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Windows Movie Maker: 
    Microsoft's Video Editor for Windows Me (2/2001)

    by Douglas Dixon

     Windows Me  -  Windows Movie Maker  -  Dazzle EmMe

    See also Mass-Market Digital Video and DVD  (Microsoft Movie Maker 2)

Windows Millennium Edition (a.k.a. Windows Me) is the latest version of the Microsoft consumer operating system extending from Windows 95 and 98 (www.microsoft.com/windowsME). You might have expected that after 95 and 98, it would have been called Windows 2000, but Microsoft is using that name for the new version of its professional operating system beyond Windows NT. Go figure.

        
    Movie Maker - Collections list, Clip Thumbnails, Preview player, Storyboard on bottom

Windows Me is an incremental improvement to its predecessors, and not a major breakthrough. You can get much of its benefits by making sure that you have the latest updates to Windows 98 Second Edition, and downloading the latest versions of Internet Explorer and the Windows Media Player. The new Windows Media Player, which I reviewed in a previous issue, is significantly improved as an integrated application for finding, organizing, and playing both local and Web media, and sports a customizable interface.

What makes Windows Me especially interesting for us PC video folks is that it includes Microsoft's first version of a consumer video-editing product, Windows Movie Maker. Movie Maker is a nice consumer-oriented video editor for capturing, organizing, and editing video clips, and then exporting them for PC or Web playback. It supports both timeline and storyboard views of your video, and automatically segments input video into clips by detecting scene changes.

Movie Maker is based on Microsoft's Direct Show and Windows Media technologies, and is intended to provide the ability to capture, edit, and re-encode media content into its Windows Media video format. Since it is designed for creating Windows Media streaming video, it does not support importing and exporting video in competitive formats. Movie Maker is only included with Windows Me, and is not available separately.

As a result of this new development from Microsoft, if you bought a Windows-based PC running Windows Me, starting around October 2000, your system came with a built-in video editing application, something like the way the Apple iMacs include Apple's iMovie application. Of course, unlike the DV iMacs, most Windows desktop and laptop PCs do not include a 1394 Firewire port for connecting to DV camcorders. But that's OK, since although Movie Maker is designed to work directly with DV camcorders, it also supports analog PCI capture cards and USB-based Web cameras and capture hardware. If you are looking for a capture device, Dazzle has recently introduced the Dazzle EmMe, a handy and inexpensive little USB video input device designed specifically for use with Movie Maker.

Windows Me

Windows Millennium Edition is the successor consumer operating system to Windows 98. Microsoft has packaged up lots of improvements, and worked on making Windows easier to use, less likely to fail, and easier to understand. Microsoft describes the key improvements in four areas: PC health, home networking, online experience and digital media.

The PC health features make the PC more reliable through features including System File Protection, which prevents essential system files from being clobbered when you install new software, System Restore, which can roll back the entire PC configuration to an earlier point when problems occur, and AutoUpdate, which automatically downloads updates from the Web.

The home networking features simplify the process of hooking together multiple computers through the Home Networking Wizard for finding and connecting shared resources, and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) for connecting PCs and other devices using Internet protocols.

The online experience features include the new Internet Explorer 5.5 with a simpler user interface and print preview, DirectPlay Voice Chat for online games, and online versions of built-in games like hearts and backgammon.

Finally, the digital media features include Windows Media Player 7, Windows Movie Maker, and the Windows Image Acquisition (WIA) architecture for interfacing to digital cameras and scanners.

The estimated retail price for Windows Me is $209 for the full version and $109 for a version upgrade, but Microsoft is also offering a $59.95 promotional upgrade from Windows 98 through January 15, 2001.

Windows Movie Maker

The Windows Movie Maker video editor is included as part of Windows Me, although you have to go looking for it (it is in the Start menu under Start / Programs / Accessories / Windows Movie Maker). In the way of modern operating systems, there is no separate documentation for Movie Maker, beyond the on-line Help. The Help system does include a Tour with animations of how to perform basic operations (backed by a perky repeating sound track).

