iMovie 11 Scores Big with Effects & Trailers

| In-Depth Review

iMovie ‘11 is the latest incarnation of Apple’s consumer-focused video editing application for Mac OS X. It’s included with the recently released iLife ‘11 and makes for a nice upgrade, especially for users that felt previous iMovie updates were lacking.

iLife ‘11 includes a new version of iMovie

Like the versions that come before it, iMovie ‘11 is a consumer-focused video editor designed to meet the needs of casual users. It supports mixing video and audio clips, and has several movie theme templates to help add some nice finishing touches to your home made movie masterpieces.

Video Editing
iMovie ‘11 includes the same video editing interface that first appeared in iMovie ‘08. While it may be familiar now, the editing interface drew plenty of criticism from users that preferred the timeline-style editor from earlier versions of the application. With a couple preference changes, however, the old-style interface has made a comeback in iMove ‘11.

The single row timeline editor isn’t visible by default, but it’s just a mouse click away. Look for the button with three side-by-side boxes in it near the upper right corner of the Project pane.

The newer style timeline view has been around long enough that for many users being able to switch to the older single row style is more of a personal preference than a necessity, but for long time iMovie users, having the option to switch is a welcome comeback.

Linear editing returns in iMovie ‘11

iMovie ‘11 includes several effects that can be applied to clip sections or complete movies. Effects are easy to find and apply after selecting a clip section since they’re all tucked away under the Clip menu. iMovie includes fast forward and rewind effects, slow motion and instant replay, fade to black and white or sepia, and more.

Tools for adjusting the overall colors in a clip, clip audio, and tools for cropping and rotating are all available via a pop-up widget that appears when you roll over the beginning of a clip. The color editing tools should look familiar to iPhoto users since they’re nearly identical.

Adding transitions between clips is just a matter of drag-and-drop, and like iMovie ‘09 you can fine-tune the effects one they’re in place. You can control exactly how one clip moves into another with the Transition Overlap feature. By default, this feature maintains the clip range during the transition (All), but can also be set to maintain the project duration instead (Half).

iMovie ‘11 now supports blue screen as well as green screen effects, which makes it easier for budding filmographers that need to add in alternate backgrounds after studio filming. The new version also includes a split screen feature for showing two videos side-by-side.

The new People Finder feature makes it find shots that include actual people, although it isn’t as powerful as the Faces feature in iPhoto. iMovie’s feature can detect when people are in a video shot, but it can’t identify exactly who you filmed. The tool is handy and works well for sifting through lots of footage to find where people are in the frame, but it won’t help when it comes time to find a specific family member or actor.

Long time iMovie users were disappointed when Apple dropped support for third-party plug-ins in the application, and that disappointment won’t be going away any time soon. Apple didn’t bring back plug-in support for iMovie ‘11, and it seems likely the company won’t change its stance going forward since blocking plug-ins helps keep a distinct line between its consumer and pro products.

iMovie ‘11 added the ability to import AVCHD video and supports video shot at 24 frames per second, which is a welcome addition for users with high quality cameras. iMovie doesn’t, however, support editing in the AVCHD format, so footage gets converted to the AIC format which probably plays a big role in the overall snappy performance of the application even on laptops that are nearly three years old.

Importing video went smoothly with the various cameras we tried, and we didn’t have any issues importing supported files from the desktop, either.

Audio Editing
Working with audio in iMovie ‘11 is a big step up from previous version of the application. You can display wave forms for audio, select sections and adjust audio levels, and you can finally edit audio in individual clips.

iMovie ‘11 audio effects

The new version of iMovie ships with a collection of audio effects you can apply to your clips, although there isn’t much control over the changes each effect makes. Audio effects include muffled, robot, cosmic, echo, telephone, shortwave radio, multi-tune (like an auto-tune effect), various room sizes, and several pitch up and down effects.

Depending on your tastes and needs, at least a few of the audio effects can be useful. Based on my experiments, however, unless I’m making a movie with a scene with people talking on phones, the Audio Effects panel will probably stay closed.

Movie Trailers
When Apple first showed off iMovie ‘11, the feature that got the most attention was Movie Trailers — a feature that builds a professional looking movie trailer-style video with your own clips. It includes 15 different movie trailer styles, and even comes with music recorded for Apple by the London Symphony Orchestra.

iMovie includes several Trailer templates

Each trailer template includes a step-by-step storyboard that shows you what type of clip to use, and includes fill-in-the-blank forms for creating movie titles, including the names of the people in your movie trailer, and choosing a studio logo. The logos aren’t from actual studios, but they look close enough to the real thing to add an authentic feel to your production.

Once your clips are in the timeline, iMovie builds the trailer for you, and they look great. Even better, the trailers can be saved as standard iMovie projects, so you can edit your masterpiece, too.

Template fonts aren’t editable. Result: Wrong characters.

You can’t, however, change the fonts used in the trailers, so if you need to use characters that aren’t available in a theme’s template you’re out of luck. Thanks to a friend that lives a lot farther east than I do, I had some legit Arabic text to test with and while it worked great in my own projects it proved to be problematic in trailers simply because the typefaces Apple used in some of the templates don’t include extensive Arabic support.

Sharing Video
Your movies aren’t of much value if you can’t share them, so iMovie ‘11 includes several ways to get your hard work in front of your audience. Projects can be exported for additional editing in Final Cut Pro, they can be saved as QuickTime movies, you can send movies directly to iTunes, and your videos can be shared online, too.

iMovie ‘11 includes built-in tools for formatting and uploading videos to several online services including MobileMe, YouTube, FaceBook, Vimeo and CNN iReport. Since you may not want to leave your videos out for all to see forever, iMovie includes an option for removing content from online services, too.

Video Podcasters can export to Podcast Producer as well, which can be a time saver for users that start their projects in iMovie, but finish their publishing workflow in Apple’s podcast publishing tool.

Video export and upload times were reasonable. Of course the older your Mac is, and the slower you Internet connection is, the slower your export times will be.


iMovie doesn’t include help articles by default

One surprising omission in iMovie ‘11 is that the built-in Help system doesn’t actually include any help topics or articles. Instead, Help searches return an article that explains how to download help content forcing users to spend time gathering help topics instead of finding the answers they need.

Leaving Help content out of the installation also means if users don’t have an Internet connection when they’re looking for topics that haven’t been downloaded they’re simply out of luck.

The Bottom Line
Thanks to new audio and video editing features along with Web exporting and the flashy Movie Trailer feature, iMovie ‘11 is a welcome upgrade to Apple’s consumer level video editor. It offers nice performance even on older Macs, is stable and adds in some nice interface elements that will make long time iMovie users happy, too.

Leaving in-app help out of the installation is a bit of a disappointment, but the US$49 price tag (older versions of the iLife suite cost $79) takes away some of that sting.

Product: iMovie '11

Company: Apple

List Price: $49

Pros:

Linear timeline returns, simple video effects, improved audio editing, easy movie sharing, AVCHD movie support.

Cons:

No plug-in support, help files not installed by default, 

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