CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Apple iLife review: Apple iLife

Apple iLife

John Rizzo
6 min read
The name sounds pretentious--
iLife--but, Apple's collection of so-called iApps truly comes alive in a new bundle that includes iTunes 3.0.1, iPhoto 2.0, iMovie 3.0.1, and iDVD 3.0 (all for Mac OS X). Individually, each of these is a great program, and except for iTunes, iLife includes major new versions. Apple has added seamless integration among the four, making iLife ($49) the multimedia equivalent of an office suite. In fact, the integration actually creates new uses for iTunes and iPhoto, as sources of content for iMovie and iDVD. While iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie are each available as free downloads, the paid bundle is so easy to install and so well integrated, we think it's worth the price (and it's a must-have if you plan to burn DVDs since iDVD is no longer available as a standalone app). The $49 iLife box not only saves you the bother of downloading the free iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie apps separately, it installs all four apps (with iDVD) at once, using a single installer--nice. We installed the bundle on a machine with no previous versions and, on another Mac, upgraded from previous versions. Both installations went off without a hitch, and the upgrades handily replaced Dock icons and updated library file formats without losing any old content.

iDVD's new button bar lets you choose from new themes and import from any other iLife apps.

Only iTunes' interface remains largely unchanged. All four apps gain needed buttons and tools that make cross-suite integration--from pulling in audio to exporting video--a snap. For example, if you'd like to burn a slide show onto a DVD, simply use iPhoto to build the show first. Next, select that album and click the iDVD button to export it. iDVD then launches and automatically imports the slide show into your existing iDVD project, or it creates a new project if you don't have one. If you want to include a soundtrack, before you click the iDVD button in iPhoto, click the Slide Show button. Up pops a window giving you access to the iTunes songs and your playlists.
The iMovie interface wins the most-improved award. The previous version ran in full-screen mode at all times, hogging screen space. iMovie 3.0 runs in a normal, resizable window, which lets you drag in clips from the Finder and import from a digital camcorder. You can also import content via iMovie's button bar, which looks and acts like iPhoto's button bar. A new Photos button on the iMovie toolbar presents thumbnails of your iPhoto pictures, either your entire library or one album at a time. Just double-click a thumbnail to import it into the movie.

No longer a full-screen app, iMovie 3.0.1 now fits in a tidy window and adds powerful new features, including the ability to edit sound volume and to export to iDVD with a single click.

In iDVD, a new button bar holds icons for importing photos from your iPhoto library and audio from iTunes for use in video menus. (You can still drag and drop movies and photos.) We also like iDVD's new DVD menu themes. In addition to the 14 previous themes, which were attractive but sparse, iDVD 3.0 includes 24 new styles that rival some of the video menus found on professional DVD titles. There's a variety of styles, from high-tech to old-fashioned, some using onscreen animation and your own video in the buttons. iDVD smoothly integrates your movies, slide shows, and photos into the theme.
iTunes, the first of the iApps, is an easy-to-use music recorder, player, and audio-file manager, as well as the Mac's automatic interface with MP3 players, including Apple's iPod. Although iTunes 3.0.1 hasn't changed since our review last August, the iLife bundle endows it with extra features--for example, playlists now become the basis for the soundtracks in iPhoto slide shows, iDVD projects, or iMovie audio effects.

You can create iTunes playlists for use in iPhoto 2.0, iMovie 3.0.1, and iDVD 3.0.

iPhoto 2.0
iPhoto 1.1 was a solid app--a great place to import, store, organize, and view images from your digital camera or e-mailed from friends, as well as order prints, make a book, or e-mail images to others. iPhoto 2.0 is even better. For one, you can now use iPhoto to easily archive your photos on a CD or a DVD. To burn to CD, simply select the photos or albums you want on the disc and click the new Burn button, previously found only in iTunes. Once you insert a blank disc, the burned archive CD or DVD appears as an iPhoto library, the way audio CDs appear in iTunes. All of your albums, keywords, and comments remain intact. To burn a DVD, just click an album and click the iDVD library to launch that app.

iPhoto can now burn CD or DVD archives and send slide shows to iDVD to automatically create a TV-viewable DVD movie.

The new version of iPhoto also adds some editing tools to the previous version's Brightness and Contrast slider bars. The new Enhance button lets you improve the overall appearance with one click. In most cases, this feature improved less-than-perfect photos, some to a great degree, mostly by automatically correcting color and saturation. In addition, a new Retouch button lets you remove unwanted artifacts from photos, with more subtle results than a smudge tool. This isn't professional image editing, but it's great if you don't have the time or the inclination to become a Photoshop guru.
The free iMovie 3.0 is head and shoulders better than last year's $49 version. Still images take on new vitality when you use the Ken Burns effect (named after the PBS documentary-film maker); this tool pans and zooms over a photo and gives you control over the degree and the timing. In fact, iMovie now provides more than twice as many visual and sound effects, transitions, and titles as there are in the previous version.
iMovie also adds impressive audio features. For starters, the Audio button, which formerly let you access sound effects, now lets you access your iTunes library and playlists, too. iMovie now supports up to three audio tracks (up from two in the previous version). We love the fact that you can now edit the sound volume using a volume-level bar in the timeline--for example, you can drag the bar lower to decrease the volume of music when speaking begins. iMovie 3.0 also lets you add chapter markers, assuming you plan to burn to DVD. Like iPhoto 2.0, iMovie 3.0 now features an iDVD button that automatically imports your completed movie into iDVD with a single click--a huge improvement over version 2.0.
The iLife version of iDVD (currently available only in this bundle, rather than as a separate download or purchase) makes needed improvements over the previous version, notably by supporting chapters, which are video menus that let viewers skip to specific scenes. iDVD 3.0 recognizes markers for up to 36 chapters that you set in iMovie or other video-editing software, and it automatically creates the scene-selection menus. In addition to seamlessly transferring content from the other iLife apps, iDVD lets also lets you grab content from the other iApps.
The biggest downside to iDVD is that it still works with only Apple's proprietary SuperDrive and not with any external FireWire DVD-R drives. You can use other DVD-authoring software, such as Formac Devideon, which ships with the Devideon drive ($399), or Apple's high-priced DVD Studio Pro ($1,000), to burn iDVD videos. Unfortunately, those programs lack the easy integration with video, music, and photo tools that iLife features.
If you have a three-year, AppleCare support plan (an upgrade that varies in cost depending on your Mac), you can place tech-support calls for iLife. Otherwise, Apple's support for iLife is all electronic: there are no printed manuals, but you can find answers to how-to questions in the Mac help system. However, given that the program costs $50, we're disappointed that Apple hasn't set up specific iLife support.
Both iMovie 3.0 and iDVD 3.0 also include tutorials in the help system that show you how to create projects. In addition, Apple has established Web support pages for each iLife app. The pages contain FAQs, information on upgrading and using the products, and links to specific Apple discussion boards on each of the programs. We also found that Apple had posted articles on the these new versions at the Apple Knowledge Base, which you can search from Sherlock. You can provide feedback about the iLife apps to Apple from these pages.

Apple iLife

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 9Performance 0Support 6