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Review: iMovie

July 19, 2010

The Overview

All quiet on the set.  Lights... Camera... And ACTION!  So are you digging the new HD movie mode on the new iPhone 4?  Always wanted a way to make those movies more into a true feature presentation rather than just another crappy YouTube viral video?  Then iMovie for the iPhone might be the app for you.

The Features

Make beautiful HD movies anywhere, anytime with Apples new iMovie application for the iPhone 4.  Create a video postcard of your trip to the park and instantly post it on the web for the world to see.  Or shoot video of your your friends 30th birthday, and email it to your family and friends, while the party is still rocking. You can put together a quick production, or you can spend several days turning footage and photos of your week long cruise into a feature presentation.  With iMovie, the choice is yours. With its feature rich software, iMovie lets you start projects and work on them where and when you want.  Made for multi-touch, you can drag and drop video you've just shot, or add video that is already in your photo library.  You can also tap and shoot a movie right into an exiting project while your on the go.  Trim the length of individual clips, pinch and zoom your timeline for a closer look, or use your finger to scrub quickly through your work.  You choose where, you choose when. Or if you want, pick one of Apples themes with matching titles, transitions and soundtrack.  Then simply add your own files and finishing touches.  Insert photos and be amazed as they utilize a Ken Burns panning effect,  adding the ultimate in professional production flair.  Then watch as your movie comes alive with titles and graphics that update with location data that is embedded in your video. When you're ready to get creative, feel free to utilize your own music to personalize your work.  iMovies will automatically lower the volume of your background music at the appropriate time while enhancing the actual audio from your clips. When your done you can save and export your movies in one of three sizes.  Share to MobileMe or YouTube instantly.  Send your movie in MMS text or email to everyone you know.  Or easily sync your movies back to your computer and iTunes library to view when you want.

