Free video-editing programs coming into their own

By Dwight Silverman
Houston Chronicle

February 22, 2003

Whether or not it's real, major software developers have believed for some time that there's a big interest among mainstream computer users in editing video on a PC.

That's why, for the past couple of years, both Microsoft and Apple have been bundling rudimentary video-editing programs with their operating systems.

Over time, these programs have become less basic, offering some very cool features that are also very easy to use.

They may be all most users will ever need. At the very least, they are excellent starting points for anyone wanting to dive into editing home videos.

As part of a series of occasional columns on video editing (see, here's a look at what you get for free with Windows XP and Mac OS X.

Windows Movie Maker 2

Free, Microsoft. Movie Maker made its first appearance as one of the few bright spots in the lamentable Windows ME, the last version of the Windows 9X line of operating systems. While Windows ME was a bust, Movie Maker was good enough that it not only got carried over into Windows XP, but it's since been updated.

If you're a Windows XP user and you have not yet done so, go to and get Movie Maker 2, which is more than worth the 12-megabyte download if you are interested in editing video. (There's no upgrade for the Windows ME version, but if you're still using ME, run, don't walk, to your computer store and get a copy of Windows XP.)

Movie Maker can capture video from either analog or digital cameras, and like the original version, will detect scene changes and break the resulting file into separate clips. You can then drop the clips onto a storyboard and arrange them as you please.

Version 2 comes with 60 different transition types for use between scenes, and some of them are pretty cool. My favorite: "Shatter, In," which looks like a mirror breaking. To add a transition, you just drop it between a pair of scenes.

The program also allows you to add animated opening and closing credits and insert titles into any scene.

The storyboard for managing and arranging scenes is very simple, but if you want greater control over the process, you can switch to timeline mode, a design more often seen in advanced video editors such as Adobe's Premiere. Here, you can work with video and audio separately and even control the length of time that titles and credits appear.

Microsoft has tried to make the process of editing video simpler by adding a left-hand pane called Movie Tasks that walks you through each step. Grouped into categories, it begins with Capture Video and ends with Finish Movie. There are also tips in this pane for improving the quality of your work.

But, if you want the computer to do all the work, it can. Movie Maker 2's niftiest new feature is Automovie, which can combine video with an added audio track -- such as an MP3 file -- and edit the movie based on simple choices you make.

If you want your movie to look like a music video, with lots of quick cuts, Automovie will do that. Or, you might want it to have a storybook look, with scenes turning like pages or flipping from one to the other. There's even an Old Movie selection that will add aging effects.

The results from Automovie vary -- you definitely have to match the video to the style selection you choose -- but it can be a lot of fun to see how the computer cuts and edits.

Finally, Microsoft has fixed one of the limitations that made saving movies in the older version frustrating. You have many more choices for how to save video and are no longer limited to the proprietary WMV format; you can now save in digital-video-quality AVI. If you plan on primarily viewing the movie on your own computer, the software will recommend the settings based on the power of your hardware.

Unfortunately, you still can't save to an industry standard format, such as MPG. However, the edited results can now be exported back out to a digital video camera.

iMovie 3

Free, Apple Computer. As with Movie Maker 2, this is a new version that Macintosh users will need to download. You'll need at least version 10.1.5 of the Mac OS X -- it won't work with OS 9 -- and a Macintosh with a FireWire connection.

You'll probably also need a broadband Internet account because this upgrade weighs in at 82 megabytes, downloadable from You can also buy iMovie 3 as part of Apple's iLife suite, which also comes with iDVD, for turning your iMovie creations into something you can watch on a standard DVD player.

First offered as part of OS 9, iMovie has one glaring drawback that's typical of Apple -- it does not support importing of video from an analog video camera or a VCR. Working with only digital video gives you much better-looking results, of course, but a lot of people don't have digital video cameras, or they are interested in converting analog VHS to digital.

The only way to get around this is to buy an analog video adapter that plugs into the Mac's FireWire port. However, these can be expensive -- Dazzle's Hollywood DV-Bridge costs about $250.

IMovie 3 has a friendly and inviting interface, though it lacks many of the automation features found in Microsoft's product. There's nothing like Automovie here, for example. But for basic editing, it's fine.

Previous versions of iMovie filled the entire screen, but this one now lets you edit in a window. Switching between other programs is much easier when their interfaces are all adjustable.

The clips you'll use in your movie are stored in an area called the Shelf -- from here you drag-drop them into the timeline area.

Apple has provided more control over audio and video. For example, you not only can control the level of audio in individual clips, but you can even tweak the volume at different places in a clip. This lets you fade back voices or background noise to introduce narration or music.

This version also has better support for bringing in still images via iPhoto and then doing interesting things with them. One of them, called the "Ken Burns Effect" after the documentary filmmaker, lets you pan across a digital photograph, and zoom in or out as you do. The result is a sensation that there is movement in the still image.

In fact, the integration between the Apple applications is a big part of iMovie's power. If you have a DVD burner, you can use iDVD to instantly transfer an iMovie creation onto a DVD. You just designate in

iMovie where you want the chapter indicators to be placed and send it to iDVD. It's also a snap to import music into iMovie using iTunes.

Other than the fact that it cannot natively import analog video, my main complaint was that iMovie 3 was a bit slow. I've seen complaints about this in Macintosh discussion forums, as well, so it wasn't just my machine.

There also have been some gripes among Mac fans that iMovie retains an infamous bug found in previous versions -- in movies longer than 30 minutes, audio and video comes out of sync. I was not able to test this, but if you use iMovie you should be aware of this limitation and certainly keep an eye out for a patch.

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle