Blog Post

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.

46 Responses to “First Look: iMovie ’09”

  1. JacobusT.

    Is there a stabilization problem im iMovie09 and/or FinalCut Express 4 with video taking with AVCHD camera’s (CMOS) and specialy the Canon HF100.
    thank from Jacobus

  2. Audio hobbio

    Stereo audio has been standard on better consumer and pro-sumer video cameras since sometime in the Video 8 days (20 years ago), and I have never seen a digital camcorder without stereo. True professional portable video cameras usually do stereo as well, although the soundtracks we hear in the theater are likely to be recorded externally.

    I have to argue with Matthew’s comments on 5.1 audio. While many camcorders claim to have 5.1 compliant audio, they still carry single point stereo microphones, which means that they can’t even record decent stereo. If they accept external microphones, they only accept two microphones, which means recording stereo.

    Matthew says he doesn’t want his 5.1 dumbed down to stereo. I say that any 5.1 he is getting out of a camcorder has been “tarted up” from marginal stereo. In my view, the market has been dumbed down to the point that it accepts absurd techno-babble and hype on many fronts, especially audio. Good stereo is the best we can capture on a camcorder, and that requires two external mics. Good stereo can be used to synthesize 5.1 audio in the computer (and that is how it is usually done). I would prefer to work with good, clean stereo over any in-camera kludges that pretend to produce 5.1.

    I agree that it would be nice if iMovie helped us synthesize 5.1 audio.

  3. I used imovie ’08 to make a lot of videos. Most of them have logos, text, etc dropped in as images from iphoto. I saved them as tiff files with transparency, so the video showed thru behind the image. It worked great, and allowed me much more control compared to the title feature.

    After switching to imovie ’09, now every one of those images no longer has the transparency. It is just a rectangular block, sometime covering the screen completely. After spending 30 minutes or so on the phone with Apple, it turns out that transparency (in TIFF or PNG files) is not supported. ARGH!!! I now have 29 videos which need to be redone.

  4. I don’t understand the missing camera share back complaint. If you need it, or you do hd recordings, you probably need final cut pro or Premiere and not Imovie. Imovie is for family vacation editing and not for editing artistic projects. 5.1 problem is ridiculous, because a camera can’t record 5.1 channel sound – you would need 6 microphones in one tiny camera!

  5. I too am having a GREAT deal of difficulty importing an Mpeg4 (MP4), Avi or Mov files. I was sent by my friend on a PC her 60sec video clip in an MP4 format and could not import it to iMovie. Funny thing iMovie acts like it is importing it and never says its not, it just poof! doesn’t appear! where did it go?

    So I broke out my trusty dusty HandBrake and tried changing the file. No luck on using any new conversion of the file. WHY? Will I ever be able to import a file clip?

  6. @Pakitt: I’m not sure what formats you’re trying to import, but I am able to import AVI-format files containing both DV (rendered on a Windows XP PC) and M-JPEG (from my Canon digital still camera’s movie mode) into iMovie ’08 without any problems. iMovie finds the clips from my digital camera when it looks at the iPhoto library, and I used the “Import Movies” command to select the DV AVI file. Likewise, I can import DV video over firewire from my Panasonic MiniDV camcorder directly in iMovie. It’s important that people remember that AVI is not a codec; it’s simply a container format like Quicktime MOV files. It’s possible that iMovie will not accept more exotically encoded content from AVIs.

  7. Barrie Phillips

    Thanks Adam. I was hoping someone would have the experience I was looking for. On the basis of the tutorial the Ken Burns setup looks a lot like that in Photo-to-Movie and I have some experience with that. I usually do two projects a year, virtually all slides, 45-60 minutes each so that translates into a lot of slides to incorporate, but at first blush it looks feasible. My copy of iLife ’09 should be here early next week and then I’ll find out for sure.

    • Jeff Wells

      Hello Barrie,

      I was interested in finding out about your expierences with iMovie ’09. I was reading through the appleblog and noticed your comments from back in January.

      I am attempting to do something very similar as you using iMovie rather than iphoto or idvd for my slideshows.

      I have been working in iMovie ’08 but am seriously contemplating going to iMovie ’09 with its Chapters feature and Theme’s among other things.

      Your invovlement/insight and assessment in having already used iMovie ’06HD and now iMovie ’09 would be greatly appreciated.

