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Originally published September 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 15, 2007 at 2:06 AM

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Practical Mac | Jeff Carlson

Targeting new iMovies users risks alienating existing users

After Apple released iLife '08 last month, I've had two separate reviews of iMovie '08 fighting for dominance side-by-side in my head. Unlike the rest of...

Special to The Seattle Times

After Apple released iLife '08 last month, I've had two separate reviews of iMovie '08 fighting for dominance side-by-side in my head.

Unlike the rest of the suite (which also includes updated versions of iPhoto, iDVD, GarageBand and iWeb), iMovie '08 is an entirely new application: Apple ditched iMovie HD and wrote the application from the ground up. Not only does it have a new interface and new way of working, it's targeted at a different audience than the previous version.

So, to quiet the voices in my head, here's my Jekyll-and-Hyde review of iMovie '08.

For the iMovie HD user: If you're already familiar with iMovie, a lot of the features you're accustomed to are gone, including most of the transitions, titles and effects. iMovie '08 offers no support for plug-ins either, which means you can't use third-party transitions or effects.

You can't open old iMovie projects; doing so will only import the raw footage. If you're working on a project now, finish it in whichever version you started with.

iMovie themes, introduced as a major addition to iMovie HD 6, are absent. You also can't create DVD chapter markers, which allow you to set chapters in iDVD. You can't change the clip speed, so forget about drawing out a slow-motion version of your kid's winning soccer goal.

The moderately good news is that iMovie '08 does not overwrite your current version of iMovie HD, so you can still use the version you're accustomed to — at least until it no longer works reliably. If you recently bought a new Mac with iLife '08 already installed, you can download iMovie HD 6 free (www.apple.com/support/downloads/imovieHD6.html).

Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it? For people who've been using iMovie for years (myself included), it's a huge disappointment. But it might be the right approach.

A new take: Two things are contributing to Apple's new approach with iMovie. People are moving away from tape-based camcorders in favor of models that store video on DVDs, memory cards or built-in hard drives. The image quality isn't as good because the video, which takes up a lot of storage space, is compressed to fit on smaller media. This is especially true for high-definition video, such as cameras that save footage in the AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Defitinion) format, but the market doesn't seem to care.

People also aren't making time to edit their footage. Cutting together the highlights of a vacation takes hours of work, and so a lot of DV tapes are ending up in drawers and on shelves. The videos they are editing are short-form events of the kind you'd find on YouTube (www.youtube.com).

iMovie '08 is geared toward cutting scenes together quickly and easily, in many cases abandoning long-established conventions of editing. For example, everything in iMovie '08 is calculated in seconds and tenths of seconds vs. video timecode, which breaks footage down into seconds and frames.

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Instead of assembling a movie in a timeline with separate tracks for video and audio, you add video clips to a Project pane that orders clips like text, left to right on multiple lines.

You can still select a clip and play it in real time in the preview window, but Apple implemented a better way: skimming, which displays whatever is under the mouse cursor. Clips can be viewed as long tiles of thumbnails so you can see what happens in a scene without having to play it back. When you find a scene you like, drag to select it (as you would select text in a word processor) and drag it to the Project pane.

One of the best new features takes a page from iPhoto.

iMovie '08 now keeps track of all your video in a central library, making it easy to see a top-down view of your footage at a glance.

Other small improvements abound, like the capability to crop (and even rotate) clips, which helps solve the problem of mixing widescreen and standard aspect ratios. Apple has also made it possible to upload your finished movies directly to YouTube or to a .Mac Gallery (if you're a .Mac subscriber).

It's not perfect, and often feels like what it is: a 1.0 product.

Audio editing is limited and confusing, and for some bizarre reason you can't select multiple clips at once.

In Apple's view, editing video using iMovie HD was still too difficult or time-consuming (likely both) for most users. For those of us who are more particular about the end result, iMovie HD 6 still works for now, and Final Cut Express or Final Cut Studio are available to move up to (though both require investments in price and time).

Is that unfair to existing users? Yes. But will Apple gain more new users and spur people to take another shot at editing their stored footage? I think so.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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