iMovie HD 5.0, by Apple Computer
Posted: 12-Jul-2005

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Computer Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Stan Hadley Class: MULTIMEDIA

Overview
Anyone who has purchased an iMac in the past several years should be familiar with Apple's iLife suite of programs: iPhoto, iTunes, GarageBand, iMovie, and iDVD. The oldest of these programs is iMovie, which was originally released for OS 9. Each program provides a tool for the average person to maintain and manipulate their photos, recorded music, music compositions, digital movies, and video playback. The most recent version is iLife '05. This review covers iMovie HD v5.

iMovie is used to combine digital video and images from a variety of sources, along with audio, transitions, and special effects, to create a grand improvement over the old form of home movies and slide shows. The latest iMovie, iMovie HD, adds a number of capabilities and improvements, although some bugs remain. The program is aimed at the average user, media manipulation "for the rest of us."


System Requirements

  • Macintosh computer with a PowerPC G3 (400MHz or faster), G4, or G5 processor
  • 1GHz G4 or faster required to use HD features of iMovie HD
  • 256MB of physical RAM (512MB recommended)
  • 512MB RAM required to use HD features of iMovie HD
  • Mac OS X v10.3.4 or later
  • Mac OS X v10.3.6 or later required to use HD features of iMovie HD
  • Display with at least 1024 x 768 pixel resolution
  • QuickTime 6.5.2 (included)
  • Compatible SuperDrive required to burn DVDs
  • 4.3GB of disk space required to install GarageBand, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD; or 250MB to install iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie only


Setup
Setup involves running the installer program on the installation DVD. For those people without a DVD drive, a CD is provided for installation of just iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie. GarageBand and iDVD, with their sound loops and themes, are simply too big to fit on a CD. Furthermore, iDVD will not install if the computer does not have a Superdrive (a drive that can burn DVDs). At first you might think that iMovie would need a burnable DVD drive, but since you can also output back to your movie camera's tape, or an external file, a DVD drive is not necessary.


In Use
There are several different reasons you may want to use iMovie. The most obvious is creating a presentable movie of an event from the raw footage that you took. When sharing your memories with guests, few people want to sit through twenty minutes or more of miscellaneous shots of your kids or a gathering, not to mention the shots of the floor or inside of the bag when you left the camera on. You want to create a more easily presentable version of the raw footage, for which iMovie has a shortcut called Magic iMovie. I used this to transfer old analog movies to DVDs for archiving.

The main project for which I tested iMovie HD was to create a movie for a wedding party with several hundred photos and various music tracks. This 23-minute movie was then burned to DVD to be used at their rehearsal dinner and reception. I've used previous versions of the program to make similar movies, which also included video from digital video cameras and VHS tapes.

One thing you need before you start is a lot of disk space. Dumping a two-hour videotape into iMovie can take up to 30 GB of storage, plus another 8 GB or so if you plan to burn this to a DVD. Small movies or movies from photos may take up less space, but still expect to need at least 5 GB or more.

The very first launch of iMovie HD leads the user to create a new project, open an existing one, or create a Magic Movie. Subsequent launches will automatically open the last project you worked on. There are three main areas to the iMovie window. The top left is a large window showing the frame that is currently at the playhead. Along the bottom is the movie tracks showing either the clips or a timeline with the video and up to two audio tracks. In the top right is where you work with clips, photos, sounds, titles, transitions, special effects, or iDVD-specific functions.


The iMovie main window

In the figure above, the top left shows a clip from the entire movie. When you select a clip from the timeline or the clips pane, just that movie segment is displayed in this view pane. If you click in the timeline, however, the entire movie with all segments is loaded into the view pane with the frame showing where the current playhead is at. Below the view pane is a set of buttons for directing how the bottom timeline is presented (by clip or stretched to show the length of time and audio tracks), source of video (camera or clips), play buttons, and volume control. The play buttons for clips are just a rewind to the start, play and play full-screen. When viewing a clip, you can move through the clip by either dragging the triangle playhead or using the arrow keys. The space bar starts and stops the movie. You can have finer control of the playhead with keys than by using the mouse. Another option for good tracking control is the Griffin Powermate, an easy-to-use knob for scrubbing back and forth through video.

If a camera is hooked up and the camera is selected, then the buttons change to a rewind, stop, play, pause, fast-forward, and import button. These let you control the camera from the software rather than fiddling with both the camera and computer at the same time. One new feature in iMovie HD is an automatic dumping that pulls in all the scenes on a tape, puts transitions between each clip, and adds a title. This lets you make a quick movie from a tape, but with only limited options.

Most people will want to import movies from their video cameras to use in iMovie. They need to have a digital camcorder or video converter box that converts the analog signal to a digital stream of bits. Digital camcorders use either a miniDV format or, like ours, a Digital8 format that uses 8 mm tapes (and can convert older analog tapes). The cameras must have a firewire port to connect to the Mac.

In the top right are the functions for manipulating the movie: where you specify and manipulate either imported movie clips; photos from iPhoto; audio from iTunes, sound or microphone; various types of titles; transitions between clips; special effects; or iDVD-related functions such as chapter markers and export. The Clips tab, shown in the figure above, has a palette of the various clips you have created. It shows the length of the clip in minutes:seconds:frame#, where there are 30 frames per second, numbered 0-29.


iMovie resource buttons


The Photos button brings up your iPhoto Library or any album within iPhoto you want. When the Photos tab is selected, there is also a function called the "Ken Burns effect". This lets you pan and zoom over a photo to make the photo visually more interesting or to focus in on one part of a photo. You establish the starting and ending view of the photo and time, with the view zoomed or slid over to change the focal point. iMovie will then calculated the intervening shots and create a video clip. I still saw a bug in the Ken Burns effect that occasionally made the first or last frame or two move much more quickly than the rest of the pan. This bug was in iMovie 4 as well.

