iMovie '08 is a far cry from the '06 version. It's built to simplify on-the-fly video editing, but Apple has removed many controls that added depth to the older version. But you can keep both programs on one machine when you install iLife '08, and you can download iMovie '06 version 6.0.4 for free.
Similar to iPhoto, a new Video Library groups footage into Events; lets you skim by dragging the mouse over the thumbnail, adjusting the speed easily and clicking the spacebar to set the thumbnail to the view of the moment; and displays footage in photo gallery-like thumbnails. Memorizing keyboard shortcuts will give your hands a break from the mouse. It's cool that you can hide footage from view without deleting it, as well as add text tags to describe a project and make it easier to search for.
It's simple enough to add titles, fades and other transitions, and songs from iTunes or GarageBand. You can rotate and crop images, better adjust color settings, and easily normalize audio. There's support for high-definition video, as well as AVCHD for plugging in solid-state cameras. When movies are done, you can add them to iTunes or instantly publish them online via YouTube or to your .Mac Web Gallery for 960x540 pixel video with higher resolution than MPEG-2-format DVDs.
We're not crazy about iMovie's new split personality, with features removed from the new version in the name of simplification. For instance, there's only support for one audio track, a major omission if you want to add voiceover narration along with background music. And iMovie '08 lacks themes, which we'd like for cobbling together, say, a quick wedding video with a pastel background. While you can drag and drop clips, the omission of a timeline view, found in most video-editing applications including and Express, will annoy those seeking more granular control. Plus, if you plan to burn a DVD, you can't add chapter markers anymore without using iDVD or QuickTime.
We wish the altered interface could have retained more features from iMovie '06, instead of forcing longtime users either to suffer with less functionality or use the old software. And if you open a project you had nearly finished editing on iMovie '08, the new application keeps the raw footage but not any effects you may have added.
GarageBand looks sleeker than its predecessor, and it adds some welcome new controls. It now enables multiple takes for recording and creating loops. For creating a layered song, GarageBand lets you label each part, so it's easy to find and manipulate just the chorus, for instance, without having to analyze the waveforms to identify it. Multiple edit points are allowed so that you can automate the behavior of instruments as well as tempo effects. We like that you can adjust equalization by dragging bands with the mouse within the Visual EQ box. In addition, there's support for 24-bit audio. Plus, you can make notated printouts of MIDI instrument tracks. Your finished audio can be added to iTunes or used for a podcast. Podcast creation is especially intuitive, and a new fade out control makes ending a show a snap.
The new Magic stage displays images of instruments that assemble a virtual band. You can pop a bass, a guitar, or a saxophone onto the stage, and then add your own voice or instrument to the band. It's sort of silly but fun, providing nine genres of music: country, rock, jazz, blues, slow blues, reggae, funk, Latin, and roots. This tool should be good for people who want to play with music but don't have a solid handle on audio-editing software, or for those who want shortcuts for smoothly mixing up songs. But you can't make these baked-in instruments play a new tune. And rather than getting new, royalty-free audio samples within GarageBand '08, you'll have to pay $99 for each of five Jam Packs. Serious hobbyists or pros should still look to richer applications, such as Ableton Live, Propellerhead Reason, or Adobe Audition.
iDVD is supposed to be faster than its predecessor for burning projects to DVD; we could not detect a difference in our tests, but we didn't run into glitches while burning a DVD either. The Magic iDVD option provides 10 new, ready-made visual themes, such as Sunflower and Cinema. And OneStep iDVD steps you through hooking up a camera via FireWire to make a quick burn.
Service and support
We found the searchable help menus within iLife '08 to be thorough and to the point, and the video tutorials are good. Forums to interact with other users may be the among the best sources of support. iLife buyers receive 90 days of unlimited free telephone support for installation, launch, or reinstallation. Three years of telephone support is offered through AppleCare, a separate support plan available for a fee. Users can also seek help at the Genius Bars of Apple stores or attend free workshops offered by stores.
Newcomers to iLife will find uncluttered interfaces and a well-rounded set of features for managing pictures and making movies, songs, and podcasts. The changes are best for those who hold paid .Mac accounts, a significant expense. For those upgrading to iLife '08 from a prior version, the alterations to iPhoto are the most practical, especially for managing massive picture libraries. Although GarageBand gets more controls, iMovie eliminates many in its upgrade, and users may consider it dumbed down. And Apple seems to be pushing serious video hobbyists away from iMovie and toward Final Cut Express. We wish there were a happy medium.