Windows Live Essentials 2011
Windows Live Movie Maker
As the first Essentials application to get the ribbon treatment (see my review of that version), Windows Live Movie Maker has changed the least, in many ways, but it continues to offer what I feel is the right mix of consumer friendliness and functionality. This is a simple application, but it does provide nice titling, captioning, and credits functionality, solid transitions, pan and zoom effects, visual effects and audio capabilities, and exactly the kind of sharing tools consumers should expect. Plus, there are some cool new features this time around. There are more full-featured video editing solutions, I guess, but they're also so much more complex that few would ever bother trying to figure them out. Movie Maker, as usual, is what most people are really looking for.
With the new Movie Maker, you can be up and running fairly quickly. Just drag in the content you'd like you use--which can be a collection of photos, video clips, or a combination of both, and you're pretty much halfway home.
From here, most people will simply want to create an AutoMovie, perhaps with an audio soundtrack (like an MP3 song) or, perhaps, a voice over audio narration. The new Movie Maker features a number of built-in AutoMovie themes--black and white, cinematic, contemporary, pan and zoom, fade, and sepia--and a gorgeous full-screen preview that lets you instantly see how your masterpiece is progressing.
Additionally, the themes, animations, pan and zoom effects, and visual effects all offer live previews, so if you mouse over one of these options in the ribbon, the effect is previewed, live, in the playback window. This helps to reduce guesswork.
If you want more control, it's there for the taking: Movie Maker supports content "scrubbing" in the timeline view so you can make very precise edits if needed. The application also works with very high-bitrate original content, and utilizes an auto-transcoding feature so that it works with a lesser version of the content while editing for better peformance. But when you output the finished product, it works off the original content.
The big deal this time around, though, is sharing. As in the past, Movie Maker lets you save your movies in a variety of formats for local use, and it uses plain English names ("For high-definition display," "Zune HD (for 720p display)," "Burn a DVD," and so on) instead of more technical descriptions. If your needs are more complex, you can create your own custom settings, with unique resolution, bitrate, frame rate, and audio settings. What you can't do, unfortunately, is save in anything other than WMV. H.264 is a superior, and more compatible, choice.
Of more interest, perhaps, is Movie Maker's integration with online video services. You can publish directly to SkyDrive, Facebook, YouTube, Windows Live Groups, and Flickr directly from the application, and as with Photo Gallery, a plug-in library is available for those that need to access other services. And SkyDrive uploading can now utilize VGA resolutions (640x480), up from the prior 320x240 limit. (YouTube supports HD resolutions, of course.)
Video publishing is, of course, time consuming, but that's true of any video editor. The end result is great looking, and if you're looking for an easy way to share video--especially photo slideshows, which I suspect will be the primary use case for most people--this is the way to go. Windows Live Movie Maker combined with the unlimited storage capabilities of YouTube is a potent combination.