Apple iMovie HD (part of iLife '05) Video Software Review

At this year's MacWorld San Francisco keynote address Steve Jobs, Apple Computer CEO, proclaimed this to be the year of High Definition video. Steve Jobs later announced iMovie HD – Apple's effort to enable mere mortals to participate in this revolution. iMovie HD joins Final Cut Express HD and Final Cut Pro HD in editing beautifully crisp, clear High Definition Video (HDV).

As the name implies, iMovie HD supports the capture, editing and authoring of movies in high definition using Apple's simple interface. iMovie HD is part of Apple's iLife 05 "digital hub" application suite that manages all your digital media.

We tested iMovie HD on an iMac G5 1.8GHz 20-inch computer with 1.25GB RAM and Mac OS X 10.3.8.


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iMovie painlessly installed as part of the iLife '05 application suite. Shortly after iMovie HD became available, Apple released updates for both iMovie HD and iPhoto. Prior to launching iMovie the first time, you should update your system, as these updates address several important issues.

For this review we produced a DVD containing a short eight-minute video. We easily stepped through the process of capturing, editing, adding effects, titles, audio effects, music, audio narratives and finally exporting our video using the simple directions outlined in the Getting Started with iMovie HD guide.

iMovie HD Features

The major new feature in iMovie HD is what inspired the name-change — support for high definition video. With iMovie HD you can import, edit and share HDV 720p and 1080i video from capable cameras. iMovie HD also supports capturing and editing 16:9 Widescreen DV, MPEG-4 video (shot on flash media cameras) and native video from Apple's iSight.

Neophyte videographers can immediately begin their directorial career using Magic iMovie, an instant movie-making feature. Magic iMovie imports and arranges your video on the timeline, adds transitions, chapter markers for DVD export, and even a soundtrack selected from your music library. Optionally Magic iMovie even automatically exports the finished video to iDVD.

iMovie HD now has non-destructive trimming of clips and direct manipulation of clip order in the timeline view. These welcome editing additions make getting the exact footage you desire into your video a snap.

Think Wide

In creating our test video we selected "Create a New Project" from the iMovie HD startup screen. This window contains an innocuous little option labeled Video format that enables you to override iMovie HD's automatic detection of your project's format. You may choose from DV, DV Widescreen, HDV 1080i, HDV 720p, MPEG-4 and iSight. We selected DV Widescreen for this video to test importing normal 4:3 video and simulated 16:9 video.

iMovie HD automatically adjusts imported footage to fit the screen size. When importing 16:9 Widescreen DV footage into a 4:3 project iMovie HD automatically letterboxes it to look correct. Similarly, when importing 4:3 Standard Definition DV into a 16:9 project, iMovie HD pillarboxes the footage to maintain the correct aspect ratio.

We connected our camcorder to the iMac's FireWire port and used the capture controls to roughly position the footage on the camcorder for import. We captured approximately 14 minutes of video and iMovie HD flawlessly detected scene changes and stored all clips in the Clips pane. With a quick change of preferences, you can import footage directly into the timeline.

We arranged clips we wanted from the Clips pane by dragging them to their position on the timeline. Trimming and cropping the selected clips was easy using both the iMovie monitor view and the new timeline direct trimming feature.

Adding photos was as simple as clicking on the Photos pane and dragging them to the timeline. You can use iPhoto keywords and albums to rapidly locate the desired photo.

iMovie HD comes with a modest number of transitions, effects and titles. Want to add a transition between two clips? Select the transition, review the parameters, and then drag it to the timeline between the desired clips on the timeline.

The final step to editing the video is adding the sound effects, narration and music. Integration between iMovie HD and iTunes eases your task. Select the library, playlist or search for the name of the artist, album or song name and drag the desired song to one of your audio tracks in the timeline.

Sharing Your Vision

You can choose from a selection of predefined settings and formats to share your movie via email, Web, tape, DVD, QuickTime movie or Bluetooth wireless technology using the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standard.


iMovie HD's elegant interface is a joy to use. The beginner, hobbyist and family videographer all will find iMovie HD a perfect tool for their creative outlet. Those prosumers who use iMovie HD will likely run into idiosyncrasies as they push the envelope of the software. They are best served by reading The "Unofficial" iMovie FAQ (, or by upgrading to Final Cut Express HD.


Operating System: Mac OS X 10.3.4, 10.3.6 for editing HDV

Minimum Display: 1024 x 768

Minimum CPU: G3 400MHz, G4 1GHz for editing HDV

Minimum RAM: 256MB, 512MB for editing HDV

Minimum Hard Drive Space for Installation: 250MB, 4.3GB for full iLife ’05 installation

Capture Formats: DV (NTSC, PAL), DV Widescreen (NTSC, PAL), MPEG-4, iSight, HDV 720p, HDV 1080i

Batch Capture: Yes

Automatic Scene Detection: Yes

User Interface: Storyboard and Timeline

Number of Video Tracks: 1

Number of Audio Tracks: 2 (3 including video natural sound)

Nesting Tracks: No

Audio/Video Level Envelopes: No

Audio Scrub: Yes

Keyframe Animation: No

Number of Video Transitions: 16

Number of Video Filters: 23

Background Rendering: Yes

Realtime Software Previews: Yes

Optimized for Dual Processor/HyperThreading: Yes

Third-party Plug-in Support: Yes

Encoding Formats: DV, HDV, MPEG-4, any format supported by QuickTime

Batch Render: No

DVD Authoring Software Included: Yes, through iDVD 5.0


  • Very low-level barrier to getting started
  • Intuitive and elegant user interface
  • Comes with every new Macintosh computer


  • Incremental Feature Jump from iMovie 4


An elegant application that brings professional-level technologies to the reach and use of mere mortals.

Joseph F. Dries III is a freelance writer and consultant.

$79 / Included with new Macintosh computers

Apple Computer, Inc.

1 Infinite Loop

Cupertino, CA 95014

(800) MY-APPLE

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.