First Look: iMovie ’09

iMovie icon

iMovie ’08 was not considered one of Apple’s (s aapl) 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.