updated 03:50 pm EST, Tue February 17, 2009
iMovie ‘09, video editor
Two versions ago, iMovie HD 6 offered powerful video editing for novices. For iMovie '08, Apple completely rewrote the program to focus on making video editing simpler, but at the sacrifice of its more sophisticated editing features. When users howled their disapproval, Apple quickly made the original iMovie HD app available as a free download. Now with iMovie '09, Apple has combined the simplicity of iMovie '08 with the powerful editing capabilities of iMovie HD.
One appealing feature for spicing up any home video is themes, which provide a colorful frame for displaying your movie. Such frames give your videos instant Hollywood effects without any editing at all. Apple provides five different themes with plenty of variations of each theme to choose from, so you can easily experiment with different ways to present your video, from appearing in a slightly cockeyed photograph in an album to looking like an image printed in a comic book.
For those editing vacation footage, the program offers animated maps that mimic old Hollywood movies that display animated arrows showing the starting point and ending destination. While appealing directly to anyone editing home footage of their latest vacation, this map feature can also be used creatively by aspiring film makers to identify "exotic" locations that were actually just shot in your backyard.
For more flexibility, you can modify the map's appearance using different visual effects that make the map appear grainier, darker or lighter. Such effects help insure that you can customize a map so it won't have a "cookie-cutter" appearance that labels it as just another iMovie special effect.
To complete your movie, you can add titles to the beginning, end, or individual frames of a video. The available title effects range from mimicking the "Star Wars" scrolling text that disappears off the top of the screen, to the more traditional text that simply appears at the bottom of the screen. The latter effect is similar to the presentation commonly seen on news footage that identifies the TV station name plus a short description of what the video displays.
Adding titles, themes and animated maps simply make a video look fancier, but the software offers two major correction features as well. One important feature is video stabilization.
If you capture video while moving, the footage will likely appear shaky. The final product can be difficult to watch, much less enjoy. Through a simple stabilization feature, the program can analyze the separate frames of your video and stitch together the separate images so they appear as one fluid video.
This stabilization feature works amazingly well, but does take an extraordinary amount of time to process. Depending on how shaky your original footage may be, you can expect to wait several minutes or more for each minute of footage you want the program to correct.
Of course, the program cannot perform miracles and sometimes identifies footage as too shaky to use. If your video bounces up and down too drastically, the program may not be able to stabilize more than a few frames.
While the program offers simple editing tools to cut, move, and copy footage, it also provides a new precision editor. The feature lets you focus on two film clips so you can see exactly where each one ends and begins. Besides letting you slice and dice video, you can also move and edit the audio from each clip. This gives you more exact control over both the appearance and sound of your movie, which amateur filmmakers will likely enjoy. For the typical user who just wants to slap together a home video in a hurry, this precision editor will likely be more work than necessary and can be safely ignored.
When you're done editing, you can save your video in a variety of file formats such as QuickTime, burn it to a DVD through the included iDVD program, or just upload it directly to your MobileMe account or YouTube.
Novice filmmakers will appreciate the simple features that can perk up any home video while more dedicated filmmakers can master its video editing techniques before graduating to Apple's Final Cut Express. As part of the $79 iLife suite, iMovie '09 (along with iPhoto '09) represents one of the more compelling reasons to get this latest upgrade.