The New And Improved iMovie 08 (Software Update 7.1).


Apple released a slew of updates for the iLife apps yesterday. While iDVD, iPhoto, and GarageBand got mostly bug fixes and maybe new themes, iMovie got substantial and welcome improvements.

For the first taste of what’s changed, see the picture at the top of this article for three new features:

  • The Event library (lower-left) can be viewed by months within years.
  • In the top middle pane the current clip (with the red playhead) is showing its length in standard minutes:seconds:frames format (in this case 2 minutes, 44 seconds, 13 frames).
  • The playhead displays its absolute location within the movie (in this case 2 minutes, 34 seconds, 19 frames).

The first item is in the View menu. The second and third are controlled via Preferences. For those wishing iMovie used standard time codes and displayed absolute location, your wish has been granted.

Another addition has been in audio control. This is where iMovie may be weakest, and while it’s still weak Apple took a couple steps forward with this update. It now allows manual control over ducking volume, as well as fade-in and -out:


The release adds the ability to select multiple clips at once. This is great for applying keywords or pasting copied Color or Crop settings to multiple clips. Below is a picture of three clips selected for keyword application:


Another new feature is that you can create still frames by right-clicking and selecting “Add Still Frame to Project”. Once added you can control the duration, Ken Burns effect, etc. just like any other photo.

A transition’s duration is now editable even when the transition was added automatically. This is great, though an auto-added transition still cannot be deleted, or replaced with another. I don’t know why iMovie doesn’t provide full control over an auto-transition, but this is a start.

Apples says there are performance improvements in this release. IMovie flies on my new iMac so I can’t speak to this, but I do know that after the update the first time you launch the application it “optimizes” your events.

There are three presets for Viewer size in the Windows menu (with keyboard shortcuts). The three presets, combined with the ability to hide library panes and swap the Events and Projects panes, gives a lot of control over the look and size of your work area. As just one example, here’s a shot with both Library panes closed, Event and Project panes swapped (i.e., source on top, movie on bottom), and the Viewer set to Large:


Finally, we get to my favorite new feature. Those of you who read my iMovie 08 review know that I select my clips “roughly” in the Event pane, and fine tune them in the Project pane. I do this with the “extend buttons” set to half-second increments. This worked pretty well for me, but I bemoaned the lack of frame-by-frame editing. Well, not any more.

The Extend buttons are gone. In their place (assuming you turn it on in Preferences) are “Fine Tuning Buttons”. These are double-headed arrows at each end of the clip. Click one and you get an orange selection guide at that end of the clip:


The orange guide drags by frame. As you drag it will show +1, +2, etc. (or -1, -2) for the number of frames. You don’t have to drag, just hit Opt-Right or Left arrow to move forward/backward instead. You don’t need the orange guides to use the keyboard. Hitting option-arrow in the Project pane will go forward/backward from the start or end — depending on playhead location — of the current clip. So you can drag it out or use the keyboard, whichever you prefer. The previous method of trimming a clip was downright primitive compared to this!

All in all these are very nice improvements to iMovie in an update that came out with a bunch of maintenance releases. That makes it that much more of a surprise. Will this silence iMovie 08’s critics? Doubtful, and I do not claim that it should. But it’s no secret I like the new iMovie, and this update clearly shows Apple is listening and improving the product. I like what I’m seeing.

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