iLife '04

$49. Academic pricing available.

The iLife suite of applications is one of the best reasons I can think of for owning a “modern” (OS X-capable) Mac. iPhoto 4, iTunes 4.2 (a free update to iTunes 4.5 is available online) iMovie 4, iDVD 4 and GarageBand allow regular people to do amazing things with photos, music and movies. Best of all, the iLife applications make it possible, and even easy, to share your creative stuff with others.

Almost everyone either takes photos or gets them from friends and family via email. iPhoto lets you import and organize your photos, scans and other images, keep them all together in one place, and share them through email, slideshows for iMovie and iDVD, books, prints, and even on .Mac web pages.

The first best thing about iPhoto is how easy it is to import photos. Plug in your digital camera’s USB cable or a card reader and iPhoto automatically opens. Then click Import. If there are pictures from an earlier import on your digital media card, iPhoto 4 now asks if you want to import them (earlier versions of iPhoto could only import a card’s entire contents). That’s all there is to it. Veterans of complicated imports using camera-supplied software will welcome iPhoto’s simplicity. However, it would be nice to be able to import only selected shots, as is possible with some camera software.

The next best thing is how fast iPhoto 4 moves. Now you can scroll speedily through your photo collection, even if it numbers in the tens of thousands. Resizing, editing and deleting images, switching between albums and modes; it’s all much faster. Users of slower Macs will especially appreciate the speed-up.

To help with searching and organizing, iPhoto 4 adds star ratings and Smart Albums, making it easier to find just the pictures you’re looking for. You can now assign star ratings to photos along with titles, comments and keywords, then create Smart albums of, say, all photos with the keyword “birthday” or with a rating of four stars or higher. New photos with the same keywords or ratings are automatically added to the Smart Albums. It’s still not possible to create albums within albums, a feature request I often hear. I hope that capability will be added in a future version.

The last best new iPhoto 4 features are for enhancing your slideshows. There are new transitions to jazz up your presentations, including the cool rotating cube from Keynote. And you’re no longer limited to a single song - now you can use a whole playlist from iTunes, or even music you compose in GarageBand. Finally, it’s now possible to share your photos with everyone on the same network via Rendezvous.

iTunes manages your music the way iPhoto manages your photos. It’s the one iLife component that is still free; iTunes 4.5, an upgrade that came out after iLife ’04 was issued, can be downloaded from the Apple website.

iTunes lets you organize and listen to your music the way you want. To add music, copy the CDs you own into iTunes (yes, it’s legal) or purchase tunes online from the iTunes Music Store. iTunes 4.5 allows you to listen to the music and audiobooks you purchase through the iTunes Music Store (accessible only through iTunes) on up to five computers, up from the previous limit of three. You can also purchase audiobooks online from Audible

For the CDs you “rip,” or add, to iTunes the program automatically connects to the internet to retrieve song title, performer, composer, album and genre information from the CDDB online database. The iTunes Music Store supplies its own data along with each download. You can add or change the data if you wish, as well as rate each song with one to five stars. iTunes 4.5 retrieves and displays the album or book cover artwork if available, which can be printed for a CD jewel case insert. iTunes lets you listen to your music or audiobooks at your Mac, transfer songs or Playlists to an iPod or other MP3 player for listening on the go, and create CDs in audio format for listening on your home or portable CD player or in your car.

To customize your listening experience you can arrange your songs into Playlists, which can be ordered any way you choose. The same song can be added to multiple Playlists if you wish. iTunes 4.5 lets you create Smart Playlists to play songs based on a wide range of criteria including artist, composer, your star ratings, genre and year or range of years. It’s easy to make a Smart Playlist that plays random songs from, say, the years you were in high school. If you have the urge to share your Playlists, you can play them over a local network or publish them to the iTunes Music Store to let others enjoy your musical taste.

Another iTunes 4.5 addition, Party Shuffle, is a Smart Playlist that plays continuously from a Playlist or from all of iTunes. The latter is not recommended if your collection includes audiobooks, unless you don’t mind shifting abruptly from the tunes of the Grateful Dead to the short stories of Earnest Hemingway.

iTunes integrates with the other iLife applications so you can add soundtracks to iMovie, iDVD and iPhoto slideshows. It also stores your GarageBand compositions. Note that iTunes is optimized for music and is not yet ideal for managing audiobooks. There’s still no way to mark your place, or to skip from chapter to chapter. This becomes an issue when you’re navigating through an audiobook that might be ten hours or more in length.

iMovie is a video editing application that lets you create movies from digital video, still photos and even analog video if you have an adapter.
To bring video from a Firewire-equipped camcorder into iMovie simply switch the camcorder to VCR mode, connect it to your Mac with a Firewire (IEEE 1394) cable, launch iMovie, rewind or fast-forward to find the clip you want, and import it into your project. iMovie 4 also lets you capture a live audio and video stream from an iSight camera.

