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Tech 101 | Mac Focus

Check Out These Powerful iMovie Sequels

February 15, 2001|JIM HEID | jim@jimheid.com

Apple's iMovie is unbeatable for making short, simple videos, but it isn't up to complex jobs. Several video editing packages pick up where iMovie leaves off, providing better control over audio, more special effects and more muscle for managing large projects.

The key contenders are Apple's own $999 Final Cut Pro (http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro), Adobe's $549 Premiere 6 (http://www.adobe.com/premiere) and Media 100's $499 CineStream 3, which should be shipping by the time you read this (http://www.digitalorigin.com).

What do these programs do that iMovie doesn't? For starters, their batch-capture features make it easier to bring video into the Mac: As you watch a tape, you can mark scenes you want to capture on disk. The editing program then controls your DV camcorder to bring each scene into the Mac.

All three programs also provide advanced media-management features. iMovie stashes every video, audio and still-image clip in an on-screen shelf that has a finite capacity. Advanced movie editors, by comparison, let you organize clips into folder-like "bins," making it easier to tame a large project's media files.

Final Cut Pro, Premiere and CineStream also have superior editing features. Rolling, rippling, trimming, slipping, sliding--these terms refer to editing techniques that are common in professional video production--and that iMovie doesn't support.

And then there are special effects, the essential ingredient in today's eye candy-based video diet. High-end editing programs go well beyond iMovie's basic effects and scene transitions. For example, you can pan across a still image, a technique common in documentaries. With compositing features, you can combine and animate multiple video clips and still images so that they spin and slide across the screen.

In a related vein, Premiere and Final Cut Pro support software plug-ins that add new effect and scene-transition features.

If you're ready for a sequel to iMovie, which program should you consider? Final Cut Pro is the most capable and polished of the three, combining an elegantly designed interface with powerful compositing and editing features. Final Cut Pro has become popular among film and video professionals. There's even a local user group: the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group (http://www.lafcpug.org), which claims more than 400 members.

At $999, Final Cut Pro is twice as expensive as Premiere and CineStream. What does the extra half grand buy? Compositing, mainly. Premiere's compositing features are weak (Adobe sells an industrial-strength compositing program called After Effects--and would prefer that you buy it too). Final Cut Pro's compositing features aren't as powerful as After Effects', but they're close--and having them built into a first-rate editor streamlines production because it lessens the need to switch among multiple programs.

Final Cut Pro may be the most capable video editor, but its learning curve is steep. Premiere and CineStream are easier to learn and better suited to advanced amateurs and semiprofessionals. Premiere 6, which shipped last month, fixes the bugs and performance problems of its predecessors and adds thorough support for DV camcorders.

As for CineStream, it's a renamed, revamped version of EditDV, the first DV-savvy video editor. CineStream provides more compositing features than does Premiere, and many video pros prefer its muted gray interface, saying it causes less eyestrain during long editing sessions.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention EditDV Unplugged, a free, pared-down version of CineStream's predecessor. EditDV Unplugged (available at http://www.icanstream.com) lacks many of the editing and effects features of the programs I've discussed here, but it's more powerful than iMovie. And because its approach to editing is similar to those of high-end programs, it's a good way to learn how the pros work.

Final Cut Pro is the Mac world's top video editor, but Premiere and CineStream each have their place. And any one of the three makes iMovie look like an Instamatic.

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Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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