iMovie ’08 was not considered one of Apple’s best releases — to put it mildly. In fact, the outcry of disappointment was so high, that Apple responded by re-issuing iMovie HD 6 (v6.0.4 to be exact) for those who were unwilling to embark on the new […]

iMovie icon

iMovie ’08 was not considered one of Apple’s best releases — to put it mildly. In fact, the outcry of disappointment was so high, that Apple responded by re-issuing iMovie HD 6 (v6.0.4 to be exact) for those who were unwilling to embark on the new movie creation paradigms in iMovie ’08.

Well, fast forward 16 months and we now have iMovie ’09, newly updated in the iLife ’09 suite. As a humble yet reasonably confident videographer (I shoot with a Sony HDR-SR11), and having only real experience with iMovie ’08, I have been waiting impatiently for this new release.

At the Macworld Expo, I was honored to receive an in-person demo of iMovie ’09 from the iMovie Project Manager himself (names spared to protect the innocent). The demo was amazing, as I was able to see first hand all of the goodness that is iMovie ’09.

Because I am impatient, I went to my local Apple Store as soon as they opened yesterday morning (Bay Street over in Emeryville, CA) and picked up a copy of iLife ’09 just so I could begin playing with the new iMovie. After a few hours of playtime, here is what I have discovered…

What’s New

Apple touts these four features as tantamount to the release:

  • Precision Editor – Exact editing for audio and video clips.
  • Video Stabilization – A major, professional-level feature from Final Cut Studio. Thankfully, Apple realized that even regular videographers have shaky hands too. If you want a good example, head over to Macworld where Jason Snell shows an example of before and after.
  • Travel maps – Tell iMovie all the places you visited in the movie and you get a fancy, animated travel map a la Indiana Jones.
  • Themes – Yes, you now get to choose from a half-dozen themes to auto-create an end-to-end experience for your movie.

There are also these other really nice features:

  • Improved user experience – The UI for the Project editor
  • Chapter creation – Yes, you can now export to iDVD with chapters. This means no more roundabout trip through GarageBand and then to iDVD.
  • Picture-in-picture + Green Screen – In the iMovie preferences, check the Show the Advanced Tools option and you get these additional features. Just drag clips onto another clip in your project and you can begin having even more fun.
  • Video effects - The ability to create different visual effects on a per frame basis.
  • Speed – You can now speed up, slow down or put the particular set of frames in reverse. No more export to QuickTime in order to enable this feature.

What’s Still Missing

Well, Apple did hit a triple with the release of iMovie ’09, but not a home-run. Here is what’s still missing:

  • 5.1 Audio support – Consumer application or not, it’s pretty shocking that iMovie ’09 doesn’t support 5.1 audio, seeing how pretty much all mainstream consumer videocams support it.
  • No plug-in support - I spoke with the Project Manager at Macworld Expo and he explained that because everything in iMovie is in real-time, designing a model to support plugins is technically challenging (this is nonsense — it just takes time, resources and prioritization).
  • A limited set of Themes – Here was an opportunity for Apple to extend iMovie the way they extended GarageBand with its new Lessons and Lessons Store. Apple could have made it so third parties build additional themes and users paid a nominal fee ($1.99 or less) per item.

What Does It Look Like?

iMovie edit Project screen

iMovie 09 main screen with updated Project editor

You now get a much more detailed view of your projects compared to iMovie ’08. Further, you can quickly edit the project by clicking the button in the top left corner of the screen.

iMovie Precision Editor

iMovie 09 Precision Editor

The precision editor is what everyone was clamoring for since the release of iMovie ’08. You can now define exactly where you want to edit your clips, frame by frame. It’s super easy to use as well as you can now even fine tune the audio.

Choose Your Theme

Choose Your Theme

This is a feature that many a user from the iMovie ’06 HD days has missed. Essentially, Apple provides pre-packaged themes that include an opening, transitions and end credits (plus some cool animations along the way).

Maps & Backgrounds

Maps & Backgrounds

Another one of the big features is defining a map of your video travels. This is really a fun feature and adds pizazz to your video. You can easily use existing map points or re-label them for your own purposes.



Using picture-in-picture was a breeze. Just drag-and-drop one clip onto another. When you do, a small menu prompts you to add the clip as a picture-in-picture (as well as other choices, like green screen). Then, you can drag the PIP clip where you want on the main clip. In this example, I applied a video effect as well.


The inspector has been improved to enable adjustments to speed (including reverse), applying video effects and to enable video stabilization.

Video EffectsVideo Effects

In this window, you can choose from 20 different video effects for the clip(s) you have selected. Some of these are really fun, and help you create your masterpiece the way you want it.

Concluding Thoughts

This is a monumental release given the short development cycle. Apple clearly delivered a product that sets a new bar for simple movie making. One of the best features of iMovie, whether it is ’08 or now ’09, is that it takes just minutes to create a movie and publish it. Now, with ’09, your video is even richer.

Some folks will still complain that iMovie ’09 lacks the timeline/non-linear editor (NLE) that made iMovie ’06 HD the “best.” That might be true, although I believe that the new wave of movie editing has hit us and iMovie ’08 was the beginning of that wave. With iMovie ’09, get ready, because the big Kahuna just hit and you have the right surfboard to ride it.

Lastly, if you want some quick tutorials on some of the new features in iMovie 09, head on over to the Apple Tutorial site. And, if you want to see if you video camera is compatible with iMovie 09, click here.

