neither was true. Working on my own, I never discovered how to use the ghostly triangles that occasionally flitted around the scrubber bar but disappeared when I tried to grab them with the mouse. I did discover you could split the clip at the playhead, move the playhead, split again and then throw away the unwanted part inside or outside the cuts. "iMovie 2 the Missing Manual" explained precisely how to conquer the ghostly triangles, and iMovie 3 makes them visible and easy to use. For better or worse though, I like to use my split clip at playhead method, since I like to focus on defining one cut point at a time.

New in iMovie 3, the Ken Burns effect allows you to add motion to stills that you incorporate into your video. You can define a start point and zoom level and an end point and zoom level, and iMovie then constructs a clip from the photo. This is a lifesaver for people who like to park their camcorder on a tripod and video themselves playing with their band - the static view from the tripod gets old when nobody is zooming in on solos. If you have photos from the event, you can cut to closeups moving and crossfading through each other while the sound is still running, and end up with more interesting video. Another application is to create movies from stills only.

So how do you find the right still photos to incorporate? The iLife link to iPhoto vastly improves workflow even if you know which of the stills in your iPhoto library you want. I found myself working with both iMovie and iPhoto simultaneously. In iPhoto, I was examining the stills in detail, choosing the ones with the best facial expressions. The thumbnails that iMovie shows you are too small for this. Still in iPhoto, I would also define specific albums for the movie and put the selected photos into them. This made it far easier to locate the chosen photos from within iMovie. Thankfully, iMovie and iPhoto display the albums in the same order.

The iLife link to iTunes was not necessary for my project. It looks like it would work nearly as well as the iPhoto link, with the exception that the playlist selector in iMovie madly shows the iTunes playlists in a random order - neither the alphabetical order of iTunes nor chronological.

I noticed there were some very interesting new sound effects including the self-explanatory "suspense" and "foreboding". The wagon crash sound I use for ski mishaps was unfortunately gone, though no doubt it's still on one of our machines somewhere. Also worth mentioning is the improved sound editing capability in iMovie 3, where you can change the volume in a clip by dragging points on a volume curve up and down.

Similarly there are some interesting new visual effects. While I don't normally indulge in these, I did make an exception and use the lightning effect to draw attention to a great guitar solo from one of my band members!

Due to lack of a DVD burner on my previous machine, I can't say how much of an improvement to workflow is made by the iLife link to iDVD. Suffice to say that defining chapter numbers and hitting the iDVD button are about all you have to do to get started with the DVD phase of your project. Just make sure you've finished your iMovie activities first.

Another unexpected bonus was a new export option to export the sound of the whole video as an AIFF file. From there I could import it into Sound Studio (bundled with my iMac), cut it up into tracks, import the AIFF tracks into iTunes, burn them to CD and even rip my own CD to get mp3s. Making the CD of the movie was a breeze, especially with the 16x CD burner.

The preference for "New projects are :" PAL or NTSC is helpful for those of us who regularly deal with both formats. As iMovie can't reliably tell what type of analog camera is connected via the Dazzle bridge, I would often experience the situation where previous versions of iMovie refused to allow me to continue work with the camera and an existing project.

Don't try this at home!
If you have an iSight camera plugged into one of your firewire ports and a camcorder plugged into the other, don't be surprised if you can't capture any video. How does iMovie know which of those cameras it's supposed to be working with ? Before I realized this, I captured some video that had alternate sound and silence - a couple of seconds of each.

Expect the worst if you choose the "New projects are NTSC" preference and then connect a PAL analog camcorder via your Dazzle bridge or similar. I did this purely as an experiment and was pleasantly surprised to get video that looked normal. Then I discovered that either sound was missing or sound from one clip was associated with a different clip. I was trying to see if iMovie would detect the situation and refuse to capture - maybe it would if the offending camcorder was digital.

iMovie limitations
iMovie allows you to make beautiful end credits just like those you see in a real movie; your friends and family will love to see their own names rolling up the screen. In some types of titles, the right hand edge of the text is slightly misaligned. Nobody who saw the movies seemed to notice, but I'd still prefer this not to happen. Another thing I noticed about making titles was that there was some sort of usability flaw that left me always getting the text of the previous title in the one I was currently trying to do. I always managed to fix this by retyping and re-rendering the offending titles.

Many of my finished projects involve music, either because they are live music events or because I set them to music. In either case, it's a serious limitation not to be able to see the sound waveform. I find myself memorizing frame numbers, playing, rewinding and playing again to evaluate where cuts should be to line up with music, when this would be plainly visible in the waveform. iMovie would be better if it did this, but then again it's free and Apple makes Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro for people who want to take their video making to the next level.

I found that converting NTSC to PAL using iMovie and Quicktime was of limited value. A little girl running happily through the frame in NTSC turned into a cloud of shredded bits running through the frame in PAL. I discovered that all but one of the DVD players I tried in the US and UK could play both PAL and NTSC DVDs made from iMovie. This is a separate issue from region coding, but it's worth noting that iMovie's output is not region coded.

Unlike iTunes and iPhoto, Apple doesn't (as far as I know) have any way of making money from your home movie collection. Instead iMovie seems to be provided for free as an incentive to choose Mac rather than Windows. For me it's simply one of the compelling factors in being a Mac owner. The latest version is stable, reliable and easy to use. The new iLife links improve workflow and help creativity. Your finished products will wow your friends, especially those who try to emulate you using their Windows systems.


  • Easiest program to edit movies
  • Ken Burns effect
  • No more ghostly triangles
  • Links to other iLife applications


  • Sound waveform not visible
  • iTunes playlists in random order
  • Titles usability and occasional slight misalignment

Overall Rating

5 out of 5 Mice