Apple iLife '04 review: Apple iLife '04

  • 1
MSRP: $49.00

The Good Easy to toggle among the five applications; little to no learning curve; iPhoto can handle up to 25,000 photos per collection; still priced at $49.

The Bad iDVD still works only with SuperDrive hardware installed.

The Bottom Line This worthy upgrade brings some nice advances in features and power; the new addition, GarageBand, sweetens the deal.

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8.0 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 9
  • Support 8

Review summary

Touted as "the Microsoft Office for the rest of your life," Apple iLife '04 updates the principal apps in the popular digital media bundle--iTunes, iPhoto, iDVD, and iMovie--and incorporates an impressive new music-recording app dubbed GarageBand. Apple kept the price at $49, but iTunes is now the only app that you can still get as a free download. While some of us prefer to pick and choose our media apps, it's hard to deny the allure of this slick, well-integrated suite. GarageBand makes the package all the more attractive. iLife '04 comes preinstalled on all new Macs, and if you bought a Mac on or after January 6, you can upgrade for $19.95. All five apps of iLife '04 come on one DVD, and conveniently, you can install them all in one fell swoop. You'll need a DVD drive to install GarageBand and iDVD. If you're upgrading from a previous version, your Dock icons and files update automatically, so you don't have to worry about losing any content. There's also a collection of GarageBand demo songs on the install DVD that can help you get started tweaking songs before you try making your own.

This time around, Apple didn't play with iTunes' interface at all. iPhoto 4.0 looks largely the same as well.

The company made some subtle but progressive changes to iMovie 4.0 that add some precision to the editing process. For example, audio waveforms now appear below the time line representing each video clip, which makes it easier to sync audio to video by clicking a chunk of audio and moving it where it needs to go. There's also a meter that keeps track of how much space is available on your hard drive to work with.

You'll find more templates for DVD menu screens in iDVD 4.0--20 in total. Also new is a helpful DVD map that gives you a bird's-eye view of your entire project as an overview and lets you get to any element by simply double-clicking it. A handy Resource meter also keeps track of how much space is left on the disc you're burning to. Unfortunately, iDVD still doesn't work with external DVD-R drives; it's Apple's SuperDrive or bust.

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Each track in GarageBand is represented by an icon and a name. Below, you can browse through more than 1,000 prerecorded loops.

If you're new to music recording, GarageBand may seem overwhelming at first, but Apple does its best to keep the interface simple; those stymied by more complicated music-creation apps could find solace here. You can easily adjust volume levels with a mixer that's conveniently located to the right of the track name. Below the tracks, you'll find a browser button that opens your extensive library of loops, where they can be imported via drag and drop. Musicians and nonmusicians alike will find the experience seamless, fast, and easy. If you try GarageBand and like it, you can expand its capabilities by installing GarageBand Jam Pack. iLife's smooth cross integration means you can easily mix and match among apps as you deal with different types of media. For example, it's relatively simple to use iTunes or GarageBand tracks as soundtracks for projects in iPhoto, iMovie, or iDVD. Or you can access iPhoto pictures in iMovie or iDVD, then add effects and make an instant film on DVD. Both iPhoto and iMovie have iDVD buttons for easy transactions. Keep reading to find out what's new, app by app.

iTunes 4.2
iTunes is one of the best jukebox programs around, hands down. Ripping and burning CDs to MP3 or AAC is a snap, and now that the integrated online iTunes Music Store is at your fingertips, building your collection legally by downloading is even easier. Apple updated the syncing process between iPod playlists and iTunes playlists and vice versa. Both PC and Mac users can download iTunes 4.2 at no cost, and as with older versions, you can share music among networked machines. Again, any music saved in iTunes can be featured in your iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD projects.

iPhoto 4.0
iPhoto can now handle up to 25,000 photos per collection--a big improvement over the older version which slowed or even froze at about 2,000 photos. In terms of editing tools, a sepia option for simulating old photos has been added. Apple also upgraded the program's slide-show feature so that you can now choose an iTunes playlist as the soundtrack to your photos. (Before, you were limited to a single song.)

