iLife ’05 full review
Pros: More-advanced photo editing; RAW image and video clip support, new book options.
Cons: Still no easy way to merge iPhoto libraries.
The fifth incarnation of iPhoto is included in iLife ’05 and it continues to improve, though there are still some old niggles remaining. But I should start with the good news.
Apple claims to have increased the performance. My creaky old Mac has never really been up to speed with the sometimes sluggish iPhoto. It does seem slightly sprightlier, though I can’t say it is massively faster. Maybe if I had a G5 it would keep better pace.
While it might look like iPhoto is designed for keeping digital images filed, and it does that with aplomb; the best bit of iPhoto is the way it lets you share your stuff. From printing to slide shows, iPhoto implements big improvements. Slideshows are now editable to the nth degree, giving control over transitions, speeds and effects. The famous Ken Burns effect is now less random, letting users set the start and end of the pan-&-zoom effect. It can still be set to auto, but the added control means slideshows can become more like art presentations that simple pictures.
Now that users can have so much control over the slideshows, it makes sense that you can now save them. There is still the ability to export slideshows as movie, or export directly to iDVD, however.
There is some image editing available within iPhoto, beyond the basics that have traditionally been there. By clicking the adjust icon users can tweak brightness, contrast, saturation, temperature, tint, and sharpness. There’s even a histogram for adjusting exposure and the white- and black-points, though not individual colour channels. Possibly the most useful of the Adjust features is the straighten slider that tilts images on a grid, so you can even up wonky shots. One drawback is that a G4 processor is required for the advanced editing features.
Books have been updated, with new soft-cover books and smaller sizes. The available sizes are now the original hardback 279-x-216mm, the same size in softcover, a 203-x-152mm softcover and a little 89-x-66mm booklet. The smallest booklets are available only in threes and have minimal layout options; they’re simple picture books with a cover title and inside introduction page. At £3.37 each, plus £5 for shipping, the minimum order (with the default minimum 22 pages of pictures) is £15.16. That’s a bargain, though the £5 shipping seems steep. The three-pack makes sense, though after the first three you still must buy in increments of three. On the up-side, the more you buy the better deal you get on shipping: each three-pack adds 39p.
For weddings, birthdays, holidays and the usual Kodak moments the iPhoto Book could easily replace the old fashioned envelope of snaps. However, I suspect that for the moment the books themselves will attract more attention from viewers rather than the contents. It was the same when digital cameras were first available. Using a digital camera to capture a scene often sparked off a discussion of the wonders of digital photography, instead of the magical moment being captured.
Organization has been improved, with books and slideshows appearing separately in the list.
iPhoto now has the ability to import movies from digital cameras. The clips can’t really be edited, but it is a place to keep them, where before the clip would have sat in a folder somewhere on its own.
While iPhoto retains its ease of use, there are now a number of more-professional features. It now supports RAW format, which high-end digital cameras can use. This format saves every bit of information captured by the camera, letting photographers treat files as digital negatives. While this level of editing is probably better suited to higher-end applications such as Photoshop, iPhoto is a great way to keep the images catalogued.
A great new feature for people with large photo collections is the search function. In previous versions, only basic searches were available using keywords. The number of keywords, like Family, Holiday and so on were limited. Now you can set more custom keywords, and better still there’s a comments section in the info box with practically unlimited space for keywords. Now it is searchable just like iTunes, by simply typing keywords in a box. Of course, it does mean you might need to add comments to 25,000 images, but it’ll be worth it to not lose those images in your digital shoebox.
One last niggle is the fact that a common problem still hasn’t been addressed: if you have an iPhoto library on more than one machine, there’s no easy way to merge both collections. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the library includes thumbnail images, so simply dropping the folders on iPhoto will give results that include the unwanted thumbnails.
The fifth incarnation of iPhoto was unlikely to be revolutionary; instead it is a nicely incremental improvement. There is enough in there to make the upgrade worthwhile, but not so much as to make it unfamiliar to old hands.
Pros: Fantastic value for money; full HDV support; new Magic Movie feature.
Cons: Popping noises appear during some transitions; some Slick plug-ins do not work; occasional synching problems; iTunes library can take a long time to open.
Unless you’ve been camping out on the south side of Titan for the past five years, or somewhere even more remote and inclement such as sitting behind the keyboard of a PC running Windows, it’s likely that you’ll have heard of iMovie. iMovie is Apple’s entry-level movie editor, younger sibling to Final Cut Express HD and Final Cut Pro HD. It’s also a program that has brought about a small revolution in the way that we perceive and utilize home computers, enabling users to edit video footage shot on cheap domestic digital camcorders and produce results that, with a little practice, really can rival the professionals.
