So you want to direct. Great -- what credentials does your computer have?
With a powerful system and the right video editing software, you can make movies for your VCR, the Net, and more. We tested Apple's graphite-colored iMac DV Special Edition and a violet Sony VAIO Slimtop PCV-L620, both loaded with tools to turn you into the next Martin Scorcese.
Aside from the admittedly large issue of having different operating systems, the PC and the Mac share many specs. Both shipping units supply 128M bytes of RAM, a 13G-byte hard drive and a V.90 modem. The Slimtop packs a PIII-500 CPU and a 14.1-inch LCD display, which helps bump its cost to US$2,300 (Digital Studio models with CRT monitors range from $1,499 to $2,599). The iMac uses a PowerPC G3-400 and an integrated 15-inch CRT monitor, so its price tag is a thrifty $1,499 (350MHz iMacs sell for $999).
The Sony PC scored 225 on our PC WorldBench 98 test, average for a PIII-500 system. WorldBench 98 cannot be run on the iMac, so we can only say that it seems equally swift -- except in DVD playback. Apple's slot-loading 4X DVD-ROM drive skipped when I merely moved its control panel (though not when I changed settings), and it stopped dead if I ran other apps. We suspect the cooperative multitasking scheme of the Mac OS may be the culprit. Meanwhile, DVD movies played smoothly in the Sony's 4.8X drive. Image quality for both was bright and sharp.
This new iMac is easier to upgrade than previous versions, but you're still limited. Like the compact Sony, there's only one open RAM slot and no bays. The iMac has a wireless LAN card slot, while the Sony offers an open PCI slot.
Both the Slimtop and the iMac come with video capture and editing software and fast IEEE 1394 ports for high-speed peripherals. We tested out both systems using a Sony Digital Handycam IEEE 1394 camcorder.
Cue the Computer
From the start, the iMac worked fabulously. Apple's iMovie software is even easier to use than Avid Cinema: Connect the camera and you can control it from within iMovie. You don't have to choose settings until you really need them; all buttons and functions are clearly labeled. You simply drag and drop clips, sounds, transitions, and effects into a timeline to create your masterpiece, then export your edited video to tape or create a compressed QuickTime movie for the Web or e-mail.
Using the camera with the Sony Slimtop proved surprisingly difficult, because Sony uses five separate applications, including DVgate Motion (its video capture app) and DVgate Clip (where you edit frames more precisely). To combine your pieces into a single file, you then have to use DVgate Assemble. While these applications do the job, they are not very intuitive. (The just-announced $2,699 PCV-L630, will have a 15-inch LCD, and, like other new Digital Studio models, will come with more integrated versions of the Sony apps.)Sony also includes Adobe Premiere 5.1 LE, a powerful but complicated video editing application. To use it, however, you must first capture your video with Sony's app, save it, and then import the video into Premiere LE.
It's a Wrap
Both systems do well with standard business tasks. For easy video editing, the iMac wins thanks to its low price, elegant software, and no-hassle hardware support. But don't expect to do anything else with it while you're watching a DVD movie. The Sony Slimtop is an attractive, fast, space-saving PC, but it makes working with video more difficult than it should be.iMac DV Special EditionPRO: Child-simple video editing.
CON: Uncomfortable mouse; subpar DVD performance.
VALUE: Great way to get started doing your own video editing for a bargain price.
Street price: $1,499
PRODUCT INFO NO. 707
Sony VAIO Slimtop PCV-L620
PRO: Fast, compact, and stylish.
CON: Complicated, nonintegrated video applications; expensive.
VALUE: Good performance and great screen for viewing your video creations, but not easy to use.
Street price: $2,300
PRODUCT INFO NO. 708