Audio additions, the next resource tab, also make a movie much more interesting. Live video will likely already have its audio imbedded into the video. iMovie provides two additional audio tracks as well. These could be used for a voiceover from your built-in or attached microphone, special sound effects, or songs from your iTunes library. When selecting the Audio tab, iMovie will show your entire iTunes library, including playlists you have already made. You can insert a CD and it will show up in the list as well. iMovie also has a number of sound effects built in that you can add to clips. Third party companies sell additional sound clips, too, if you want a broader variety.

The Titles resource tab lets you add text to your video. Titles can be added in a variety of formats, entering from different areas of the screen, bouncing in different ways, or scrolling like credits. Any font can be used and the size of text can be changed. There are some limitations on text size and it is easy to pick a size that ends up too small to be read in the final product. Sometimes there wasn't a large enough size available; even on maximum size, the print was too small. The rendered quality of text in your finished product, however, is not the quality you are used to seeing in professional Hollywood films. You'll need some additional software for better looking text in video.

The Transitions tab allows you to blend two clips in a variety of different ways. Transitions between clips provide a smooth flow to a movie. The classic transition is the cross-dissolve, but iMovie provides sixteen others that give more flexibility to your movie making.

The Effects tab provides special effects that are applied to a video clip. Special effects can add more pizzazz to your video production. iMovie gives 23 different ones to change the look of your movie, such as adding rain or sparkles to the shot.

Other companies have created additional special effects, transitions, and sound effects for iMovie, such as
eZediaMotion by eZedia, or Slick Effects by GeeThree (many of these 3rd party effects can be viewed on the web to see how they work before you buy).

The last resource tab is the iDVD Button. Here you can specify where in movie you want chapter markers inserted and what title you want for the chapter. You can also use the Markers menu item Add Chapter Marker to create a marker as well. The iDVD pane allows you to edit the name as well. When you are all done with your movies and markers, you can click on the "Create iDVD Project" button and send the whole movie over to iDVD. iMovie will transfer the chapter marker titles to iDVD, and iDVD will create menu selections that automatically includes links to these specified chapters in your movie.

At the bottom of the iMovie window is your timeline of the movie. When showing just the clips, you can see the name of the clip, its first frame, and its duration. If any special effects or the Ken Burns effect were applied, a small icon will also indicate that. Transitions are shown by connected blue squares between your clips with type and duration listed at the bottom of the window.


iMovie HD timeline editor

Alternatively, you can have the timeline show the video and audio tracks with their length showing their duration, as in the picture above. You drop your song into the timeline and clip the parts that you want. By selecting the audio track and putting the playhead at a specific point in the timeline, you can split the track for fitting it to the video segment. It was sometimes difficult to clip a song.

Normally, a music track will show the name of the song, but a new feature, or at least a more easily accessible feature in the new version, lets you see the audio waveform so you can tell where a song may be getting quiet. Showing the waveform lets you tell where the song dynamics are changing so you can more easily select where in the song you want the cut.

iMovie HD lets you change the volume of the audio easily. With two audio tracks available, you can have one song fade while another comes up. On the audio track, a line will show the relative volume. By selecting the line and moving it up or down, you can increase or decrease the volume for any portion of the timeline. Sound levels were much easier to change in this new version, and the program was much more responsive.

Below is a sample 30-second movie I made for this review. It shows the use of titles, transitions, special effects, photos, video, and song to give you an idea of how these interplay.


iMovie HD sample movie

This movie was output into a Quicktime movie for web-streaming, but you can also export (aka, "Share") the movie in several other ways. Under File>Share you are given options for email, homepage, videocamera, iDVD, Quicktime, or Bluetooth. Email and Homepage make Quicktime movies at different resolutions, plus send them to the corresponding application or site, your e-mail program or .Mac website. Sending the movie to your videocamera lets you put it back on tape for storage or carrying elsewhere, at full quality. The iDVD option will launch iDVD, and is similar to using the iDVD button described earlier. The Quicktime setting gives you several options on sizes of the resulting movie, from 10 frames/sec, 160x120 (suitable for e-mail), 12 frames/sec 240x180 for the web, 15 fps 320x240 for a CD, or full quality. You can also manually adjust expert settings to a broad array of formats and compression settings. For those on Bluetooth-enabled Macs, you can also save your movie to a Bluetooth-enabled item such as a PDA.

While the application is very powerful for the average consumer, the documentation is sometimes sparse. Towards the end of the project, I ended up buying O'Reilly's "iMovie HD and iDVD 5: the Missing Manual" by David Pogue. There are many helpful tips in this book I wish we had known while I was working on the project.

Summary
iMovie HD is a software tool to improve your humdrum home movies and slide shows to where people will want to watch them. You can use them to transform your collection of video and photos into slick movies and burn them onto DVDs to make it easy to show to others. The latest version is a welcome improvement over iMovie 4 and you wouldn't want to go back after using it. Sound volume is much easier and quicker to manipulate. Burning times are improved. The integration with iPhoto and iTunes makes it easy to collect all your raw material together for use. I recommend this software to anyone who wants to share their movies or photos with a broader group. It adds an artistic flair and creativity to your film and photos that can really evoke an emotion and tell a story.


Pros

  • Very easy tool to create good movies
  • Good integration with other iLife programs
  • More responsive than previous versions
  • Great effects and transitions included
  • Automatic tools for quick archiving

Cons

  • Still a few bugs in Ken Burns effect
  • Difficulty in editing audio tracks
  • Sparse documentation
  • Text rendering is less than professional
  • Multi-gigabytes of disk space needed


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice