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Microsoft Issues New Movie Maker Beta, Windows Media 9 Series Release Candidate

On Friday, Microsoft issued two important new multimedia software releases, a beta of Windows Movie Maker 2.0 for Windows XP, a substantial upgrade over the version that shipped in XP, and the release candidate for its Windows Media 9 Series products, which includes the new Windows Media Player 9. Both products are available publicly.

Windows Movie Maker 2.0 (WMM 2) is a new and completely redesigned video editing application, which Microsoft is now aiming directly at iMovie, Apple's successful video editing package for the Macintosh. The new version includes impressive ease-of-use and functionality improvements, with over 130 new video effects, titles, and transitions. Unlike other products, however, WMM 2 is designed for novices and experts alike, with simple task-based wizards and a much wider range of movie output choices than its predecessor. WMM 2 also utilizes AutoMovie technology from Microsoft Research to automatically create high quality home movies with music and professional looking titles and transitions.

"AutoMovie analyzes the video and music you select, finds the best video content, and then automatically synchronizes it with effects and titles and transitions," David Caulton, the Lead Product Manager for the Windows Digital Media Division told me during a WMM 2 preview Thursday. "It looks for the video with best focus and lighting, the most steady images, and ensures that some of each scene you shot is represented in the final video. It even synchronizes the transitions to the beat of the music, and lays the movie out on the \[WMM 2\] timeline, so you can share it immediately. Or, if you prefer, you can go in and tweak it, if you'd like, choose different transitions or whatever. It's amazing how well it works."

For the more technical user, WMM 2 offers numerous powerful features, such as 30 new video effects (artificial film grain, sepia tone, grayscale, and so on), 60 video transitions (everything from a basic cross fade to an amazing effect where the first video shatters and explodes, revealing the next video clip), and over 40 titles and credits (such as newspaper credit where the video starts as an image on the newspaper page and then zooms to full screen, various professionally scrolling banners, and the like).

Movies created with WMM 2 can be shared to recordable CDs, including CDs utilizing the new HighM.A.T. technology; email; Web; and back to the DV camera. You can also export movies in standard DV-AVI format or Windows Media Video (WMV) version 9 format for use in the DVD editing package of your choice. And because WMM 2 supports WMV 9 format, you can squeeze up to 15 hours of native resolution (720 x 480) DV video in 10 GB of disk space, about 1/20th the size of DV-AVI or Apple QuickTime. The comparisons to iMovie are not coincidental, as this time Microsoft feels it has a product that blows Apple's offering out of the water. "This technology now enables customers to store an entire library of their digital video on their machines," Caulton told me, "and we have a new collections user interface that helps you organize your videos, which iMovie doesn't have because you can't store all your videos on your hard drive; the file sizes are way too big. iMovie users have to write video out to tape and then import it again if they want to work on it later."

Microsoft isn't sure yet when the final version of WMM 2 will be released, but the company will be monitoring the feedback after the beta is released and will determine the schedule based on how well the release is received. You can download the WMM 2 beta from the Microsoft Web site, beginning sometime today.

As for Windows Media 9 Series, the new release candidate versions of Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 and the other WM 9 Series components brings new features and fit and finish. Some new features include automatic synchronized lyric support, Auto Playlist enhancements, HighM.A.T. CD burning capabilities, and other capabilities. The release candidate versions of the WM 9 Series components will be made available on the Microsoft Web site beginning sometime today.

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