Windows Video Editing Pulls Ahead of the Mac, Part 2

In "Windows Video Editing Pulls Ahead of the Mac, Part 1" (available at the URL below), I compared Windows Movie Maker 2 and Apple Computer's iMovie. But the article caused an interesting backlash from the Macintosh community after various Mac-advocacy sites linked to the story. I think Apple's more virulent fans are missing the point. In the article, I compared two consumer-oriented products, not Adobe Systems' Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro, the professional-level tools that were inexplicably most-often cited as an argument against my apparent pro-Microsoft stance. But I've used Mac-oriented video-editing tools for more than a year and a half, and until Windows Movie Maker 2 arrived, I was firmly in the Apple camp when it came to digital video.

As I noted in Part 1, however, I've changed my mind. Thanks to technology such as Windows Media 9 Series and excellent products such as Windows Movie Maker 2 and Sonic Solutions' Sonic MyDVD 4, Windows digital-video technology has pulled ahead of the Mac. I don't believe that Apple will sit still while Microsoft usurps its lead—indeed, an Apple rep recently told me that the company is working to make iMovie even simpler and more powerful than it already is—but Windows Movie Maker 2's superiority should be alarming to Mac fans. Windows Movie Maker 2 is so much better than iMovie, and its underlying Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 technology is so infinitely superior to MPEG-4 that I'm not sure what Apple can do at this point.

More Windows Movie Maker 2
In Part 1, I discussed the Windows Movie Maker 2 UI and how you can use the software to capture and edit movies. I glossed over the technical aspects of editing because Windows Movie Maker 2 includes an amazing AutoMovie feature that will satisfy most consumers' editing needs. But running AutoMovie doesn't necessarily mean you're finished with your project: If you want, you can go back and manually edit an AutoMovie-edited movie—including changing titles and transitions—as you would any other movie. This capability makes Windows Movie Maker 2 a compelling solution for beginners and advanced users alike.

Whether you use AutoMovie or manually edit the movie, Windows Movie Maker 2 offers several options for saving the final product, many of which address limitations with the previous Windows Movie Maker version. After you select File, Save Movie File, up pops the stunningly simple Save Movie Wizard, which offers choices such as My Computer, Recordable CD, E-mail, The Web, and DV camera. For the highest quality, you might choose My Computer, which automatically selects "Best quality for playback on my computer" or lets you choose from various parameters, including fit to file size or a list of quality ratings from 48KBps to 2.1MBps. If you choose the latter option, the wizard displays important information such as bit rate and display size, which lets technical users understand how long the process will take and how many resources it will consume. The other Save Movie choices are similar. If you select The Web, you get choices such as Dial-up Modem, ISDN, and DSL/Cable Modem, or you can select from more technical, bit rate-oriented choices.

Windows Movie Maker 2 doesn't let you write to a DVD from within the application; Microsoft will incorporate integrated DVD writing in the next Windows version (code-named Longhorn). Microsoft tells me, however, that all recordable DVDs come with DVD moviemaking software, and that WMV 9 is compatible with virtually all these products. But until recently, most of these products weren't very exciting. Here's the product that changes all that.

At the PC EXPO trade show in June 2002, I got my first look at MyDVD 4, a consumer-oriented package for creating DVD (and CD-based) movies. Previous versions of MyDVD were decent but not exceptional. The new version, however, is best of breed. It features a Windows XP-style UI that looks like something Microsoft would have built; almost overly simple tools for adding movies, photo slideshows, and submenus to a disc-based movie; and a set of decent-looking and extensible themes that even include motion menus, similar to Apple's iDVD.

For people who want to use MyDVD 4 as a complete solution, Sonic includes basic capture tools and a bundled copy of ArcSoft ShowBiz in a high-end version; ShowBiz was previously my favorite PC-based video-editing tool. But when you combine MyDVD 4 with Windows Movie Maker 2 and the underlying Windows Media 9 Series technologies, these tools become a one-two knockout punch to consumer-oriented video editing and creation. MyDVD 4 couldn't be simpler: You can drag and drop your Windows Movie Maker 2-created movies directly onto a menu in MyDVD 4 or simply select the Get Movies button. Each movie has its own button along with a still frame from the underlying movie, and you can even select which frame in the movie you want to display on the button.

Creating photo slideshows is just as easy (although you might arguably better use Windows Movie Maker 2 for that task): Select the Add Slideshow button, select your photos, choose which photo to use as the button image, add an optional musical background, and you're done. Or you can also select the slide duration, the types of transition to use between each photo, and which background color to use; the aspect ration of most photos will leave blank space on the top and bottom (or left and right) of the screen.

As you add content to the disc, a small graphic in the lower left of the application window displays the available space, so you always know where you stand. You can preview your creation in the application before burning the movie to disk and change themes on the fly. You can even create your own themes. MyDVD 4 has one small limitation: You can't edit the graphical links to submenus in the sense that you can't apply an image to these buttons. That's a shame, and the product's one glaring omission.

One final note about MyDVD 4: The product includes an intriguing technology called OpenDVD that lets you store special information about the DVDs and CDs you create that you can use later to reedit—and reburn—your creations. So you can create a disc and later choose to change it, even if you lose your MyDVD project on the hard disk.

MyDVD 4 costs about $50 ($70 for the version that includes ShowBiz). I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a simple and elegant way to create DVD movies on the PC.

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