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I Heart iMovie: Why Apple's iMovie HD Beats Windows XP Movie Maker 2

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Apple's easy-to-use iMovie software turns your home movies into slick productions, often comparable to those of professional editors. Jeff Carlson explores the features that will make Windows users sick with envy.
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Preparing to embark on a vacation to Alaska, my wife and I decided at the last minute to buy a digital camcorder and dive headlong into the world of video. We were bound for Alaska, after all—land of abundant wildlife, calving glaciers, and near-perpetual daylight at certain times of the year. The only video I'd shot previously was at my cousin's wedding years earlier, using my father's antiquated, bulky VHS recorder. This new camcorder fit into one hand. How things had changed!

Two weeks and six full MiniDV tapes later, I sat down at my PowerBook G4 and fired up a little application that I'd previously launched only once: iMovie. In less than two hours—without any instruction—I'd imported some footage, edited it, added titles and music, and uploaded a one-minute short to a web page for family and friends to view.

Whether you're shooting vacation highlights, sporting events, or the school play, iMovie gives you the capability to turn that footage into something your friends and family will want to watch. Best of all, iMovie is easy and fun to use. You don't need to be a professional to operate it: iMovie is used by school kids, moms and dads, and aspiring filmmakers alike. You can jump right in without knowing a thing about video.

Importing Footage: Direct to Mac

Most consumer camcorders record footage to MiniDV tape, due to the immense amount of data video required. To get that footage onto your computer, you connect a cable to the camera's 1394 port, a high-speed data transfer technology Apple invented and refers to by the less-geeky name FireWire. Unlike many Windows PCs, every Macintosh sold since 2001 includes at least one FireWire port. When you connect a camcorder, turn it on, and launch iMovie, the Mac recognizes the camera model and puts you into iMovie's import mode. Moving the video from the camera to the Mac's hard drive is as simple as pressing a single Import button.

Professional video editing applications require you to manually review the footage and set markers that identify where each clip begins and ends. By contrast, iMovie does that work for you: As video is saved to the hard disk, iMovie automatically creates individual clips based on when you started and stopped recording (see Figure 1). The end result is a collection of discrete video clips ready to be edited, rather than one large video chunk.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Clips created while importing.

The latest version, iMovie HD, imports more than just the common-variety standard definition (SD) digital video. If you have access to one of the newer high-definition video (HDV) cameras, such as Sony's $3,500 HDR-FX1, you can bring that high-resolution footage directly into iMovie for editing. Previously, editing HD required tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment.

In addition to SD and HDV formats, iMovie HD can import MPEG-4 video from newer tapeless camcorders that record directly to memory cards, as well as from Apple's iSight videocamera.

Best of all, you can mix and match these formats in your movies. Did you shoot some of your vacation using a MiniDV camcorder, and some of it using a separate MPEG-4 camcorder? Or maybe you used your digital still camera's movie mode to capture some video? Perhaps you shot some scenes with your camera's 16:9 (widescreen) feature enabled, and others in the regular 4:3 aspect ratio? iMovie handles it all, and adjusts the video to fit. For example, bringing 16:9 footage into a 4:3 project automatically letterboxes the 16:9 footage, so you can capture the full expanse of that last night's sunset. Or import HDV footage into an SD project, and the image will be resampled to fit the lower-resolution SD format.

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