My iMovie ’09 Review at Macworld

Macworld today published my review of iMovie ’09, in which I give the new version 4 mice for its improvements. I haven’t been able to say much about iMovie since I got the assignment, since I needed to remain impartial until the review was out. But now I can say: I like iMovie ’09 a lot. It still has a few significant downsides, but overall ’09 is a big improvement over ’08. Go read the full review, but here are some excerpts.

A few of those capabilities have returned. iMovie ’09 can now slow down or speed up clips; export directly to iDVD with support for chapter markers; easily extract audio from video clips for editing separately; and provide a way to make cutaway shots (formerly known as the awkward Paste Over at Playhead command). Themes have also reappeared, and are better implemented than in iMovie HD.

iMovie ’09 didn’t just move mostly up to par with iMovie HD, however. Apple has crammed enough new features and thoughtful improvements into this version that you might think they’d rebuilt iMovie from scratch again.

One of the sticklers with iMovie ’08 was its image quality. Because it used single-field processing for interlaced footage, iMovie was throwing out half of the image data. Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed, although Apple told me they’d improved how the interlacing was handled. Despite that, some people are seeing interlace artifacts when exporting footage. I didn’t run into that in my testing, but it is something Apple is aware of and looking into.

Still, aside from whatever technical glitch is getting in the way in those cases, most people probably aren’t going to notice any quality difference in their footage.

I’m still irked that two features that are still missing from iMovie. You can’t write footage back to tape, and there’s no “rubber band” editing of audio:

Other features, alas, are still missing. Precise audio editing is still hampered by the inability to control volume levels within a clip. (You can chop the clip into lots of pieces and set the volume for each one, a technique we did away with when iMovie 3 came along; Apple believes this style of audio editing is too advanced for average users.) There’s no capability to write video back to tape in a MiniDV camera; tape is yesterday’s technology, so why support it? I’m guessing a significant number of people who own perfectly functional DV camcorders can offer reasons. And so far, third-party plug-in support remains a fond recollection of years past.

Here’s how the review wraps up:

The hard truth—for some—is that iMovie HD 6 is effectively gone. Although it still works on today’s Macs, Apple stopped offering it as a free download for iMovie ’08 owners once iMovie ’09 began shipping. And eventually a Mac OS X update or something else will break it and that will be it. A year ago, with only iMovie ’08 as a consumer replacement, the transition away from the old iMovie was not an exciting prospect.

iMovie ’09 has caught up with iMovie HD and surpassed it in features and performance (except in the areas of highest-quality HD, support for writing video to tape, and the lack of better audio editing tools). There are enough improvements in iMovie ’09 that I think it is no longer competing with iMovie HD, but instead with Final Cut Express, which is the next step up in Apple video editing. If iMovie is the most attractive player in the iLife suite for you, the improvements in iMovie ’09 make the purchase worthwhile.

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