Windows Live Movie Maker Review

Posted: September 20, 2009 in software
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The non-linear video editing software world is crowded with expensive proprietary software, with the distinct lack of a decent free alternative. Microsoft has been working on this since 2000, when Windows Movie Maker was first introduced with Windows ME. However, it was unanimously panned as, well, “useless”. Fast forward to Windows XP, and Windows Movie Maker 2.0 finally evolved into a usable, though very basic, video editor. Windows Movie Maker 2.6 bundled with Windows Vista was a revelation, and finally found a wide user base. Since then, due to incompatibility issues and advances in HD videography, Windows Movie Maker has fallen out of preference.

In 2008, Microsoft canceled Windows Movie Maker. In anticipation of Windows 7’s release arrives the much-anticipated Windows Live Movie Maker (henceforth referred to as “WLMM”), the official replacement to Windows Movie Maker, available for free download as a Windows Live software. WLMM will not be bundled with Windows 7, and is supported by both Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

Before I begin, let me state right away – If you are one of those who found the previous Windows Movie Maker woefully inadequate for your workflow – chances are you wouldn’t be any more interested in WLMM.

For light users of video editing, internet video publishers, or just anyone who owns a camcorder, read on as we review an intriguing software.

The WLMM interface is remarkably clean and basic, at first glance. A preview pane on the left is accompanied by a Storyboard view on the right. There is no traditional Timeline view, which may be a hindrance for those (like myself) who are used to the Timeline workflow.

The main menu interface is based on the Office 2007 “Ribbon” design, and works well enough. Since there are not many features available in WLMM, this keeps the interface clean and logical – with all options well within grasp.

The preview pane present on the left is as simple as imaginable. It is just a preview window, a seek bar, a pause button, and two frame browsers. You can browse frame-by-frame, but there are no timecodes – just MM:SS designations.

To the right of the preview pane lies the main working area – where each clip of footage is represented in storyboards. The individual clips are sized proportionately to their durations (there is a minimum size, however). The previews within the storyboard are called thumbnails, as expected, and these thumbnails are available in 5 sizes – in order to fit more footage in one page, or larger thumbnails for greater visibility. In addition to the seek bar on the preview window, a seek bar is available within the thumbnails, so you can select a particular area in your project for previewing. There’s a zoom option also available, which stretches out each clip over the working area. So, you can have the entire page covered by only a few seconds of footage – offering much more control over the thumbnail seek bar.

Music can be added to the storyboard view and appears as a bar right above the thumbnails. The thumbnail seek bar extends to the music bar as well. Pictures are also added as storyboards.

Overall, the WLMM interface is clean, basic and smart – and the storyboard view works surprisingly well for beginners. The lack of a more detailed Timeline view will be scoffed at by more experienced editors – but it is clear right from the first glance that WLMM is only targeted at home users.

Here is a new feature the Windows Live team seems to be hyping considerably. What they claim is – all you need to do is add your clips, click “AutoMovie”, add music, and hey presto! Your movie is ready!

Technically, that is true, but in practice all it really does is add a title at the beginning, a closing title at the end (default is simply “The End”), and join each clip with dissolve transitions. If pictures are added to the storyboard view, elegant pan and zoom effects are added. Music of your choice is wrapped around the storyboards in one or more tracks.

It is a simple feature that does what it claims. However, computers are still nowhere near as smart enough to decide between usable and unusable footage, and naturally, no edits are made. In reality, as we know, most of the footage we shoot ends up being canned, and for the most of us, only about 1 in 10 minutes shot is worth cutting into a movie.

We will look at Editing next, which is something the AutoMovie feature does not replace at all.

Thanks to the storyboard view, simple editing is done with great ease. You can simply select the start point by using your preview seek bar/frame browsers and/or thumbnail seek bar and click on “Set start point”. To mark the end of the clip, the same can be down, by clicking “Set end point”. Do this for all clips on your storyboard, and your movie is edited. You can split the clips as well from the selected point. To change the order of the clips, just drag and drop them in the right place. Editing is truly a breeze with WLMM, and even a complete beginner can edit a movie within minutes.

There is a Trim tool to help you with these trimming functions – or marking the start and end points. Choose a clip on the storyboard, and go into Trim tool. The preview window turns into a trimming window, where you can simply choose the start and end points on each side. The points are selected by seconds, but not frames. So instead of 00:01.29, which would mean 1 minute, 1 second and 29 frames, and is the normal timecode for most editing software, it would show up as something like 1.98s.

Other features are Video Volume (which strangely does not seem to do anything; I was expecting an Opacity setting with it) and Fade In / Fade Out (which work just fine).

Essentially, exactly the same editing tools are available for music (the volume works for music). For pictures, a duration time setting is present.

There is not much to it – Editing in WLMM couldn’t be any simpler and cleaner.

In addition to the footage, Title, Credit and Caption tools are also available, which are easy to use.

There are more than 60 transitions available in WLMM which is a wide range of dissolves, shatters, reveals, wipes, and even several pan and zoom for pictures. These are all grouped under “Animations”. Such a comprehensive repository of animated transitions is a welcome addition to WLMM. Transition time for each transition can be between 0.04 to 10 seconds, which is a fair margin for transitions.

Compared to commercial editing software, the Visual Effects available are very sparse – only 20 preset effects, ranging from sepia, mirror, to hue corrections. The only video adjustment feature is Brightness. Nevertheless, these may come in handy for a basic editor like WLMM.

The most interesting feature here is Youtube Publish. All you need to do to get your movie on Youtube is enter information, your account details and WLMM does everything for you! It will encode your movie to Youtube’s video format, upload it to the web, and your video is online on Youtube. This feature will no doubt be appreciated by those who frequently publish videos on Youtube. Perhaps the most remarkable feature here is the capability for Output Plug-ins. So it is not just Youtube. There is a Facebook video upload plug in available already – and more to come, for sure. Soon, you will be able to upload your video to various video sharing sites right from within WLMM.

Sadly, it all goes downhill from here. The highest quality format available is an 8 Mbps 1080p WMV stream. Even at this quality, there is considerably compression and quality loss over the 16 Mbps AVCHD source file. For Youtube/streaming videos, this may not be much of a concern, though.

Other formats include DVD, 720p, 480p, SD, low quality for MP3 players, or Internet use. These are all presets available, and there is no scope for any user input here.

Thanks to WLMM refusing to shift aspect ratio to 16:9, my letterboxed was further letterboxed in the final output file, which happens to be 16:9. So, you have a 16:9 within a 4:3 within a 16:9. The end result is a 1280×720 (or so) video trapped in a 1920×1080 container.  If the aspect ratio correctly sets to 16:9 on your system to begin with, I am assuming this will not be an issue.

Again, as discussed in the compatibility section, the only frame rate supported by WLMM is 29.97 frames per second. Hence, if you shot at 24p, it will be output as a 30p video file.

In terms of performance, the WMV encoder WLMM uses is adequate, though notably slower than commercial alternatives. A 185 second render took 384 seconds, whereas the same content took only 193 seconds with Sony Vegas’ AVC encoder at the same bitrate, and output a slightly more detailed video as well. Even Vegas’ WMV encoder, using the very same setings, finished encoding in 247 seconds. Cyberlink PowerDirector was the fastest – encoding within 150 seconds, though this is no doubt attributable to its support for CUDA/ATI Stream.

if you are interested in compiling your home videos, publishing movies on the internet, or any basic editing use, Windows Live Movie Maker is a remarkable freeware and a must-have for anyone who owns a camcorder.

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