The latest version of iMovie has taken the business of home moviemaking up another notch or two with the introduction of two major new features. Firstly, iMovie now includes High Definition Video support, allowing users to capture wide-screen (16:9) digital footage in the HDV formats of 720p and 1080i. As such, iMovie – in common with its brothers – has been re-branded to include the ‘HD’ suffix. In many ways, this is rather a bold move on the part of Apple, who have declared 2005 ‘the year of High Definition Video’.
Domestically speaking, HDV technology is still in its infancy: HDV cameras are rare, not to mention expensive, as are HDV DVD players. Furthermore, you’re going to need some pretty heavy-duty hardware if plan to really take advantage of the HDV format.
Although iMovie will run on even a low-spec portable or desktop most users will find HDV support too sluggish for their needs. On a 1GHz PowerBook, for example, it took over 71 minutes to import a six-minute video clip, with the resulting iMovie file being over 4GB in size. Clearly, processors and hard disks are going to have to get a lot faster and a lot bigger if HD technology is to be adopted by the mainstream user. As for HDV cameras: perhaps Steve Jobs gave a hint as to a future collaboration with Sony when he introduced a sheepish Kunitake Ando, president of Sony Electronics, to the audience at the January Macworld Expo. Watch this space.
If HD technology stretches processors and hard disks to the limit, it’s perhaps no surprise that the second major new feature in iMovie HD is something that dramatically improves the program’s ease of use. The Magic iMovie feature lets you connect a DV camera to your computer, key in a title, select a soundtrack and transition type and go off and do something else while your Mac gets on with the business of capturing and editing a movie. The results can then be sent directly to iDVD or kept in iMovie for later fine-tuning.
For someone like myself, the proud possessor of dozens of unlabelled tapes sitting in a dusty pile waiting to be edited, this was a feature I was particularly interested in. The notion that one could let iMovie take all the donkeywork out of movie-making holds definite appeal. As with all great new ideas, however, this one works very well – up to a point. When creating a Magic iMovie, the program does what you might expect it to do: it digitizes the footage, adds a title and soundtrack, and inserts transitions between any any edit points in the footage. What you end up with is a warts-and-all record of what you had on the tape. Unless you’re particularly precise with your camera work, you’ll need to re-edit any Magic movies before committing it to DVD.
Watching the Magic iMovie feature go through its paces, one thing intrigued me. What would iMovie do when it came across an area of blank footage on a tape? The obvious solution would be to stop capturing when it encounters any area of tape that does not contain a time code and then resume the process the moment that a new time code is detected. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. What iMovie does instead is to capture the entire tape – including any blank areas. This means that if you have ten minutes of footage on a 30-minute tape, it will commit the whole lot to your hard disk. This is an oversight that has already seen users complaining on the Apple discussion boards. We hope a future update will address this issue.
As well as HD support and the Magic movie feature, there are a number of other tweaks and additions to iMovie HD that demonstrate Apple’s willingness to listen to their user base. For still images, there are improvements to the Ken Burns effect, which is noticeably smoother than before; video slow motion is also smoother and now also slows down the audio track. The trash has also been improved: you can now drag any clips that you have accidentally erased back into the clip bin or time-line itself, which now allows for discontiguous selection of clips, allowing you to apply effects and transitions to any clips selected in this way. You can also directly trim clips in the time-line itself by simply dragging to edit or overwrite existing clips.
Also added is support for MPEG-4 video, allowing users to edit movie footage captured from a mobile phone; snap lines now appear intuitively at key moments in footage; rendering is faster; there are new transitions and video effects, as well as 12 new sound effects courtesy of Skywalker Sound. You can even listen to audio during scrubbing. If you own an iSight camera it can be used to import live video directly into iMovie. People have evidently been busy in Cupertino.
As always, there are a few negatives in what amounts to a substantial upgrade to iMovie. Already there have been reports of minor clashes with third-party plug-ins such as the popular Slick series. Of more concern are reports of popping noises occurring during scene transitions. Finally, iMovie HD still only allows for only one video track and two audio tracks, a limitation that remains, presumably, to encourage users to upgrade to Final Cut Express HD. However, when one considers that iMovie is only one fifth of a software bundle that retails at under £50, it can’t be argued that the program represents tremendous value for money.
Pros: Dynamic dropzones, support for HDV and 16:9 widescreen media; RAW- image support; drag-&-drop in the Map View; DVD-ROM content accessible; improved drive compatibility and support for additional media formats (DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW); OneStep DVD, output to disk image.
Cons: Support for widescreen limited to clips and dropzones (no widescreen templates); non-scalable project window.
