Wednesday, February 06, 2008

iMovie and iDVD: the apps that could be excellent, but aren't

I recently needed to make a small movie and I decided to give my first real try on iMovie and iDVD.

My idea was simple: merge a bunch of videos that I had of my friends all together, put some nice effects and background music and burn it to a nice semi-professional DVD. But accomplishing this was not so simple. And it was not because of the lack of features of the applications or because of my newbie experience on a Mac. The applications have the potential (but not the ability) to be great, but the frequent crashes and system hangs can really make it unbearable to work with them.

But let me tell you about my experience so you can draw your own conclusions.

The iMovie experience

On a first note, I used the iMovie HD from iLife'06 because iMovie'08 was crashing too many times with just some simple editing features. If you feel the same about iMovie'08, don't worry. You can download and install the previous version and keep both versions running on your Mac.

So first of all, I needed to collect all the videos and get them into iMovie so that I could make all the editing in one place. This task was really painless, whether it meant importing videos or recording them with the iSight.

Editing the movies (to get only the parts that I wanted) was really simple too, but sometimes the application would crash and exit without any warning and would put the unsaved files on the Trash. And sometimes I wasn't able to restore the videos back from the Trash, which meant that I had to import and edit them again.

When all the editing was finished, adding some background music was very simple and no problems occurred. Managing the volume between the parts where people were talking during the movies was really simple and the final result was amazing.

Adding some subtitles or text effects was also very easy and problem-free. Adding special effects was not that easy, however. At this point, I decided to add some effects to the movies to make them look a little bit more professional.

I wanted to add a "white point adjust" effect to give the movies a "warmer" look but this revealed to be an impossible task since iMovie crashed everytime I tried this.

Since I was going to use iDVD for making the DVD, I decided to use the iMovie "Chapters" tab to add some chapters' anchors to help people navigate the movies. This presented no problems.

The iDVD experience

With my movies ready, I used the "export to iDVD" feature of iMovie (Share->iDVD) to start a new iDVD project. The transfer was amazing and iDVD even created a menu view with all the chapters I created before on iMovie, so no work was needed to make these. I also added some extra menus and sections to show other movies (such as bloopers).

I then chose a nice theme (from one of those that come with iDVD) and used the "drop zones" to choose the appropriate videos that I wanted to show on the DVD title. The "drop zones" are areas on the DVD title where you can place videos or photos that will appear when you put the DVD on your DVD player. The effect is amazing and I couldn't wait to show these to my friends. However, actually creating a DVD with these effects was a different problem.

After trying countless times to create the DVD with no success (the computer would hang after an hour and a half of rendering menus) I decided to look over on the Internet if somebody else was having the same problem. That's when I found this thread with a bunch of people having similar experiences with iDVD.

It seems that, from what I've read in the thread, iDVD is really buggy when it comes to MacBook Pros (lucky me, huumm???). And Apple doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. And in the meantime, MacBook Pro users have these powerful computers that can be used with anything else, but not Mac OS X's own video and DVD editing tools.

The reported bugs include using dynamic drop zones (such as videos), background encoding and burning directly to DVD. So I decided to change my DVD to avoid these bugs:

  • Used only static drop zones (photos) and themes
  • Disabled background encoding (Advance -> Encode in Background)
  • Burned to DVD image instead of DVD drive
Once I got the DVD image ready, I used Burn to finally burn the DVD. The resulting DVD was not that amazing and sadly, to get these results, I could've easily used other simpler applications. I don't know which one of the settings was blocking my success on iDVD (or if all of them together) but this was the configuration that worked for me.

Final conclusions

These applications have a great potential, mainly because of the available features and the simplicity to use, but their unstable behavior and never-ending bugs can really turn movie/DVD-making into a nasty job. So, Apple if you're reading this... Please, please, give us a nice patch to solve these issues on our powerful MacBook Pros, because there's nothing worse than see such good potential go to waste.

What about you? Are you having the same problems? Any suggestions for solutions or other applications that are the same/better for making movies/dvds on a Mac?

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