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Those already familiar with Apple Mac OS X or iTunes will find the application interfaces familiar. You can access almost all operations more than one way--via a drop-down menu, a keyboard shortcut, or icon-based buttons. Not good enough? A lot of basic functions are drag and drop, too.
Integration between the different components is even tighter than for the last iteration, with easier, more intuitive ways to combine media within projects. For instance, iMovie's navigation bar lets you build your project by jumping from imported digital video (DV) clips to still iPhoto images to iTunes music, then straight to iDVD to burn the project. However, we'd like to see a project-based launchpad interface, grouping all of the suite's tools under one window; right now, all applications must be launched individually.
Also, while there's a lot of support for DVD burning, there is little for CD creation. In iPhoto, for example, there is no way to burn images to a CD and no way to turn slide shows into a VCD or SVCD. For greater control over optical disc creation, you'll have to go with third-party software, such as Roxio Toast with Jam.iLife integrates five multimedia apps into one economical package: iTunes 4.7, GarageBand 2.0, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD.
For our money, iPhoto is the most improved application in the suite. Previous versions of iPhoto had little to be desired; it was just an image organization program (and not a powerful one at that), with light editing tools. iPhoto 5.0, however, ups the ante on everything. Organization and search features are much improved. You can quickly assign keywords to groups of images, create new albums and folders to hold multiple albums, and add ratings to each image. Similar to iTunes, a smart search box lets you search by any bit of information you've attached to the image, such as captions. Open Calendar View, and you can find all of the images you shot in a particular month and year. iPhoto 5.0 even remembers your imports as individual rolls, so you can find pictures from your friend's wedding by simply looking through the rolls you've shot.
Apple enhanced iPhoto's image-sharing features with the ability to order books and prints online, upload to the Web or a .Mac account, or just send images to your printer, all from within the interface. E-mailing pictures is easier as well. Just select your photo and click the E-mail button, and iPhoto launches your mail application. It will also ask if you want to adjust the resolution of the image before you send it.
On top of all this, iPhoto 5.0 now includes an Advanced Editing Dashboard, with a histogram of the image and individual sliders to correct brightness, contrast, saturation, and temperature, allowing you more granular control over your images. You get unlimited undos in case you do something you really regret, and if you accidentally save changes you don't want, click the Photos menu and hit Revert to Original. Finally, Apple added support for RAW images, which, if you have a camera capable of capturing them, preserves all of the image detail recorded by the camera sensor.
Apple simplified working within iMovie HD, letting you accomplish most operations by dragging and dropping. A new navigation bar lets you click through your content options, so you can easily add DV clips, music, images, and effects.
If you like moving images more than stills, iMovie HD handles beginner and intermediate users' needs as well. In addition to support for MPEG-4, iSight, and DV footage, you can import and edit high-definition (HDV 720p and 1080i) video. While this is not a widespread format right now, it was good of Apple to include the functions for early adopters and future users.
Editing within iMovie HD is intuitive; simply drag and drop imported clips onto the timeline at the bottom of the interface. However, to make the experience less frustrating, you'll need a moderately powerful system. We tested iLife on a 1.25GHz G4 PowerBook with 512MB of memory, a configuration close to the $499 Mac Mini. While we were able to complete most tasks without significant slowdowns, we experienced some stuttering and glitches during playback and rendering.
Those new to iMovie or editing digital video in general will appreciate the new Magic iMovie feature that takes you through the process of assembling a movie from uploading video from your camera, through adding transitions and music, to importing your creation to iDVD.
iDVD, in fact, is the ending place for most projects created in iMovie and iPhoto. The app adds all the extras to your DVD projects, such as chapter menus, menu transitions, and themes. Apple included 15 new themes with animated drop zones--small areas that you can drop still images or video clips onto that move across the screen--to add a creative punch to your projects. These worked well, but iDVD's 15 themes lack variety (though you can still use the unanimated themes from previous iDVD versions), and they were a touch too sentimental for us.
For those who don't feel like editing or adding features to their digital video, iDVD offers a direct-to-DVD feature that will import footage from your camera and put it straight onto a DVD.Apple provides free software support by telephone, e-mail, or online chat for 90 days. After that, you'll have to use its extensive getting-started and help files, online support pages, and iLife community discussion boards to resolve any issues.