If you don’t have a camcorder you can create iMovies from still photos. You can also incorporate still photos with your video clips. iMovie displays the contents of your iPhoto albums, so finding the photos you want is a no-brainer. The “Ken Burns effect” pans and zooms photos to create a sense of motion; this can be individually adjusted or disabled for each photo.

Once you’ve done your importing, the Timeline is where you assemble and edit your clips and photos, add a soundtrack, and apply special effects and transitions. iMovie 4 makes editing easier by allowing you to apply transitions and effects to multiple clips at the same time, even if they’re not next to one another.

iMovie 4 now uses nondestructive editing, which means that the parts of a video clip you don’t want to use are hidden rather than moved to the Trash. If you later decide to use those parts, they can be revealed on the Timeline.

When you’re done, you can export your final product to iDVD, to videotape, to QuickTime format for web, CD or email distribution, or to your camcorder to play it back on a TV without a VCR or DVD player. You can publish your movie on your .Mac homepage, or create a Bluetooth version to beam to a cell phone or PDA. How cool is that?

iDVD is where all your iLife projects come together. The application lets you turn your movies, photos and music into professional-looking DVDs to share with your family and friends. No computer is needed to view your efforts; just a consumer DVD player.

It’s breathtakingly easy to choose a theme and pull together content in iDVD 4. Clicking on the Customize button at the bottom of the iDVD window opens a side drawer with buttons for Themes, Settings, Media, and Status. iDVD 4 ships with twenty new themes; you can also purchase additional themes and use ones from earlier versions of iDVD. Choose a theme, then click the Media button to browse and drag photos or entire albums from your iPhoto Library, music from your iTunes Library and Smart Lists (sortable by title, artist and time to help you choose a song that’s the right length) and movies from your Movies folder. Customize the fonts, colors, text and button size and location of the Theme menus in the Settings window. Finally, monitor how much DVD capacity you have left in the Status window - you can now burn a DVD up to two hours long.

Designing your menu navigation system requires planning, especially if it involves sub-menus. The new Map button helps by displaying a chart of your menus, movies, slide shows and folders.

GarageBand, the new addition to the iLife suite, is for creating and recording your own music, and it’s been taking the music world by storm. GarageBand is a virtual sound studio that lets you play over 50 different synthesized instruments using the onscreen keyboard or a MIDI keyboard, record your own performances by plugging a USB or MIDI-equipped keyboard, guitar or microphone into your Mac, and lay down background tracks from more than 1000 prerecorded loops.

Like iMovie, GarageBand uses a Timeline with rows of tracks. Use the Browse button to search loops by genres, instruments and moods to find the sounds you want, then drag and drop into the timeline. Each MIDI instrument, real instrument or loop line that you add occupies an individual track with its own mixer controls. Tracks can be transposed to different keys, and individual notes can be edited and adjusted for loudness. In fact, there’s a dizzying array of effects that can be added to each track. The number of tracks you can work with depends on your Mac’s horsepower - the program is very demanding.

You can create compositions without touching an instrument by combining and manipulating loops. But you’ll have much more control - and fun - if you add a microphone, an adapter for your guitar or a USB MIDI keyboard like the $99 M-Audio Keystation 4. Finished recordings can be exported to iTunes so you can add them to iLife projects, burn them to CDs or listen on your Mac or iPod.
GarageBand is so capable, an overview barely scratches the surface. It’s a remarkable addition to the iLife suite.

At $49, and free with new Macs, it’s hard to imagine a better bargain than iLife ’04, or a more rewarding collection of applications.

– Elsa Travisano.
iLife '04
System Requirements: PowerPC G3, G4 or G5 processor, 600MHz or faster required for GarageBand, G4 or faster required for garageBand software instruments, 733MHz G4 or faster required for iDVD, 256MB of physical RAM, display with at least 1024-by-768 pixel resolution, Mac OS X v.10.2.6 or later (v.10.2.8 or later recommended), QuickTime 6.4 or later (QuickTime 6.5 included), DVD drive required to install GarageBand and iDVD, 4.3GB of disk space required to install GarageBand, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD; or 250MB to install iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie only.
Copyright ©2004 byElsa Travisano. This review appeared in the June 2004 issue of Newsbreak, the newsletter of MUG ONE - Macintosh User Group of Oneonta, NY.