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. Faustine

    Help, I am a new user of imovie 09, have to do a filmed presentation with audio and video for a job – The video came through clear, however there is no audio –

    I know it must be a simple thing, Please give me some advice of how to get the audio – ASAP


  2. Stephen Ruggieri

    I was using IMovie 09 with my HDR SR11 with no issues. Recently I plugged my camera in to my mac book pro (intel) and it just doesn’t work anymore. My computer sees the hard drive but Imovie nor FCP see it..

    Any idea?


  3. Great review. I think that the additions to iMove 09 are really nice. Its hard trying to figure out what would be the easiest way for consumers to edit videos without removing all the quality features. I think iMove 09 was able to bridge that gap between quality and ease of use.

  4. Hi Jeff,

    I can tell you that I am now a big fan of iMovie ’09. It does everything I wanted and is much better than ’06. It is fast, and the Ken Burns effect is much better – very little pixelation and the moire effects seem to have diminished. See my website ( for an example of a six minute movie shared to iWeb (at Movies click on 2008 The Short Version). You can compare it with similar movies prepared with earlier versions and I think you will agree that ’09 is a big improvement.

    In this short version I did not include some of the features, such as Map view. In the full movie I used Map view for some travel sequences and I liked that too. Chapters work well, but in my opinion that has worked well for several versions. I have not tried the themes myself.

    In summary, I haven’t found anything in iMovie ’09 that I really disliked.

    • Jeff Wells

      Hi Barrie,

      Thankyou for your time (I was not expecting such a quick response) and knowledge. Your insights with regards to ’09 are informative and greatly appreciated. I believe you have sold me completely on an upgrade to iLife ’09 and specifically iMovie ’09 if for nothing else. I will check your web site and the six minute example.
      Again, thankyou for all your help.

  5. Robert

    I just upgraded to a new mac, was checking out imovie, and found this thread..

    My thoughts:

    I somewhat agree with the thought that Apple is focusing new apps towards basic users.
    In the case of iMovie, it would be a dumb business decision to add to many higher end features. Better to get those, who need the features, to pay extra for one of their FCP products.

    I do think they dropped the ball on the plugin front.
    Selling additional themes would be perfect for example.
    While themes are pointless and bushleague for high end FCP users, the average “make a vid of our holiday” user (which iMovie is meant for) would likely love to be able to buy more templates.
    Some additional effects would fall into area too.

    “HuHuHu” and “audio hobbio” have got it right.

    Our news crews commonly have 2 mono mics.. one mounted on the camera and one handheld for the reporter. This provides a redundant backup, and better voice audio quality. Each mic was recorded on one of the 2 audio tracks on the video.
    For large video productions you have an audio crew with external gear.
    We would then sync up the audio and video when editing.
    A handy way to do this is to use a cheap camera mounted mic so you can match it’s audio with the good quality version from the multiple mics that the audio crew uses.
    Ever wonder why they have a film slate clapper in the film industry ? It’s so you can sync the film to the audio tracks.

    So… The onboard mic is truly useless for good quality audio.
    5.1 on the camera ? You gonna have 6 mic input plugs (or 6 crappy mics) on your tiny consumer camcorder ?
    5.1 in iMovie ? I don’t see the point. if you have the gear to record real 5.1, then you sure won’t be using iMovie..

    @ Macaholic
    “…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.”

    Nope… that’s not exactly correct.

    “Linear” in this case, has nothing to do with rewinding the tape… it’s to do with how the edit process was done.

    Editing direct to video had to be done in a linear fashion.
    Linear as in… clip 1,2,3,4… in order… until the end of the show.
    You edit the opening of the show, and then edit each clip in the order in which it appears in the show, until you add the end credits.
    Once that show was assembled, you could overwrite existing portions of the audio or video.
    BUT.. you couldn’t easily put a new clip BETWEEN existing clips.
    If you HAD to do that.. you would then have to add the new clip and then RE-EDIT all the clips that were after it… until you got to the end.
    Linear.. one clip after the other…

    For this reason you had to plan the “edit” before you even sat down to actually do it.
    Basically sit with a pen and paper, and write down…
    Opening: 1 minute
    clip 1 30 secs
    clip 2 20 secs
    commercial break 2 mins 2 secs
    etc etc

    You basically created a paper based “edit decision list” EDL

    If you calculated wrong, you would have a LOT of work to fix it once you edited it.
    “OH OH the show is too short !!!” (or too long)
    (we used to joke that we could just fix it with our imaginary “tape stretcher”)

    Hardware based systems that supported electronic EDLs, were developed.
    They helped speed up the process.
    A system like the old CMX could remember the edits you did and fairly quickly (for that era) redo them, by operating the tape machines for you.
    This let you add additional content in the middle of the show easier.
    This required a bunch of very expensive videotape machines (and other gear). That’s why editing was very very expensive. You would pay hundreds of dollars/hour to rent time in a high end editing suite.
    But it was still better than re-editing manually.

    Eventually you had computer based NLEs from companies like Quantel (if you were a large rich production company) or AVID.
    You could stick clips on a timeline in any order, and adjust them until everything fit your show length, and the producer’s whims.

    Hope that enlightens a bit :)


    (P.S. I worked in TV for a long time with the pre NLE gear)

  6. Deborah Gallegos

    Haven’t ever tried it yet, but I really understand the desire to be able to export to mini DV tape (to play from your camcorder to an HDMI TV, archiving & storage purposes, etc.)

    What I’m wondering is… can you create your movie in iMovie 09, export it to the highest quality format (?) and then import into iMovie HD 6 where you would export to mini DV tape?

    Really roundabout way, I know, but maybe it would be worth it?

    Ideas? Experiences with this?


  7. Rob Davidson

    Kevin, do you have a PPC Mac? HD will only import directly to iMovie 09 on Intel Macs. There is a file converter utility called Voltaic, with which you can convert your AVCHD file to allow it to be compatible with iMovie 09 on PPC Macs.

  8. I too have the new Sony HDR SR11, and my iMovie 09 doesn’t recognize the HD clips.

    It showed some of the SD clips but no HD clips. The camera is new so I have some SD and some HD clips. I read that the software will not recognize the HD clips when you have SD clips saved on the same harddrive. I deleted the SD clips on the camera, returned the camera to HD mode, then re-activated the USB Connect. Still cannot see the HD file. Help?

    What format are you saving to on your Song HD SR11 camera? How do you get iMovie to see the clips for import?