iMovie

Apple has created a severely slimmed down version of Final Cut Pro for the DV iMacs, and called it iMovie. This entry-level video-editing application is almost childishly simple and makes movie-making something that even Prince Edward could do. Whether you are 9 or 99, iMovie is accessible to everyone. And that is what makes it so great. Its capabilities are very limited, but anybody can use it without resorting to a manual. To use iMovie you must first start with some moving pictures – and this is the important part. You need to have a DV video camera – that is, a camera with a FireWire port. There are many around, but they do cost more that the average camera. If the finished movie is intended to go on the Web or CD, then you need get only a basic DV video camera (prices start at around £700). If, however, you plan to run off multiple VHS or even DV copies, you will need to spend a little extra on the camera. The reason for this is down to those European bureaucrats: any video camera that can record from an external source – such as a TV tuner or computer – is subject to an additional 5 per cent tax. It is considered a video recorder, rather than a camera. This is ridiculous, yet the major camera manufacturers, at least initially, decided to sell cameras with DV-out but not DV-in. Their opinion was that people would not pay more for this feature, so they didn’t offer it. Out and proud
You can now buy DV cameras with the DV in and out, but they are still a little more expensive (prices start at £1,200). If you already have a camera with DV-out only, there are ways around this problem. The fact that the camera is digital means it can be reprogrammed – and you can turn on the DV-out option with some fiddling. There are companies that offer this service; around £50 seems to be the going rate. In theory, you can even change a PAL (UK standard) camera to record to NTSC (US standard) if you wanted to. Assuming you have the correct camera, the rest is simple. First go and record some action: birthday party antics, grandpa pulling faces, friends pursued by a witch in your local forest… whatever. Then plug the camera in to the iMac using a FireWire cable (not supplied; £35 extra, if not with camera). Start up iMovie. There are drivers for most popular cameras, so you can control the camera with your mouse. No need to choose the driver; if it is there it will just work. Fast forward your movie to the exciting bit, and set it to play. When the scene you want appears, hit the capture key. When it is over, hit the key again to stop it. Do this for each scene of your masterpiece, and they will appear in iMovie as a palette of clips. Drag these clips to the time-line. If you don’t want to add any effects or titling, you can play back the movie instantly. If you want to get fancy, there is a selection of transitions and wipes to go from scene to scene. There are enough options to be helpful, without encouraging an effects overload. Anybody who was paying attention during the desktop publishing revolution, will remember the overload of fonts and styles found on many home-grown publications. iMovie curtails such bad taste by offering only basic tools. Adding titles is also simplicity itself. Choose a style, and type in what you want. You can scroll or zoom the titles, though I was disappointed to find that super Crossroads-style credits are beyond the capabilities of Apple’s iMovie. It is equally simple to add sound effects and music to your movie. Once your masterpiece is finished, you need to wait for the transitions to render. Then you are ready for output. The most complex part of the whole application is exporting the finished movie. There are some basic options – such as small for email, small for Web or CD-ROM, etc. There are also expert settings that utilize QuickTime options for compression, data rate and colour depth. If you are lucky enough to have a DV camera with DV-in, you can simply output the raw DV signal to tape. This gives you a high-quality movie that can then be output from your camera to VHS, or any other video format.

OUR VERDICT

iMovie offers a great but simple solution for video editing. It’s a bit like SimpleText for movies. There is actually quite a lot of the functionality of iMovie in QuickTime 4 Pro – but it is not so obvious, or simple, to use. Ease of use is key to its appeal, but I expect it will spur users on to more ambitious projects – step up to iMovie’s big brother Final Cut Pro (£699). But, for a free piece of iMac software, iMovie is unbeatable. Roll ‘em.

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