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Back in the saddle

by Remy Martin, December 3, 2002

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Hello again, everybody. I return from my hiatus to humbly bring my fare once again to the pages of MacEdition. Although most of my time is now spent looking for work in the City of Angels, I put aside some time after reading a rather interesting article entitled “Windows Video Editing Pulls Ahead of the Mac” in Connected Home Magazine. Has iMovie really lost its edge over its Windows Movie Maker counterpart, or does Apple really provide the best home movie making experience there is out there? The debate is surely a valid one, but I don’t think the author of the article makes a good enough argument to crown Windows Movie Maker the new king.

From what I can tell from the article, iMovie’s fatal flaw is that “you can now rip CD audio and create home movies that take up far less space than is possible on a Mac” using Windows Movie Maker. Before you start to wonder how this can be possible, I assure you that Microsoft hasn’t come up with a way to make DV video or MP3s smaller. The author is describing the compression technologies available in Windows Media 9, which do allow for high quality video in much less space than in raw DV format. If you have limited space to work with, this is an advantage because iMovie will only import video from your camera in raw DV.

What sounds like a major advantage for Windows Movie Maker is actually fairly limited when you look at the issue in more detail. The advantage is only in the initial stages of importing video. iMovie can leverage the power of QuickTime to compress movies with quality equal to or better than Windows Media 9 technologies in a comparable amount of space. The key factor is that this compression must be performed after you have a finished product. iMovie only works with DV data files, and while that does sound cumbersome, I believe that Apple chose this method for ease of use as well as quality.

DV is a “lossless” codec, which means that the video you edit on the computer retains quality equal to the source. The penalty, of course, is that you have very large files to work with. However, to retain the highest quality for further presentation, compressing the video for movie editing in a format such as Windows Media 9 is a poor choice. While there may be an advantage for people who are going to share their video on the web or on disk somehow; or for those who will be transferring movies back to tape, or on DVD or VCD, there will be a loss of quality because of the data lost during the original compression to Windows Media 9. For some, it may not be an appreciable difference (especially if the original was not DV video), but performing the same tasks on raw DV data is going to produce superior results more times than not. Considering how inexpensive disk space is these days, the main disadvantage of using DV video is not a problem for most users. Even if you read this article and decide to make your movies on the Windows side, work with DV if possible. The advantages in the end are worth it.

Moving on, the next major advantage pulling MovieMaker 2 ahead of iMovie is the abundance of transitions. The author laments the 27 included transitions, titles and effects in iMovie, which pales in comparison to the 130 new transitions in MovieMaker 2. While this is a small advantage for MovieMaker, I hardly think that anybody can call it a show-stopper. For those of you who were left out of the loop, Apple offers an iMovie plug-in pack which adds another set of transitions, effects, and titles to iMovie for free. In addition, Apple offers a free download of various background music samples and sound effects to enhance your presentation. Third party developers have made a wealth of iMovie effects for download as well. Both Apple’s site and VersionTracker can help you find them. With that said, I think the two products come out at least equal in that respect.

I believe that there are a few things that Apple can do to make iMovie better. Windows Movie Maker allows for a person to make DVDs and VCDs directly from the program. While I believe that making DVDs is still an advantage because of the amount of work that can go into preparing a DVD, a “burn to VCD” option would be a nice feature in an upcoming version of iMovie. While nowhere near the quality of a DVD, VCDs can be played in just as many players and doesn’t require a DVD burner. Unless Apple starts allowing external FireWire DVD players to work with iDVD (another feature I favor), burning VCDs from iMovie would be a nice compromise. The other major drawback to iMovie is that there hasn’t been enough work done to get external analog to digital converters to work seamlessly with it. I have used the Sony DVMC DA-2 with success (remember to connect the LANC cord if exporting back to tape), but the support of these devices is too confusing at times. Until there are some affordable VHS devices out there with FireWire, analog to digital converters will be necessary to bring a number of computer users into the video editing fold.

After all that, I think it is safe to say the Windows Movie Maker 2 is not a huge leap forward for the home movie producer. If anything, this latest version is aimed at putting its feature set more on par with iMovie. Microsoft can actually start making comparisons, which is good for them, but I still believe that Apple’s approach to video is a better one and the consistency of the editing routines still makes iMovie a better choice. Admittedly, I have not put in as much time with the Movie Maker 2 beta as with iMovie, but perhaps that’s an invitation for a review once a finished product is available from Microsoft.

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