For more information about Movie Maker and Windows Me, you may want to turn to a book like "Windows Millennium: The Missing Manual," by David Pogue (September 2000, ISBN 0-596-00009-X, 423 pages, $19.95), from the O'Reilly & Associates Missing Manual series. Unlike other Windows Me books that gloss over Movie Maker or even ignore it completely, this discusses not only how to use the editor, but how to import material from files and external capture devices. For a more visual introduction, try "How to Use Windows Me" by Douglas Hergert from Sams Publishing (August 14, 2000, ISBN 0-672-31937-3, $24.99), which uses full-color screen shots to show the basic processes of importing video and editing a project.

Organize Collections

The Movie Maker interface is built around the fundamental organizing concept of Collections, sequences of clips typically captured from the same source. Each input file, and each live video capture, is automatically segmented into a series of clips or scenes, and each of these then becomes a named Collection that you can reference when editing a new production.

The main Movie Maker window is divided into three sections across: a hierarchical list of Collections on the left, thumbnails of each Clip in the current collection in the center, and a video Preview player window on the right. The bottom strip of the window is then used for the Storyboard or Timeline where you edit your production. Each production that you are working on can also be saved as a named Project, to re-open and work on at a later time.

You can use the collections list to organize your video material into albums. You can edit the Properties of collections and clips to review and record additional information. You can view the clips as thumbnail images or as a detailed list, including the source file name and date, length, and start and end time. Unfortunately, to see all the information you need to resize the Movie Maker window to full-screen and eliminate the Collection view pane, although you can still navigate through the collection hierarchy by using the drop-down Collections toolbar at the top of the window.

Import & Capture

You start with Movie Maker by importing and capturing video clips into the source collections that you will then use to edit. Whether importing existing video files already on disk, or recording live video from a capture device, Movie Maker can automatically segment them into clips when it detects a scene change between adjacent frames.

Use the Import command to open existing media files and add them to the collections. Movie Maker can import video, audio, and still image files in standard Windows formats, including AVI and MPEG video, Wave, AU, AIFF, and MP3 audio, Windows Media streaming video, and Bitmap, JPEG, and GIF still images. As a product based around Windows Media, Movie Maker does not support QuickTime and Real Media formats.

Use the Record command to capture live video and audio. Movie Maker can interface to a variety of video capture hardware devices. It can capture digital video from DV camcorders using OHCI compliant IEEE 1394 (Firewire) adapters. It can also capture analog video from analog cameras and camcorders using analog PCI cards such as the ATI All In Wonder and Hauppauge WinTV, and USB-based devices such as the Intel WebCam, Logitech QuickCam, and new Dazzle EmMe. See the Microsoft Web site for the current list of supported capture devices.

      Movie Maker - Record dialog

The Record dialog displays the currently available and connected capture devices, and lets you select among multiple devices if they are available. You can capture video only, audio only, or both at once, and configure the available device options. The dialog displays the video and audio from the device, so you can click to start recording, and then click again to stop, or set a maximum time limit.

Depending on the capabilities of the capture device, you can set the video and audio quality used for recording to disk. Movie Maker displays a list of video quality options in terms of bandwidth (i.e., 2.8 to 768 Kbps), and streaming video connection characteristics (i.e. video for Web servers, single- or dual-channel ISDN, e-mail, or broadband). For each quality setting, the dialog displays the corresponding resolution and frame rate, and computes the maximum possible capture time from the available space on the disk drive. Similarly, the audio quality selections are specified in terms of bandwidth (6.5 to 128 Kbps, mono to stereo) and sound quality for Web use (low bit rate voice, FM radio, dial-up modems, near-CD, to CD quality).

Dazzle EmMe

The Dazzle EmMe (www.dazzle.com), introduced in November 2000, was designed specifically for use with Windows Movie Maker an inexpensive little USB video connector for analog camcorders ($49 list). The EmMe is a simple video-only device that has video input connectors for both composite and s-video formats, and a video pass-though connector. To install the EmMe, you just plug it to your USB port, and install the driver software from the included CD-ROM.