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  1. Great article, but one tiny point (might) be off a bit …

    RE: 5.1 sound:
    I don’t do professional video or anything, but I’m pretty sure that the majority of video cameras in use today use mono recording for sound. I’m not up with the very latest gear but this has been the case even for most professional video equipment since the 70’s AFAIK, so even if the latest cameras record in 5.1 it could be this traditional history of mono recording that’s to blame for it’s lack in iMovie.

    The reason is that to record in 5.1 (or any kind of stereo) you really need paired external microphones with some physical separation whilst in most cases people will be using the single built-in mike in the camera. So even if you have a camera that records 5.1 sound, it’s not ever going to be the same 5.1 sound you find in a DVD or commercial production.

    Again, not a pro and I could be wrong, but that’s one possible explanation.

  2. Matthew Bookspan Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    @Gazobee – most of the current consumer cams support 5.1. Whether they are HD or non-HD, they support it. A good example is using a placed mic on the subject for the center channel and then the rest of the audio provides a more surround experience.

    I do agree that you need paired external microphones as well to create a more discrete aural experience. Nevertheless, I just don’t want my audio “dumbed-down” to stereo from 5.1. Even consumer apps on Windows (Pinnacle Studio) have supported 5.1 for the last five years. I would expect Apple to get on board with 5.1 as well.

  3. I’m glad to here that 09′ has more advanced features such as precision editing. As Imovie 08′ was shocking in it’s complete lack of precision. Though the new features such as image stabilization sound exciting I still fail to see why Apple did away with the time line based editing in a video application. Call me old fashioned but in my mind video remains a linear medium best edited in a linear fashion. Despite the apparent improvements in 09′ I still can’t understand why Apple would take a decent product like Imovie 06 and destroy what was largely a functional and intuitive UI for video. Despite the new features I think that apple has tried to cater it’s new apps to what it thinks is a less computer savvy audience, and the power of the applications has suffered greatly.

  4. I love that under the heading “What does it look like?” there is a screen-cap of a Cow’s arse :D

    Great article nonetheless. I used to hate iMovie ’08 with a passion until I gave it a fair chance. Now I love it, a few nitpicks here and there (no slow-motion?) but this release seems to have added a lot of cool/much-needed features which I cannot wait to try.

  5. Matthew Bookspan Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    @totesbomb. Your reply is probably the most fair about the iMovie 06 HD NLE vs. the new non-linear editing of iMovie 08/09. Honestly, I think you can easily create a visual timeline with iMovie 09. It’s just a matter of perspective, as you can think about the events in the timeline, rather than the timeline itself.

    I am also an owner of Premiere Pro CS4 which is a fantastic and very rich NLE app. Thankfully both iMovie 09 and Premiere Pro CS4 support my AVCHD camera. I think I even have a copy of iMovie 06 HD, but I don’t use it as it doesn’t support my Sony HDR-SR11 natively.

    One of the key reasons Apple built iMovie 08 was because the code quality of iMovie 06 HD was extremely brittle. They could not figure out a way to enhance the feature set without generating another bug farm. Further, the new non-linear model of making movies was the a motivator to start fresh.

    With iMovie 09, I would say there is pretty close parity with the old iMovie 06 HD as well as some new functionality. This was done in two releases over a period of three years. I applaud Apple for delivering a ground-up rewrite. It takes serious development effort and cost to do that. And in my mind, the outcome is fantastic.

  6. Matthew Bookspan Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    @Wooway – LOL. I didn’t think about that when capturing the screenshot. Hilarious.

  7. I believe that, in the case of iMovie or other software-based video editing applications, “NLE” stands for “non-linear editor” ( http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/NLE ), not “natural language editor”. All such programs or hardware systems from the CMX-600 way back in 1971 all the way up to iMovie 09, where you are not editing the actual videotape in a LINEAR fashion (having to physically rewind or fast-forward tape), are NON-linear editors because one can access any part of a video without having to shuttle metre after metre of tape to get there.


    As for themes, the only 3rd party I know making them is http://www.ilearnfast.com/ Unfortunately, they only work with iMovie HD (version 6). They — and the popular Gee Three line of transitions (and several others) — don’t work with the new iMovie redesign. It’s a little worrisome, given that these two companies (especially Gee Three) have yet to attain compatibility with the redesigned, one-year old iMovie generation.

  8. Matthew Bookspan Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    @Macaholic – thanks for the catch – just fixed it to Non-linear from Natural Language. In terms of the plugins, the folks at Apple told me don’t expect them anytime soon. I think they have built a market for the FCE/FCP users, but they don’t see the market for iMovie anymore.

  9. First off, I really liked iMovie 08 , and felt it was wise for Apple to move in that simpler direction. I also believe skimming should be in every video editor.

    Further, keep in mind that Apple made frame by frame editing possible in an iMovie 08 update shortly after its release.

    That said, I wished for more titles, effects, and better audio control as much as anything else, and we have that in iMovie 09. Further, the precision editor is a better interface for exact cuts than what was added in the 08 update (though the latter’s ability is still available in 09).

  10. In your “What’s Still Missing” section you didn’t mention the “Share (or export) to camera” feature that was included on every iMovie version up until iMovie HD. Is that still missing in action in ’09 as I’ve read in other early reviews? If so it would be a deal breaker in me. For us tape shooters it’s still the best way to look at our finished projects on our HDTV’s and also archive the projects.

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