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I came, I saw, iMovie

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[Times photo: Pam Royal]
Joe Brand, who first heard about digital video editing about a year ago, bought an iMac DV and a Canon ZR digital camcorder in February. Since then he has been working through the iMovie tutorial. “I’m feeling more comfortable every time I use it,” he says.

By DAVE GUSSOW, Times Technology Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2000


Apple's iMac DV and its new video editing software, partnered with a digital camcorder, put home videographers in the director's chair.

Joe Brand Sr. stores "tons and tons" of pictures in boxes from his days as a combat photographer for the Marines. One day, he plans to make a documentarylike video out of them. But not yet.

First, he wants to learn all he can about editing digital video on his new iMac DV computer.

"It was designed for novices, and that's me," said Brand, 54, of Tampa. "I need to start at ground zero and work up."

Brand chose a good time to start. Digital video is heading to the home market in a big way. While video editing on a PC has been possible for several years, it has become easier and less expensive for the home user to tackle without elaborate or expensive equipment. No longer will home computer users have to endure postage stamp-size images, nor will home videophiles need to suffer through shots of walls, floors or a wildly gyrating camera.

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[Times photos: Pam Royal]
To transfer a video clip to his iMac, Joe Brand simply plugs one end of a cable into the FireWire port on his computer, above, and the other into the FireWire connector on his digital camcorder.
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Digital photography exploded in recent years as cameras got better and less expensive, computer prices fell and people shared pictures through e-mail or on the Web. Now, it is moving from still photos to video.

Jim Workman, publisher of Mac Today magazine in Dunedin, says seven years ago only a handful of people were interested in, or could afford, digital video editing. He estimates systems then cost $20,000 for the speed, power and storage necessary to handle video.

It is creating a new battlefront for Apple and Microsoft. Apple leads with its new iMac DV and iMovie software for digital video editing, which the resurgent underdog of computing has been heavily promoting in its advertising. One commercial shows computer-screen-filling images of exuberant children jumping on a bed to a backdrop of Bob Dylan's ballad Forever Young.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has been demonstrating video editing software that will be part of the new consumer version of the Windows operating system.

And Sony's Vaio line of Windows-based computers has video editing similar to the iMac.

Nor are makers of camcorders ready to see their products reduced to "peripherals" for computers, and they're promoting alternatives. An ad for Sony's new MiniDisc Handyman, a digital camera that records on discs rather than tape, boasts that users can change the order of scenes and add graphics "without computers or costly accessories."

But Apple is getting the early attention.

"The most powerful aspect of iMovie is that it lets you do something with your computer that you haven't been able to do in the past," said Jon Bass, chief of video software at Apple. "I describe it as opening doors."

Bass emphasizes ease of use, an Apple hallmark, particularly compared to previous technology for digital editing.

"In the past, working with video has just been very difficult, very cumbersome," Bass said. "And the reason it was so difficult is because the amount of data required to work with video was so great."

Three things make video easier to do on computers than previously, Bass said: The DV file format, which compresses the video to take up less space for faster transmission. A 30-megabyte clip, for example, can be reduced to 3.6 MB.

Second, connections to transfer video from a camcorder to a computer and back again are easier to use and faster. The new connection method goes by such names as FireWire (by Apple), IEEE 1394 or Sony's iLink.

Third is the latest version of Apple's QuickTime software, which makes working with video and other media easier.

Then there's the affordable price. Digital camcorders are available for less than $1,000. (A regular VHS camera requires extra equipment to connect and convert video to digital format, available for $250 and up.)

As for the iMac DV computer, it comes in two models, at $1,299 and $1,499. Compare that with the cheapest iMac, which is not designed for video and costs about $900.

Brand, who first heard about digital video editing about a year ago, waited until the iMac DV came out and bought one in early February. A week later, he bought a Canon ZR digital camcorder on closeout for $749.

His approach to his new hobby is methodical. He's going through the iMovie tutorial a lesson at a time -- and in order. He praises Apple for keeping it simple and including a glossary of terms.

To use the iMovie software, a user clicks an icon. The opening screen includes a large window on the top left for viewing a selected clip. To its right are thumbnail-size photos showing the first frame of various video clips that are stored in the computer. At the bottom is a row where the user simply drags the clips, lining them up in order to make the video. The order can be rearranged just by clicking on the clip and dragging it.

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[Photo: Apple Computer]

Mac, camera, action
To use Apple’s iMovie software, a user clicks an icon on the iMac. The opening screen, above, includes a large window on the left for viewing a selected clip. To its right are thumbnail-size photos showing the first frame of various video clips that are stored in the computer. Along the bottom is a row where the user simply drags the clips, lining them up in order to make the video. The order can be rearranged just by clicking on the clip and dragging it to a new position. Users can view the video frame by frame in the big window, clipping as they go to edit out what they don’t want. In addition, users can add transitions such as fade-in or fade-out simply by dragging an icon between the thumbnail photos, as well as titles and music.
— DAVE GUSSOW, Times Technology editor


Users can view the video frame by frame in the big window, clipping as they go to edit out what they don't want. In addition, users can use transitions such as fade-in or fade-out simply by dragging an icon between the thumbnail photos, as well as add titles and music.

Brand shot test video at a favorite sandwich shop and at a condo he owns in Crystal Beach. To transfer a video clip, he simply connected the camcorder to the computer using the FireWire connector.

The only glitch during the recent practice run came when the screen went blank as Brand tried to clip some frames. He had to reboot the computer.

"I'm feeling more comfortable every time I use it," said Brand, a former CSX railroad worker now on permanent disability.

Although the movies are edited and produced on a computer, it's not practical to store the finished product there. A 5-minute video clip takes up about 1 gigabyte on a hard drive. The $1,299 iMac DV comes with a 10-gigabyte hard drive; the $1,499 model, with 13 gigabytes.

Instead, the user can transfer the finished video back to the camera over the same FireWire connector used to send the video to the computer and then to a videocassette recorder for later playback. Or the user can e-mail video to a friend, put it on a Web site to share or burn a CD to save it.

All of this is available for people starting fresh and digitally. But there's a large market for people who have collected tapes over the years.

Video alternatives for old equipment
Turning your stack of old videotapes into digital masterpieces can be done without investing in a new computer and camcorder. But consumers will have to buy some additional equipment and software.
"Every family has a drawer of videotapes filled with film of somebody's sneakers and, in between all the junk, a few truly precious moments," Apple's Bass said. "We offer the world a way to get rid of the worthless stuff and give their families all those keeper moments on films that bring a degree of sophistication no family had before."

But moving from analog tapes to digital editing takes more equipment and costs more money.

Bass recommends that those who want to edit existing analog tapes buy a digital camcorder with an input jack that allows it to copy video through a connection to the video-out jack of a VCR or an older camcorder. Such digital camcorders, Bass said, are a step above basic models and thus more expensive. For those who have 8mm tapes, Sony has a digital 8mm camcorder that can handle those. Sony also has a converter box, which lists for about $500, for transferring video between a VCR and computer.

As Apple tries to exploit the new computer video phenomenon, it has even given it a name: video publishing. It predicts the trend will have a major impact on the Internet as more people get fast connections that allow easier video streaming.

"I absolutely believe that we're going to see the same revolution with video publishing that we saw with desktop publishing," Bass said. "Right now, the only sort of prepared and packaged programs are what I see on TV. People are going to be creating their own movies, their own documentaries, their own stories."

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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