SAN FRANCISCO (07/05/2000) - Want to test the waters of digital-video (DV) production? Need to create simple videos for business presentations or personal Web sites? Apple has a program for you, and it's free. IMovie is the video-editing software that Apple Computer Inc. bundles with the iMac DV and iMac DV Special Edition, which contain FireWire ports that can connect to DV-format camcorders. The combination of FireWire and iMovie makes it easy and downright fun to bring high-quality digital video into the Mac, edit it, then record it back to tape.
Initially, the only way to get iMovie was to buy one of the iMac DV models. But reports soon surfaced that iMovie also ran on other Macs, including blue-and-white G3s as well as G4s -- all of which have FireWire ports. Owners of these Macs begged Apple to bundle iMovie with the Mac OS or at least sell it separately. Apple responded to the ruckus by making iMovie free for the downloading. Was Apple's generosity inspired in part by Microsoft, which has announced plans to include an iMovie-like program with its forthcoming Windows Millennium Edition? Who cares? What counts is that iMovie is blissfully simple, surprisingly capable, and absolutely free.
Big Download, Bigger Exaggeration
IMovie 1.0.2 weighs in at nearly 20MB. If you want to avoid the lengthy download, you can order an iMovie CD-ROM for US$20; it includes tutorial footage the download version lacks. That footage aside, the downloadable iMovie is identical to the version bundled with the iMac DV.
IMovie's system requirements call for a Power Mac G4 or FireWire-equipped PowerBook running Mac OS 9.0.4 and QuickTime 4.1 or later. Actually, iMovie also runs beautifully on blue-and-white Power Mac G3s and under Mac OS 8.6.
I tried iMovie on an older (Revision B) iMac and it worked fine, although its installer crashed when the iMac's screen resolution was set to 640 by 480 pixels (the installer didn't have a problem at higher resolutions). Many users have even reported running iMovie on beige Power Macs containing G3 upgrade cards and third-party FireWire cards.
Camcorder compatibility is another story, however. One of the beauties of FireWire is that it enables device control -- iMovie controls your DV camcorder as you press the on-screen play, rewind, and stop buttons. But this works only if you're using an iMovie-compatible camcorder or video deck (see Apple's list of iMovie-compatible hardware at www.apple.com/imovie/gear). Stray from this group and you risk problems such as an inability to record a completed project back to tape.
No Manual Needed
IMovie's online help is great, but you probably won't refer to it often -- iMovie is that easy to use.
IMovie divides the screen into several regions. A monitor region displays video from a FireWire-connected camcorder and shows a preview of your epic. To its right is the shelf, which holds movie clips as well as still images (iMovie imports PICT, JPEG, GIF, Windows BMP, and Photoshop image formats).
Below the shelf are four buttons. Depending on the button you click, a tool palette slides out that enables you to add visual transitions between scenes, create titles that can be superimposed over a scene or over black, import music from audio CDs, or add sound effects from iMovie's small library of effects.
Across the bottom of the screen is iMovie's timeline-like clip viewer, where you do most of your editing. To add a freshly captured scene to a movie, drag it from the shelf into the clip viewer. To add a transition between two scenes, drag the transition icon to the clip viewer, and the two scenes separate to make room for it. It's all so straightforward that you'll be making movies in minutes.
When you've finished, you can record your movie back to digital videotape via FireWire, with iMovie controlling the camcorder. You can also export to a stand-alone QuickTime movie that you can post on a Web site, include in a PowerPoint presentation, or burn to a CD.
Although iMovie excels at simple editing, it falls flat at more advanced tasks.
Its audio features are weak -- you can't separate the audio and video of a scene so you can cut away to a second shot while the first shot's audio continues to play. Nor can you precisely adjust volume levels so that, say, background music fades slightly when narration begins. iMovie also lacks the range of effects found in programs such as Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro -- you can't pan across a still image, composite one video clip within another, or create slow-motion effects.
Macworld's Buying Advice
IMovie's lack of glitzy special effects isn't significant, given the program's intended audience and applications. But its weak audio features do make many common video-production techniques cumbersome or downright impossible. In the end, though, criticizing iMovie for these shortcomings is like criticizing the toy surprise inside a box of Cracker Jack. IMovie is splendid software, and it's free. Go download it now.
RATING: 4.0 mice
PROS: Extremely easy to use; runs on wide range of Macs.
CONS: Limited audio and effects features.
COMPANY: Apple Computer (800/692-7753, http://www.apple.com).
LIST PRICE: Free (CD-ROM version, $20).