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iPhoto's new Smart Albums option works well for organizing photos by season or other criterion.

Just like iTunes' song sharing feature, Rendezvous, iPhoto 4.0 lets you share photos among the Macs on a local network. In addition are Smart Albums, which operate in a similar fashion to iTunes' Smart Playlists: you can organize photos by criteria you select, such as date, rating, or keywords, such as vacation. Though this option works well with dates (especially since photos are now automatically organized by the capture date rather than the import date), it doesn't translate well with keywords since you'd have to manually assign each photo a keyword to create a Smart Album.

iMovie 4.0
When Apple added iMovie to the original iLife bundle, it improved the earlier version's audio features and added the slick pan-and-zoom Ken Burns Effect. Those features are still there, but version 4.0 focuses more on simplifying the video-editing process. To this end, Apple added Direct Trimming, which enables you to cut frames out of a clip by positioning your mouse at either end of the clip and dragging toward the center. An undo function lets you reverse this and other edits, although if you empty the trash, some information could be lost.

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iMovie 4.0 makes it easier to sync audio to your video by putting audio clips below video clips. In the lower-right corner, you'll also see the meter for hard drive space.

iDVD 4.0
iDVD 4.0 introduces a clever feature called AutoPlay that starts a short movie or slide show prior to the menu, when you first insert your DVD creation. Some of the new themes have AutoPlay built in, but you can also create your own triggered event for each DVD in your collection. But the big news with this update is that iDVD now uses the same high-quality MPEG encoding technology that you'll find in the company's $499 DVD Studio Pro. With this added power, you can now cram a full two hours of video onto a single DVD, encode at DVD quality, and multitask while you encode and burn DVDs in the background.

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The new DVD map button gives you a bird's-eye view of your entire project.

GarageBand 1.0
Even if you claim to have no musical talent or even interest, you should get a kick out of mixing tunes with GarageBand, Apple's virtual recording studio--session musicians included. The program comes with 1,000 prerecorded loops that you can mix, match, and add effects to. You can use the keyboard interface to click each key for different notes or sounds or buy Apple's recommended $100 MIDI keyboard (the M-Audio Keystation 49e) to trigger notes without having to hunt and peck for them with your mouse. If you already have a MIDI keyboard, you can plug it in with a MIDI adapter and use the Hardware instrument tab to select the instrument you want it to control.

As for effects, you get a nice selection of 16 built-in options, from Reverb to Echo. Electric guitarists will be psyched to see pedal effects such as distortion, overdrive, and flanger. Guitarists can also choose from a selection of virtual vintage guitar amp simulators such as Arena Rock and British Invasion. The effects can be adjusted manually to an extent, but ambitious would-be producers may find GarageBand's simplicity a bit limiting. Still, it has enough versatility for most, letting you mix premade loops, recorded audio, recorded MIDI instruments, and your own voice with ease. For example, you can select from Software instruments whose sounds are prerecorded, such as big electric lead guitar or hip-hop drum kit, in order to have a finished product in no time flat, which you can then export to iTunes or e-mail to friends.

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Plug your electric guitar into your sound card and choose from a list of effects and amps.

When recording instruments through a MIDI adapter, we found that the volume was much lower than with the prerecorded loops. You can adjust volume levels, but you'll have to fiddle with Sound Preferences and the main volume within GarageBand's interface. Vocals recorded with our PowerBook's internal mike came out clear and adequately loud. We chose the Ambient Vocals effect and got frightfully close to sounding like Enya. Although the iLife apps are relatively intuitive to use, each application has a built-in Help tab with basic product information and FAQs. iTunes' Help tab also takes you to the iTunes Music Store's customer service--another shining example of Apple's enthusiastic integration of its apps. You can also find dedicated online support pages for each program, which provide overviews of new features and how they work as well as links to discussion boards.

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