In iDVD 5 Apple finally delivers long-due improvements as well as some welcome and surprising ones. If you’ve ever tried the previous versions you will be amazed at the flexibility iDVD 5 suddenly acquired.
In iDVD 5, Apple has come up with 15 new stylish themes featuring dynamic drop-zones, detail-rich frames, backgrounds and transitions to fall in love with. Dynamic drop-zones are animated areas within a menu, which can hold and display visual assets such as a video clip or slideshow. In order to facilitate the editing of dynamic drop-zones in motion menus, Apple introduced an additional interface element referred to as the scrubber – a mini timeline that proves to be a huge time saver. By scrubbing along you can easily move to any frame in the current motion menu and access its otherwise hidden drop-zones. If this isn’t enough, you can always turn drop-zone editor, where you can see them all at a glance. A checkbox next to the scrubber allows you to turn an intro on or off. Its duration is defined in the Settings pane.
Some of the most useful improvements address iDVD’s Map View: you’re no longer restricted to watching a project’s structure develop. Now you can grab objects, add and remove menus, rearrange assets, and build your project tree here. iDVD 5 is more tolerant of media formats including HDV (import only), and willingly accepts widescreen formats. Nevertheless, all templates show in standard aspect ratios (4:3).
Along with slideshows, your DVD can now carry the original photos; they will be stored as DVD-ROM content without trade-offs in image quality. This feature can be activated with a checkbox in the preferences, and proves to be a useful means of archiving favourite photo collections. It comes in particularly handy as iDVD 5 now fully supports the RAW image format commonly used in mid-range and high-end digital cameras.
OneStep DVD automatically collects video from a camcorder, puts together a DVD with all the menus, and burns the disc in just one easy go.
The application delivers MPEG-2 encoding of impressive quality, given the fact that it doesn’t force you through complicated setups. If speed is a priority, choose Background Encoding in Preferences, so that when you hit the Burn button iDVD will have already pre-encoded at least some of your assets. If you don’t mind waiting, Best Quality is the way to go. The encoding will be initiated only when you hit the Burn button making for a longer break. The results are well worth the effort.
Best of all, iDVD 5 can finally save a fully encoded project to a hard-drive image instead of DVD media, giving you the flexibility to burn it on another Mac.
Ready or not
High Definition (HD) has been waiting in the wings for over a decade. It was Apple’s Final Cut Pro 4.5 HD that finally made true real-time High Definition popular among video pros. But let’s be honest – until recently, HD was way beyond what mere mortals could reasonably afford. The landscape has changed with the arrival of HDV (High Definition Video), a standard created by JVC, Sharp and Sony with the prosumer in mind. So with Apple’s iMovie HD and Sony’s latest HDV camcorders, can you shoot, edit and burn in HD? Not quite.
As prosumers happily start trading DV for HDV, video professionals will be inclined to re-establish their competitive edge by moving on from DVCPRO50 and SD to true HD (based on Panasonic’s DVCPRO HD codecs) in Final Cut Pro HD. One thing Apple’s latest DVD offering won’t do for you is high-definition authoring.
iDVD 5 is still bound to the constraints of current-generation DVD standards. Admittedly, it’s too soon for high-definition DVDs to be of use without compatible players. While we are not there yet, Apple’s own codec for next-generation digital video, the much-acclaimed AVC/H.264, is due to ship alongside QuickTime 7 in Tiger (www.apple.com/macosx/tiger/h264.html).
iDVD 5 is an amazing authoring tool, cut loose from the hampering restrictions that were so prominent in the previous versions. Now it goes out of its way to help you enjoy the whole process. New themes with dynamic drop-zones make it easier to impress your friends with menu designs that almost rival Hollywood’s movies.
Anyone not proficient enough in using a camcorder to shoot, edit and burn DVDs will love OneStep DVD. It’s amazing to see how simple it can be to capture your footage, transfer it to the Mac and end up with a shiny and impressive self-made DVD. But take care, using iDVD 5 can be addictive and if you ever get your hands on an HDV camcorder such as Sony’s HDR-FX1, you’ll probably have a new hobby. The only thing iDVD 5 will make you desperately miss for the time being is the support for HDV resolutions absent in current-generation DVD standards.
Filipe Pereira Martins and Anna Kobylinska
Pros: Supports multi-track recording; less processor intensive; MIDI import; new panning controls; instrument tuning feature.
Cons: Does not allow multiple tempos in a song; limited mastering controls; AU plug-ins incompatibilities reported; sluggish performance on some computers; crashes reported by some users.