      Thankyou in advance,

  8. Adam Blaiss

    @Barrie Phillips – I used iMovie 08 for several “slideshows” that included background music, transitions, Ken Burns, titles, and throwing in some movie clips as well. They were as easy as could be to create (never used 06 so no comparison) and I spent maybe an 1 hour on each 6-7 minute slide show. The “hard” part was setting Ken Burns for each photo. The only thing I couldn’t do is slow down some of the video, but 09 will give that to me. Just an FYI.

  9. I have one very minor complaint with iMovie ’09 – If you go to the Clip Inspector, under Speed, there is a line of text on some video clips which says “This clip must be converted before it’s speed can be changed”. This is a grammatical error and should read “before its speed can be changed”.

  10. Barrie Phillips

    My main use of iMovie through the years has been creation of slideshows of our extended family’s activities through a given year. I preferred it to iPhoto or iDVD because it gave me more control, of titles, transitions, Ken Burns effects, chapters, and background music. For that reason I stuck with iMovie ’06 through the last update of the suite.

    The initial coverage of iMovie ’09 gave me no hope that this would change, but the Apple tutorial of the app (thanks for the link) made it clear that it can do everything I wanted (although I’m still not clear about background music). At first glance, however, it appears that it may be much more time consuming (perhaps prohibitively so) to accomplish this in ’09 than in ’06’.

  11. “@Harvey – this is still true. You can’t share back to your camera. I guess this isn’t really an issue for me, although I can see some users complaining. Why not just export to YouTube/MobileMe/etc.? That is the direction iMovie 09 sets for users. Do you use your camcorder as a player too?”

    Yeah Matthew I do use my camcorder as a player to view my completed HD projects on my HDTV. They lose too much quality they when get get reduced to 480i via iDVD. YouTube is not practical for me, projects are too long and YouTube’s quality frankly sucks from what I’ve seen, not familiar with MobileMe. I would also like to have a back up copy on mini-dv in case my DVDs ever fail (and from what I hear they just might!). I don’t trust hard drive archiving all that much either. It would also be nice to have that tape copy if you ever wanted to do further editing on your project. Oh well, I’ll pass on ’09 and just keep using iMovie HD where you can still share. Thanks for your answer!

  12. I have only one comment on iMovie 09, which has probably inherited from 08 – the extremely narrow choice of what video files can be imported in the application. In iMovie 6 you could import for editing any video file that could be viewed with Quicktime. Now iMovie 08 (and 09?) import only MPEG4 movies and sometimes it is picky also on these ones. Unless you have a supported camera.
    Then, how do I make a mix of a series of .avi files? how do I trim a movie? with iMovie 6 you could, in iMovie 08/09 you more out of luck.
    This is possibly the main reason why I still use iMovie 6 although I own also the ’08 version.

  13. @Tom – you are right about the frame-by-frame – this was in the 7.1 update – I believe. And, I agree, Apple could have done more. However, in that short of time, they did do quite a bit.

    @Harvey – this is still true. You can’t share back to your camera. I guess this isn’t really an issue for me, although I can see some users complaining. Why not just export to YouTube/MobileMe/etc.? That is the direction iMovie 09 sets for users. Do you use your camcorder as a player too?

    @Paul – yes, the translation for AVCHD is still through the Apple Intermediary Codec (AIC). There is no loss in fidelity. The issue is the time it takes to import. I also wish Apple would have a native codec. Premiere Pro has one. For the record, neither Final Cut Express (AIC) or Final Cut Pro (ProRes) have native AVCHD import either.

  14. What is still missing. What about native avchd support? I movie forces you to go through an intermediate codec which means when your project is done you will have encoded it at least twice, resulting in loss of quality.
    Most all the low end PC apps have supported avchd natively for some time now, like Pinnacle, Ulead, and even Nero.

  15. “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 pretty sure every single camcorder sold in the last 8 or 9 years records stereo audio @ 16 Bit…

  16. Macaholic

    Well, I’m not sure that Apple co-operated much in enabling 3rd party plug-ins. Certainly those 3rd party animated themes were probably reverse engineered into iMovie HD’s calls into its Themes folder.

    By the way, Apple has yanked the downloader page they maintained for iMovie 06. Check out this forum thread if anybody still wants the installer for posterity:

  17. 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.

  18. 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).

  19. @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.

  20. Macaholic

    I believe that, in the case of iMovie or other software-based video editing applications, “NLE” stands for “non-linear editor” ( ), 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 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.

  21. @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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. @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.

  25. Gazoobee

    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.