Windows Live Movie Maker Beta Review

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  • Pros

    • It's free
    • Clean, intuitive interface
    • Uses MS Ribbon menus
  • Cons

    • Can't direct-capture video
    • Dismal format support
    • Almost no effects/transitions

By: Dustin Sklavos

I began this review hoping that, similar to what Macintosh users enjoy with iMovie, Microsoft might see fit to produce a remarkably promising piece of entry-level video editing software in its Windows Live Movie Maker. Instead, I now want to point out that Windows 7 and Vista users can always go back and download Windows Movie Maker 2.6 for free, rather than use Windows Live Movie Maker. That’s because Windows Live Movie Maker, at least in its current beta state, feels extraordinarily incomplete.

Granted, that's what "beta" means: Not ready for prime time. But this application is positively barren compared to its Windows predecessor, and redefines "you get what you pay for."

FORMAT SUPPORT

Format support is, frankly, awful in Windows Live Movie Maker. While the usual suspects for images and audio are accounted for, video is essentially a crapshoot. Let's use an example.

Windows Live Movie Maker beta trim screen

You may notice three pieces of video in the "bin," which is actually just your edit sequence. Windows Live Movie Maker doesn't use a project bin, it simply uses whatever you import, in the order you import it. I guess the developers expect you to use Windows Live Photo Gallery as the bin.

In this sequence, the three pieces of video are as follows: An HDV capture through Windows Live, a DV AVI file captured through Premiere Pro long, long ago, and an HDV capture through Premiere Pro CS4. One of these has a little red X-button in it, because one of these is not supported. Confusing? It's simple, really.

Microsoft, endeavoring to continue their stranglehold on standards, has pulled a Sony-caliber move and captured HDV into their proprietary DVR-MS format, the same format Windows Media Center uses. As a result, the 1080i MPEG-2 recording in our list is downsampled to a 480i standard aspect video that only Microsoft applications can use. Oh joy! Meanwhile, traditional HDV flat-out isn't supported.

Bottom line, your work will be mastered in 480i standard aspect, whether you like it or not.

IMPORTING FOOTAGE

In a move that can only be described as epically sillypants, there is no, I repeat no means of capturing video within Windows Live Movie Maker. I'll say that again that for those who will stare at me incredulously: Windows Live Movie Maker, on its own, cannot capture digital video.

No, to capture video in Windows Live Movie maker, you have to go to a very unlikely place: Windows Live Photo Gallery. From here you'll click "File" in the menu bar, then "Import from a camera or scanner." From there it takes you to a lovely wizard which, for what it's worth, did make my life a lot easier at the end of my tenure at my job on campus. The wizard gives you two options: Capture the video to the computer, or burn it directly to DVD. Nice.

Windows Live Movie Maker beta video capture

Unfortunately, Windows Live gives you an all-or-nothing approach: You either capture the whole frakking tape, or none of it. You can, of course, interrupt the capture and be left with a fragment of your tape in a fully working video file. The nice thing, at least, is that even though Windows Live won't edit high definition video, it'll at least import footage from an HDV camera before it downsamples it and makes you wonder why you spent all that money on a high definition camera to begin with.

I thought the "Show widescreen preview" option was cute, since imported footage is edited in standard, regardless of what it was shot in.

As for Windows Live Movie Maker itself, you can always just open files stored locally on your machine and they'll be added next in sequence.

EDITING

Editing is where I became really frustrated, in a roundabout way, with Windows Live Movie Maker. I'm frustrated because the ribbon menu system as seen in Office 2007 is actually a really smart idea for an editor this crudely simplified.

First off, you're not going to be doing L-cuts or any other kind of audio editing craziness with Windows Live Movie Maker. You can add music to individual clips, and there are the bare essentials for transitions and effects.

Windows Live Movie Maker beta effects

The effects and transitions work by highlighting a clip and then choosing one of each from the ribbon above, under the "Visual Effects" tab. That's it. If you hover over each one, they'll tell you exactly what it is. It isn't robust in the slightest, but it's very, very simple, and it's clearly designed with room to grow.

Windows Live Movie Maker beta edit tab

A journey to the "Edit" tab reveals some extremely basic options, such as adding a text box or trimming and muting the clip. For photos, it also allows you to set how long the photo is displayed.

Windows Live Movie Maker may be moronically simple, but it's also a really good starting point for people who have no idea how to edit. Its biggest crime is that it feels like a starting point for an actual application, as though it's missing shedloads of features that would be easy to seamlessly integrate, but no such full-featured application yet exists.

OUTPUT

As far as outputting video goes, Windows Live Movie Maker is still punishingly spare.

Windows Live Movie Maker beta output

The output button on the ribbon gives you just two options: DVD quality and portable media, that latter of which is code for "Zune" quality. These both output just to files.

Windows Live Movie Maker beta publish options

The publish button is even more desolate, offering just the option to upload to a Microsoft service or maybe download a plug-in for publishing elsewhere. In fairness, a plug-in does exist to upload directly to YouTube, along with plug-ins for other sites like Facebook, so at least here, like everywhere in this program, there's room to grow.<-->

CONCLUSION

Half-baked doesn’t even really describe Windows Live Movie Maker, or at least this beta that Microsoft is happily making available to you. There are kernels of some really fantastic ideas here, and the ribbon interface lends itself exceptionally well to these tasks. I like the simplicity of the software, which the other entrants in this series could stand to learn from.

That said, it’s not robust in the slightest. Windows Live Movie Maker is stone cold missing even basic pieces. The effects are nothing but color tints and shifts, not even a generic “old film” filter is present like it is in virtually everywhere other video editor. I hold out hope that the software will grow to include a lot more features since there’s an excellent framework present, and that maybe Microsoft will realize how asinine it is to have the video capture exist in a completely separate program.

Windows Live Movie Maker feels like it’s being developed and coded by just one exceptional young programmer, but it needs some feature polish. Microsoft, if you want someone who can tell you how to push this thing forward, you know how to get in touch with me. Until then, good luck and godspeed.

PROS

  • It’s free.
  • Exceptionally clean and intuitive interface.

CONS

  • Not good for editing audio.
  • Missing even basic video effects and transitions.
  • Video capture option is in a completely different application.
  • Dismal format support.


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