For many people GarageBand was by far the most interesting part of the iLife ’04 software suite. Here was a program that the Macintosh – platform of choice for most professional musicians – had been crying out for. For the price of a round of drinks Apple gave its users the opportunity to record, edit and mix audio and/or MIDI tracks within a software package that could have you up and running within minutes. You no longer had to wade through the complicated manuals that came with more grown-up and expensive packages such as Cubase or Logic Pro to make great sounding music. GarageBand was as easy to use as iTunes (well, almost) or iMovie, and would-be pop stars could now lay down their masterpieces in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
A year on, GarageBand has gained a firm foothold in the music making landscape. Web sites such as iCompositions, GarageBand.com and MacJams.com showcase thousands of original compositions created by people with a broad range of musical experience. From simple tracks created by dipping into and rearranging the thousands of professional quality audio loops included with GarageBand, to complicated multi-track arrangements using ‘real’ instruments. (Get yourself a pair of earplugs and mosey on over to www.macjams.com/song/song_profile.php?lid=6322 and you can even hear the amateur efforts of this particular reviewer.) In fact, I know of at least one musician who has been offered a professional recording contract on the strength of recordings created in GarageBand using no other instruments but Apple Loops.
Like iMovie HD, GarageBand is the entry-level relative to two other more professional packages published by Apple: Logic Express and Logic Audio Pro. The program works by allowing users to organize and edit Apple Loops – flexible segments of recorded music that automatically adjust tempo and key to match the song’s own. As well as this, GarageBand allows you to plug in a mic or guitar and incorporate a live performance into the song. This approach works extremely well and is capable of producing well-buffed if not quite polished results.
It has not taken long, however for users of the initial release of GarageBand to recognize that the program came with a number of irritating limitations. Chief among these was the fact that GarageBand proved to be extremely processor intensive. Adding special effects such as reverb or echo to only a few audio tracks was often enough to cripple all but the fastest and most RAM-stacked computer. Likewise, there was no way to vary a song’s tempo; no support for importing MIDI files; no way of using your computer keyboard as, well… a musical keyboard; no way of recording more than one instrument at a time; while creating your own musical loops could only be achieved using the difficult-to-understand Apple Loop Utility.
It is factors such as these that have prompted many GarageBand users to take the plunge and upgrade to Logic Express. There is, however, an enormous GarageBand user base that has been waiting with bated breath for the arrival of version 2.0 of their favourite software. So does it deliver?
On first impression it appears that Apple has done an excellent job of addressing GarageBand’s more obvious flaws. Let’s start with the issue of CPU usage. This has been addressed by allowing a user to ‘lock’ a track in a similar way as ‘freezing’ a track in Logic Express or Pro. Locking works by rendering the track to disk, thus freeing up processor usage and theoretically allowing you to create as many tracks as you like.
On the tempo front, there’s both good and bad news for users. Unfortunately, GarageBand still only allows you to use one tempo per song; what will please everyone, however, is that you can now simultaneously change tempo on both Real and Software Instruments. GarageBand does this by very cleverly adjusting the pitch of Real Instruments so that a vocal at a faster tempo, for example, does not end up sounding like Pinky and Perky.
Another new feature is support for MIDI files. You now have access to the thousands of free files that are available on the Internet. Simply drag a MIDI file on to the track window and GarageBand will create a new software track for every MIDI track. (The program also attempts to guess the identity of each track, assigning drums to drum tracks, etc.) Unless you’re the author of Dent Du MIDI (a third- party program that previously was the only way of importing MIDI) you are sure to rejoice at this new feature. Likewise, everybody but the author of MIDIkeys, will be happy with the new Musical typing feature, which turns your computer keyboard into a virtual music keyboard.
Furthermore, GarageBand now supports simultaneous recording up to a maximum of eight tracks. This is great for recording a whole band at the same time, but unless Apple plans to start releasing computers with eight line-in audio inputs, this feature would appear at face value to be fairly useless. In fact, to take advantage of the feature you will need to purchase an audio interface (there are many compatible interfaces on the market but you may be wise to hold fire and wait to see if rumours of ‘Asteroid’, an Apple-branded audio interface, are true.)
As well as these much-anticipated improvements GarageBand also delivers a number of others extras. These include the ability to tune an instrument from within the program; printable musical notation of MIDI recordings; an Enhance Tuning facility, which can help off-pitch singers clean up their vocals (WARNING: unless you want to sound like Cher, avoid setting this feature to the max.)
Finally, you can now save any performance as a loop that can be accessed from the Loop Browser.
All in all this is an excellent upgrade to an already excellent program. At the risk of appearing pedantic, however, I’d like to see a better means of organizing loops incorporated into a future upgrade, as well as the ability to globally turn off track monitoring.