Microsoft’s new (and free) video editor
puts home-movie making into the hands of PC users.
Traditionally, the platform of choice for video
editing has been the Macintosh. The Mac is still
the favored editing system for many professionals,
in part because of the popularity of the high-end
program Final Cut Pro. In addition, most new Macintosh
computers come bundled with the excellent iMOVIE
program, making the Mac a good platform for video
novices as well.
But where does that leave us Windows users?
Until recently, video editing on a Windows PC
has been a little confusing. While there are several
professional-grade editors available (Adobe Premiere
and Vegas Video) none of the free or inexpensive
editors have really gained any notoriety.
This lack of leadership within the beginner software
arena is the result of two factors: the programs
cost money (usually under 100 dollars) and are all
difficult to use. In an attempt to simplify the
editing process, these programs utilize colorful
graphic interfaces that are supposed to make them
seem more “user friendly.” Unfortunately, the software
producers have gone too far, and have created programs
that look foreign and don’t operate like other Windows
software. The further you go from the standard “Windows
Layout,” the harder it is for Windows-savvy people
to learn it. Sony’s MovieShaker program is a good
example of this design hubris. The program looks
gorgeous, but the cryptic “Sony-fied” interface
makes it tougher to use.
Windows Movie Maker – first contact
To alleviate the video-editing gap between Mac and
PC, Microsoft created the free Windows Movie Maker
(WMM) editing program. This program debuted back
in 2000 as a bundled app within the Windows Me operating
system. Movie Maker 1.0 allowed users to take imported
video clips, line them up into a kind of “video
slideshow,” and export them as a movie. The program
was easy to use, but had many shortcomings with
limited effects and transitions. The biggest drawback
was the inability to import/export into common formats
(i.e. from a digital camcorder). Another detriment
was the ME operating system itself and the resulting
difficulties in transferring digital video off a
camcorder and onto a computer’s hard drive.
The next round …
The Windows XP platform was a complete revamp of
Microsoft’s operating system. While the upgrade
to XP created some concern because of software compatibility
problems, one of the benefits to upgrading was better
video capability. XP has built-in support for photo
and video capture. XP also bundles an updated version
of Movie Maker (version 1.1) that finally allows
the capture and export of uncompressed DV-AVI from
Still, when compared to iMovie, Movie Maker 1.1
was a loser. It didn’t have as many transitions
or video effects, and simple tasks like adding title’s
was a real chore. Movie Maker was a difficult program
to recommend … until now.
Movie Maker 2.0 … the Wrath of Kahn!
In early 2003, Microsoft released an entirely new
version of WMM, Movie Maker 2.0. This version, available
as a free download, only works under Window’s XP.
At first glance, the program looks similar to previous
versions … however, looks can be deceiving. Version
2.0 is a completely new program, and addresses every
problem and limitation that plagued earlier versions
… including better DV-AVI import/export from camcorders,
multiple transitions and video effects, and advanced
titling features. And it does these things very
WMM2 is by far the easiest video editor available
today. The editing environment is laid out logically,
and follows the standard “Window’s way of doing
things.” In fact, after downloading and installing
the program, most Windows users should be able to
figure out the entire editing environment in less
than 30 minutes.
The program works in both the standard timeline
view, or in a simplified storyboard format … and
you can switch back and forth between these views
according to the amount of control you need in your
project. While some of the features, like the new
title maker, take some getting used to, they are
still much easier to implement than any competing
Part of the program’s ease of use it due to the
new Task menu. Like many XP programs, WMM2 comes
with a Task pane that contains quick links to various
tasks you’ll perform while making your video. These
tasks are laid out in logical order and work kind
of like a checklist … progressing from movie capture,
to editing, to exporting. It just doesn’t get much
easier than this! Did I mention this program is
The video editing process
Let’s examine the movie making process. Like all
editors, video creation occurs in three steps, though
Movie Maker has simplified and streamlined each
1. Import your video:
Importing video into Movie
Maker 2 is quite easy, mostly because the
XP operating system already supports digital
camcorder capture. Simply connect your camcorder
via a firewire cable, turn it on, and Windows
XP will automatically detect it and bring
up the capture window. Then, it’s just a
matter of choosing your capture format.
For high-quality video editing, this means
either uncompressed DV-AVI or the new WMP9
compression. This WMP9 compression is excellent,
and yields video that is almost as good
as DV-AVI, but at a tiny fraction of hard
You can capture manually, or have Movie
Maker rewind and capture your entire tape.
If you like, the program will automatically
split your video into individual scene clips.
2. Edit your video:
This is usually the step that scares people
away from computer video. However, editing
within Movie Maker 2 couldn’t be simpler.
Simply drag your captured video clips down
onto the storyboard, add some transitions,
and your movie is done!
If you want more control, you can switch
to the timeline view, and change your clip’s
in and out points, insert music, and even
add a narration over the video. WMM2 comes
with useful video effects that allow you
to improve your video’s quality, such as
changing brightness levels. You can also
add groovy special effects like “aged film”
or “slow motion.”
The editing environment in WMM2 is the easiest
I’ve ever used, and adding effects is much
easier to do than in competing products.
Plus, Movie Maker allows you preview your
effects in real time. This just isn’t possible
with most other programs, which force you
to render your movie first.
Export the video:
WMM2 adds many new exporting
options. You can export into conventional
uncompressed DV-AVI (either to your camcorder
or hard drive). You can also export into
several WMV formats, including the new WMP9
format. This latest compression wmv codec
is killer, and produces DVD-quality video
at tiny file-sizes. However, you may not
be able to view it on other computers, because
not everyone has yet installed the Media
Player 9 codec. On the other hand, it’s
a great storage format for your computer’s
hard drive because of the tiny file sizes,
and allows you to create video collections
on your computer … just like your audio
Still room for improvement ...
While generally, the program worked flawlessly,
Movie Maker 2 has a few small problems. One of these
is the lack my favorite video effect -- reverse
video. You see, I like to make fake Kung-Fu movies
with my young nephews and several of my favorite
special effects” are accomplished by filming
a scene backwards.
A bigger (and more relevant) problem is the limited
export options … you can only export your final
video into DV-AVI or Windows Media Video. Other
software packages let you export into Apple QuickTime
and MPEG1/MPEG2 (for creating DVDs). Fortunately,
there are workarounds for all of these format limitations
… most DVD creation software will accept raw DV-AVI
video, and there are free encoders available online
for converting DV-AVI to other video formats.
Overall, Movie Maker 2.0 is a great video editor,
and a significant advancement over previous versions.
If you run Windows XP, and have ANY inkling to start
editing video on your computer, I recommend downloading
the 2.0 upgrade. The program is free, handles basic
and advanced editing, and is incredibly easy to
use. The Movie Maker program has finally matured
to the point that it can now do anything a home-movie
creator could ever want.