Fortunately, it appears that Apple has learned its lesson; iMovie '09 brings back many of the features that were missing from iMovie '08. These include dynamic themes, video effects like speed and reverse play, and plenty of new title animations. And of course, iMovie '09 has a couple of new offerings that help replace the missing timeline that was in iMovie HD.
Precision editor and advanced drag and drop
The most interesting addition is a new precision editor window. Right-click on one of your selected clips and choose "Precision Editor" to access it. The precision editor essentially lets you "zoom in" on your video clips, magnifying the transition between the selected video clip and the one preceding it. A grayed-out area will show where the clips overlap in transition, which will give you better control over the spot you want to cut.
You also have better control over the audio track, the title animation, and the sound effects. But we still would prefer a more precise manipulation. For example, we wanted to match up an exact part of a song to a specific point in a video clip. We could only do this after a lot of dragging and dropping and trial and error. If we had a timeline, lining them up would be a lot easier. For better transitions and edits, the precision editor works great, but we still miss the timeline.
iMovie '09 also features an advanced drag-and-drop tool. Now when you drag a clip on top of another clip on your project, you're presented with a few options: insert the clip, replace the clip, or just insert the audio. There are also a few ways you can replace the clip: Cutaway, which lets you replace the video but not the audio; Picture-in-Picture, which fills in the new clip in a tiny little window in the corner of the existing clip; and Green Screen, which lets you place the new clip in front or behind the other clip (provided you shot one of the video clips in front of an actual green screen).
If you've ever had a problem with shaky videos, you'll like iMovie '09's video stabilization feature. Just select "Analyze for Stabilization" and iMovie will do its best to analyze every pixel to correct any jerky movements. Bear in mind, though, that if you're using a low-quality camera, it can't fix the blurriness inherent in the hardware. iMovie '09 does promise to stabilize most photos, even the ones taken in a car or a boat. If you want, you can adjust the amount of stabilization in case you want the video to look shakier.
Themes and transitions
As we mentioned earlier, themes are back in iMovie '09. Themes are basically video templates that let iMovie add titles and transitions automatically to your project. You can go back and manually add theme elements like titles and theme transitions. iMovie '09 has six different themes: Photo Album, Bulletin Board, Comic Book, Scrapbook, Filmstrip, and plain.
Other video effects include Cartoon, Aged Film, Film Grain, Vignette, and more. These effects give your videos a nice professional finish, without a lot of work. There are also more than 32 title animations, like Lens Flare and Pixie Dust. You can combine the title animations with animated backgrounds or green screen effects. Lastly, you can speed up or slow down a clip with the speed change slider.
Maps are a big feature of iMovie '09 as well. You can choose from a variety of animated maps to show your location, or if you're shooting a travel video, you can create a map that animates your journey and make your own mini travel documentary.
The last addition to the iMovie '09 application is the ability to edit to music, especially when you're making a music video or something that's music-focused. You drop beat markers in a music track, and iMovie '09 will attempt to match the video clip durations to match the markers. Of course if you want fine-tuning, you can use the precision editor.
GarageBand '09 may quite possibly be the sleeper hit in the iLife '09 package, owed simply to its new music lessons feature. Yes, you get the same GarageBand controls as before; you can create layered songs with multiple edit points, create podcasts in a snap, make your iPhone ringtones, and jam in a virtual band. But the new "Learn to Play" feature is the main reason to get GarageBand '09.
Indeed, instead of just targeting those who already have some musical know-how, GarageBand's Basic Lessons are for those who have little to no musical ability at all. GarageBand '09 comes with basic lessons for both guitar and piano, and, through a series of instructional videos, will teach you everything from how to hold the guitar to learning a whole song.
The step-by-step instruction videos are divided into the Learn section and the Play section. Learning is where you just watch the instructor give the lesson. In this stage, you can customize the view of the video to include a close-up of the instrument or musical notations, and you can slow the playback speed down in case you're having trouble keeping up. The instruction videos are really clear and easy to understand, too.
When it comes time to play, you're actually requested to play along with an accompanying band or music track. You can record your lesson with a microphone or an audio input so you can listen back to it. There's a mixer for adjusting the volume of your instructor's instrument, the accompanying music, or just your instrument. GarageBand has a metronome to help you keep the correct tempo, plus a guitar tuner to help you tune your guitar. Finally, you can cycle sections repeatedly if you really want to practice a particular lesson over and over again.
But perhaps the key attraction to GarageBand '09 is Artist Lessons taught by, well, actual artists. And we're not talking just any old glee club here; these artists are internationally renown. They include Sting, Norah Jones, Ben Folds, and more. These lessons aren't free, though--you'll have to cough up $4.99 for each one. Each lesson only teaches you one song, and the song's difficulty isn't variable; if you buy a medium difficulty piano lesson, you can't really upgrade or downgrade unless you want to buy a whole different lesson.
So what do you get for $4.99? Not only do you get the artist teaching you how to play his or her hit single, you also get to learn the story behind the song. It's a nice touch, especially if you're a fan of the artist. You also get lyrics and musical notation, and, like the Basic Lessons, you can practice and mix the songs, and slow down any part you might find confusing. We really love that Apple is offering this since it's great to have the musician talk you through a song, but $4.99 is still a bit on the steep side.
Other additions to GarageBand '09 include a new guitar experience--you get new amps and stompbox effects--plus an improved Magic GarageBand jam. Magic GarageBand, like with GarageBand '08, is a virtual band that lets you jam with other instruments. The latest version now has a full-screen view, and you can create custom mixes, skip through sections of a song, swap out instruments, and record your song right there in GarageBand.
iWeb is Apple's easy Web site builder, and iWeb '09 isn't too different from iWeb '08, save for a few important upgrades. First, you get drag-and-drop widgets that you can just place anywhere on your Web page. The widgets include a Countdown clock, iSight photo or iSight movie, a YouTube widget, and an RSS feed widget that lets you draw in feeds from other sources (like Flickr or Twitter, for example). You can resize the widgets as well.
Also, now it's possible to transfer your iWeb files directly to any host that supports FTP, so you don't need a MobileMe account to use iWeb. You could do this before, but FTP is now built right into the iWeb interface. There have been reports that iWeb doesn't play so nice with non-MobileMe sites, though, so be aware of that. You can also manage multiple sites thanks to the Site Organizer panel. Last but not least, you can link iWeb to your Facebook account so your friends will know whenever you've updated your site.
Last but not least is iDVD. There are no new significant changes to iDVD '09--we didn't run into any glitches while burning a DVD, anyway. Some of the ready-made visual themes include Cinema and Sunflower.
Help and support
Like with the previous iLife suite, iLife '09 has very good tutorials bundled with the program. We especially like the video tutorials that teach you how to use an application very clearly with step-by-step instructions. 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.
If you're completely new to the iLife suite, you'll take to iLife '09 in no time. It's a great way for everyday consumers to organize photos, edit video, and create songs and podcasts. The biggest updates in iLife '09 are in iPhoto's Faces and Places, GarageBand's Learn to Play music lessons, and the addition of advanced features to iMovie '09, though we still prefer the more precise tools in iMovie HD. Even if you don't care about most of the updates, we think the face recognition and music lessons alone make iLife '09 worth the money.