            Dazzle EmMe

Since the EmMe is designed specifically for use with Movie Maker, it includes no bundled software applications, and has minimal documentation besides how to hook it up and install the drivers. It also has no audio inputs; Movie Maker can capture audio from the Line In jack of your PC's audio system. The EmMe package includes a USB cable and an audio extension cable for combining a pair of stereo RCA cables into a single Line In mini-jack. The EmMe unit itself is a small and thin translucent green package, only 3 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches.

With the EmMe, you can capture at video qualities ranging from 160 x 120 at 5 frames per second to 320 x 240 at 30 fps. If you do not already have a video capture device for your PC, the EmMe offers a very inexpensive and simple method of recording video into Movie Maker.

Storyboard and Timeline Editing

Once you have used Movie Maker to organize your clips into collections, you can edit them using the Storyboard or Timeline views. The Storyboard view provides a simple way to build a production by dragging a series of clips into the order that you want to play them. You can drag clips within the Storyboard to reorganize them, and play individual clips or a selection of clips in the Preview window. The Preview window provides controls to single-step forward and backward in the clip and play the clip full-screen. You can also split a clip into two parts, or combine multiple clips into one.

        Movie Maker - Timeline

If you want to do more with your production you can switch to the Timeline view to add audio tracks and effects. In fact, Movie Maker will automatically switch into the Timeline view if you drag an audio clip onto the Storyboard. The Timeline has two rows, for video and background audio. You can change the time interval by zooming in and out, adjust the starting time of clips by sliding them on the Timeline, and trim their length by adjusting sliders for the Start and End Trim points.

Movie Maker does not provide video effects or transition effects, but you can create simple cross-fades between adjacent clips by dragging a clip in the Timeline view so that it overlaps the previous clip. Movie Maker also does not provide audio effects, although you can set the audio level between the video track (with its audio) and the separate audio track.

You can also easily add your own narration track by using the Record Narration command. The Record Narration Dialog is pre-set to capture audio from your PC's microphone track, save it as a Wave audio file, and then insert it as a clip in your Timeline. To help with your narration, Movie Maker plays the corresponding video track while you are recording.

Movie Maker also does not have built-in support for title slides or text overlays. However, you can create a title slide as an image file using an external paint program or from a PowerPoint presentation, and import the still image into your movie as a title slide.

Save and Share

Once you have finished editing together your production, you can play through it in the Preview window, and then save it to disk as a Windows Media file. The Save Movie dialog uses the same kind of quality settings to specify the compression used for your file. When you select a quality setting, the dialog displays the estimated file size of the file to be created and the download time for 28.8, 56, and 128 Kbps modem and high-speed connections. You can also enter information to be saved with the file, including title, author, date, rating, and description.

But the whole point of Windows Media is to share streaming video. So Movie Maker has two additional options, Send Video to E-mail and Send Video to Web Server. The Send commands first save the production as a file, and then pass it to the selected e-mail program or upload it across the Internet to the specified Web server.

Microsoft has established relationships with several video hosting Web sites for use with Movie Maker. The default hosting site is POPCast, but you can sign up with other sites, including MySpace, NextVenue, Sportscapsule, VideoShare, and YesVideo. Each hosting partner offers at least 15 megabytes of free movie storage, in addition to a variety of other services.

Windows Media Editor

Windows Movie Maker is a nice first effort from Microsoft as a basic consumer video editor. You can import files and record live video, automatically segment it into clips, organize clips into collections, edit together a production, export it to a Windows Media file, and share it by e-mail or by posting it to a free Web hosting site. You can use the Storyboard view for simple editing jobs that involve just arranging clips, or switch to the Timeline view to trim clips and add background audio music or narration. Movie Maker does not have fancy features like effects or text titling, although you can cross-fade between clips and import your own title slides.

Movie Maker is available only bundled with Windows Millennium, and is designed as a Windows Media editor. You cannot beat the price if you already have a computer with Windows Me, and it is a great beginning editor if you want to work with Windows Media format. However, if you need compatibility with competitive video formats such as Apple QuickTime and Real Media, then you will need to look to other tools.

References

Microsoft Windows Millennium 
    www.microsoft.com/windowsME

Microsoft Windows Movie Maker 
    www.microsoft.com/windowsME/guide/digitalmedia/moviemaker.asp

Dazzle EmMe
    www.dazzle.com