iMovie 09…. The Good And The Ugly

One of the things that I do in my spare time is edititng videos for friends and “friends.” Basically, I take their crappy not so well shot video, edit it so it covers up their crappy filming skills looks good and burn the result to DVD. For my latest project, I decided to try iMovie 09 which came with my new MacBook Pro. Now I must admit that I was not looking forward to this as iMovie 08 and 09 was a radical change from iMovie 06. For starters, both applications broke the ability to add plug ins which means that I couldn’t use any of the Slick iMovie Plug ins that I had purchased. Plus, it’s received a fair amount of flak because it wasn’t a traditional timeline based video editor. But I was willing to dive head first into this to see if iMovie 09 was worth using. The result? There’s some good, and there’s some ugly.

First the good. The usability while a bit quirky to those of us who use timeline based video editors is actually decent. I was able to edit and assemble the movie very quickly. It uses a “iPhoto like” interface to give you access to your clips and the Precision Editor allows you to nail down exactly where scenes start and stop. From an editing standpoint, that’s pretty good. Plus it has a feature that will stabilize the video so that it makes up for the fact that you didn’t shoot the video using a SteadyCam. It’s not perfect, but it does work. All of this makes iMovie 09 one of the better consumer video editing applications I’ve seen lately.

Now the ugly.  The footage that I was editing came from a standard definition DV camcorder that will shoot in 720×480 resolution. Imports from this camcorder look horrible and the exports to iDVD are equally as horrible. I confirmed this by importing the same footage to iMovie 06. That produces the high quality footage that I’ve come to to expect when I edit movies. Why is that? The answer can be found in this review:

The way iMovie ’09 handles video internally is mostly unchanged from the previous version: interlaced DV and HDV footage use single-field processing to improve performance, which means iMovie is throwing out every other horizontal line of information.

Lovely. That sucks. Apparently others feel that way as there is a rather long thread about this on the Apple Discussion Boards. What this means for you is that if you have standard definition DV video and you need it at the same quality level as you shot it in, use iMovie 06 or Final Cut Express (which apparently have no problem importing standard definition DV video). Or, replace your camcorder with a HD camcorder. Here’s the problem with these three options:

  • iMovie 06 still works on current Macs. But you can be sure that since Apple no longer offers it for download (like they did when iMovie 08 was available) that an OS update will break iMovie 06 and then you’re out of luck.
  • Final Cut Express is a great editing tool, but it may be overkill for a lot of users. Plus it’s $200 to buy the last time I checked.
  • Not everyone is going to run out and buy a HD camcorder just to use iMovie 09. Besides, there’s a ton of standard definition camcorders out there that are still in use along with footage that was recorded by them. What happens to people in that situation?

Here’s the bottom line. iMovie 09 is a very usable application. If you have the need for a simple and easy to learn editing program, it should fit the bill. But the fact that it doesn’t properly import standard definition video is a major flaw in a very good application. If Apple is smart, they’ll address this issue ASAP. By doing so, they can set the bar very high for anybody who wants to challenge them in the consumer video editing market.

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