1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
The eMac and the iMac are technically not high-end professional production tools. Multi-gigahertz PC mavens will laugh at the poky clock speeds and expensive peripherals, but many folks just want something that is simple and ready to go out of the box. Apple has historically come through with the goods and if you just want to edit your home videos and create great looking DVDs, there is no better solution.
e, i, e, i, oMac
Just what is the difference between the eMac and the iMac? They are actually quite similar. Both think with a single 800MHz G4 processor controlled by Mac OS X v10.2 (Jaguar) using 256MB of RAM. Both also have the SuperDrive (Pioneer DVR-104), which burns DVD-R/CD-R/CD-RW discs. The commonalities don’t end there and extend to just about every nook and cranny. Yet the two machines are stylistically very different beyond the 20GB disparity in the size of the single hard disk (80GB iMac, 60GB eMac), which doesn’t account for the $300 price gap. Of course we are talking about the 17-inch widescreen LCD display on the iMac. With its hemispherical base, the beauty of the sexy screen is more than aesthetic. Besides being amazingly sharp and clear, the widescreen also has a very unusual aspect ratio. While very nearly all computer monitors have a 4:3 aspect ratio (e.g. 1,024×768 or 1,600×1,200), the 17-inch iMac’s LCD has an 8:5 aspect ratio at 1,440×900 (4:3 would be 1,440×1,080). Is there anything inherently better about an 8:5 aspect ratio? No, but it sure is cool.
The iTrend continues with the software where we find both machines stocked with iMovie 2 for editing and iDVD 2 for creating DVDs. While the vast majority of Videomaker readers are Wintel PC users, there is nothing on that platform that competes with these two programs for ease of use. We plugged in a DV camcorder, ran iMovie and clicked the large Import button. This immediately started capturing video to the hard disk. It really was that easy. As the video is captured, every time the videographer pushed the Pause or the Stop button on the camcorder during the shoot, iMovie detects a change in the time/date stamp on the Mini DV tape and creates a new scene on the hard disk and in the clip bin. We trimmed our clips using crop markers and then arranged our movie into a storyboard. iMovie also has a timeline mode that can be used to precisely line up audio, such as a music bed or sound effects. Imported audio clips are represented by bars on the timeline in proportion to their duration, but audio clips dragged from the bin are represented by a blue square marking their beginning. While previewing our video, we effortlessly recorded a voice-over narration by clicking Record Voice. Transitions and effects were drag-and-drop easy and titles were attractive and animated. We absolutely love background rendering, which immediately began rendering effects when they hit the timeline. These Macs might not be as fast as the latest Intel/AMD machines, but background rendering means that iMovie is more efficient and will save you time overall.
If you think we’re enthusiastic about iMovie, just wait ’til you read what we have to say about iDVD 2. iDVD is far and away the best DVD authoring application for beginners that we have seen on any platform. iDVD 2 has lovely templates, great tutorials and simple chapter point creation, just as you’d expect. But you might be surprised (as we were) by advanced features like being able to freely position menus and titles, instant menu previews, automatic slideshow creation, a TV safe area overlay, motion menus and motion backgrounds. iDVD nicely implements all of these features in a well-designed user interface.
Simple MPEG-2 encoding for DVD challenges the 800MHz processor, encoding at about 6.7 frames per second (the latest PCs encode very high quality MPEG-2 at 2-4 times that rate). We experienced even longer renders with full projects containing complex motion menus and buttons. If you’ve been editing video on a computer for more than two years, this will not annoy you. Simply start the DVD build when you go to bed at night. We also found a silly limitation when we reviewed a LaCie external DVD burner on this same machine: iDVD will not burn to external DVD writers. You clearly don’t need an external burner if you already have a Mac with a SuperDrive, but this is still an issue for non-SuperDrive Mac owners.
Old Mac’s Vowels
Will there be an eMac or an iMac in your future? We definitely think the $300 extra for the iMac’s widescreen 17-inch LCD is well worth the money, but it is also something that you do not absolutely need. If money is tight, you won’t sacrifice any performance or productivity with the eMac and it’s fine 17-inch flat screen CRT.
Macs aren’t perfect, despite what you may have heard from the Mac-fanatic next door: we experience one crash with iMovie 2 and received a "Not enough memory…" error with iDVD 2 a few times. From our test, however, we can confidently say that, for the beginner, these machines are more stable and easier to use than the vast majority of PCs we’ve seen. In raw numbers, Macs may be falling behind the latest PCs, but Mac-ficionados can righteously answer: It’s not about the tools, it’s about the art.
USB 1.0 (2x)
17-inch flat CRT
USB 1.0 (5x)
17-inch widescreen LCD
Mac OS X v10.2 (Jaguar)
3.5mm headphone jack
3.5mm stereo audio in
VGA output (for mirroring desktop – no adapter)