The Breakdown

The Good Recently unveiled at WWDC by Steve Jobs.  iMovie is a scaled down version of their Mac video editing software program by the same name.  It was released by Apple to coincide with the release of the new iPhone 4 and a recently released update has addressed some of the early issues with the program.  Boasting some nice (albeit limited) editing capabilities, I believe it is a must own application for iPhone 4 owners. There is no fancy opening page when you start the application.  The first picture below "The Overview" is what you'll see.  Once you open the application it is relatively easy to get started if you have any prior experience editing video or pictures.  If not, read my section on the bad.  That being said, even a novice should be able to pluck their way through with a little determination and will power.  The results are worth it. Tapping on the new project button takes you to a screen where you select one of five preset themes into which you’ll incorporate your material. The themes are Modern, Bright, Travel, Playful and News.   I think each is rather self explanatory by they names they have been given.  Selecting the News theme for instance, gives your clips the feel like a news announcement, while Travel is centered around where you are and what your doing as was shown during the live WWDC demonstration given by Apple.  You get the... well... picture. Once you’ve picked what you want, simply start choosing the material you want to add and go to work.  It’s that easy.  For people that are somewhat familiar with editing or using these types of programs, after a short time it becomes pretty easy.  There are some transition options for still photos you incorporate in between video clips (if you want).  I found putting still pictures into the video really gave it a unique and professional feel especially using the Ken Burns panning effect.  If you've ever seen one of his series like The Civil War on PBS, you know what I am talking about. Another great feature is being able to add your own music.  Although each theme has a provided soundtrack, you can pick from your own library.  If you enable the "ducking" feature, your background music will automatically lower and the audio portion of your clip will be highlighted.  I really like this and it add a whole new level of finish to your project.  Although the included theme music is good, it always seems like there is at least one place in your movie where is just seem to go with the video.  To me the included theme music is great for shorter productions.  For longer ones, I like using my own music. As was mentioned, overall the options are somewhat limited and this reviewer thinks that isn't necessarily a bad thing.  It allows for a relatively new person to pick it up and begin working while giving a limited number of choices will keep them from becoming overwhelmed.  With a little practice it actually starts to become second nature and in no time you'll be dragging and dropping what you want into your clips. The end results are really nice and you'll actually feel pretty good about your work after you do a few.  As you learn they'll improve quickly.   I picked it up right away, but in retrospect, I was already pretty savvy at this stuff to start with.  My family and friends have been utterly impressed by the little movies I have put together.  It can really take rather ordinary video you might shoot on a trip, on a whim, or on vacation and allow you to jazz them up into fun little feature films. Once you're done, you simply export your finished work to your camera roll in the “Photos” section of your iPhone.  A nice feature in my opinion is that iMovie allows you to  save your work in one of three size formats, Medium – 360p, Large – 540p, or HD – 720p.  This can be important depending on what you ultimately want to do with your movie.   After they have been saved, they can be emailed, uploaded to your MobileMe or YouTube account,  or sent in an MMS text message. The choice is yours! The Bad There are some downsides to iMovie.  First, you need to have an iPhone 4 to run the application.  Even if you have upgraded your 3GS to iOS4, it appears that iMovie needs all 512MB of RAM the iPhone 4 has to run properly.  The 3GS only has 256MB of RAM.  So if you have the 3GS running the iOS4 update, don't buy the program.  It won't work and you'll be upset you spent $4.99 only to find out you can't use it.  That being said, there are articles floating around on the web that indicate that iMovie can run on a jailbroken 3GS with some minor tweaks.  That being said, the official stance from Apple is that it isn't supported or offered for the 3GS.  Hack at your own risk, if you must. Next, for a novice first time iPhone user, the program can be a little difficult to learn.  One of iMovie's biggest flaws is that there are no on-phone instructions.  Also, Apple provides no online manual on their site (at least none that I could find).  To me it is extremely odd not to have an operating manual in the application, and a major omission by Apple in my opinion.  If I were a newbie and bought iMovie on the fly only to find there were no directions,  it could get really frustrating very fast.  That being said, Apple does have this FAQ link which provides answers to many of the basic questions.  To be clear it is not a manual.  You are basically on your own to figure it out using any means at your disposal.  I did a web search and a lot of 3rd party "how to" videos popped up.  You can do the same but it seemed odd to have to do this with a product put out by Apple.  In any event, here is the link to a nice little web tutorial that I think will benefit many new users.  Too bad Apple can't, or won't do something like this for themselves. Another setback to me is that for more experienced users, $4.99 is a little steep for the limited options that iMovie provides.  At first, five themes seems like a nice selection to choose from.  However, if you really start getting into the making movies, the limited number of choices quickly get old.  In addition, you'll find that sometimes the video you shoot just doesn't seem to fit any of the them. A big consideration is that finished files can get rather large, especially if you save them in the 720p HD resolution.  If you have the 16GB phone, you can start filling it pretty quick.  Using HD movie mode storage space can become an issue depending on how much other media you already have on your device.  In addition, before you know it, you can create something that is simply too big to email and texting you movies can only be done with the smallest videos.   So unless you have an online photo account with MobileMe or YouTube, you are stuck showing your finished work on your phone.  This isn't really a "fault" of iMovie.  However, it is something to consider when you splice together a 30 minute production and think you are just going to drop into an email on your iPhone and zip it off to all of your friends. Lastly, although the movies look great, they can be very cramped when viewed on the smaller iPhone screen.   As you can see from the review photos, once you incorporate the theme, the actual video gets shrunk down to fit inside the designated format.  Depending on if the video is shot in landscape or portrait mode will also make a difference in how the video fits into the “theme” which can make it even smaller.  Note my portrait shot video with the black box effect in the finished movie screen shot (shown below.  Taken off my iPhone 4, the video portion of the entire screen in this example is only a little over inch wide by slightly less than an inch high.  In other words, that’s a small video box.  Already difficult detail to see, gets even harder to pick out.   Not a big deal if the movies are exported and viewed on an iPad, Laptop, or other large monitor but something to consider when viewing on your iPhone.

The Verdict

All in all iMovie is a great first offering from Apple in my opinion.  Once you learn it, you’ll find it pretty easy to crank out some neat movies that look polished and semi-professional.   At $4.99 iMovie isn’t the cheapest considering the overall feature set and limited number of currently available themes.  However, this is an application that I believe Apple will continue to enhance and improve.  I strongly encourage you to leave feedback either on the Apple website, or in your iTunes review of the app.  Tell them what you’d like to see and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t just get better and better over time. In the end, it is pretty amazing to think how far the iPhone has come over just the last few years.  From no video, to HD video, to creating edited movies right in the palm of your hand while on the fly.  Simply awesome.  As such, this reviewer gives iMovie 4 stars on the Hollywood walk of fame with the hope of an Oscar nomination after future revisions.

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