Movie Making Made Easy

Roxio easy media creator digital editing magrid
Unlike Peter Jackson and his colleagues, you'll probably never win an Academy Award -- let alone 11 of them in one night. But if you have a personal computer, a digital video camera and a considerable amount of patience, you can make or edit your own movies.

iMovie from Apple Computer is generally considered the easiest to use video editing program on the planet, but it only runs on the Macintosh. For some that might be reason enough to consider a Mac as their next personal computer, but if you are a Windows user, don't despair. There are some excellent movie-making tools for you too.

I just spent the better part of a day editing some video clips using Easy Media Creator 7: The Digital Media Suite: a newly released set of programs from Roxio. As its name implies, this is more than just a single program. Like Apple's $49 iLife software (that comes free on new Macs), Roxio's $79 a suite of applications can be used not only to edit videos but to transfer them from a PC to a DVD or CD or an Internet flick for all to see. It's also comes with a photo editor, a rudimentary audio editing program and a suite of sophisticated CD and DVD transfer applications.

Many PC users are already familiar with part of the suite: Roxio, for years, has been the leading supplier of software for copying and "burning" CDs. Indeed, those features are included as part of the suite along with the ability to "rip" music files from an audio CD to a PC and the ability to copy your PC data to DVDs that store nearly five gigabytes of information. But rather than stick with the basics, Roxio decided to expand the product to almost all aspects of creating, editing and consuming music and video. I say "almost" because, unlike Apple's iLife GarageBand application, it does not have software for creating your own music, though it does have a simple audio editing program that can be used to capture and edit digital audio.

One thing Media Creator does have is a well-integrated interface that makes it easy to discover its many features. The program is built around a "home page" that serves as a menu for all that it does.

Let's start with the basics. The program makes it easy to copy existing CDs including software and most audio CDs. The music industry has snuck in a few copy protected CDs but most can be freely backed up to recordable CDs that can be purchased for as little as 30 cents each in bulk. The program also lets you copy personal DVDs but virtually all commercial DVDs from Hollywood studios have copy protection built-in. Roxio has never attempted to bypass that protection. The one company that has -- 321 Studios -- was recently forced to remove that feature by court order after being sued by the studios.

Roxio's software not only lets you copy entire CDs and unprotected DVDs but create your own mix of music based on music files on your PC. For example, when you select "copy files to disk," you get a menu that includes common projects such as data disk, audio CD and MP3 disc along with another menu for "other tasks" like backup projects or advanced tasks such as creating a "bootable" CD that you can use to start your computer should there by a problem with your hard drive.

The suite's photo editing software, PhotoSuite 7, is aimed mostly at beginning to intermediate users who want to take a kind of paint by numbers approach to editing their digital photos. It has the tools that people use the most – red eye reduction, cropping, rotating and adding text, but not as many of advanced features that you'll get in the most sophisticated programs such as PaintShop Pro or PhotoShop. Still, it's an easy and effective way to enhance your photos. The program does have some nice touches including the ability to create greeting cards and calendars and enhance, correct or rename a group of photos at one time.

The richest part of the program is the video editing software which is based on VideoWave, software that Roxio inherited when it acquired MGI Software a couple of years ago. VideoWave has everything you need to capture, trim and edit video, add transitions, special effects and, eventually, create a final product. I used the software to capture video from my digital video camera which I then trimmed to create three products: a DVD that can be viewed on any DVD player, an enhanced video CD that can be viewed on most new (but not all) DVD players and a lower resolution video file that I uploaded to my web site.

Video editing is never a trivial task, but the program does make it easier than before by presenting you with both a timeline and story board view of your editing project as well as quick access to all your video, audio and still image "assets." You can insert animated text between scenes and substitute the audio on your tape with music or other files from your PC. You can also create an interesting video effect with still images and use the product's automatic scanning feature to separate your raw footage into discrete scenes for editing.

The suite also comes with the latest version of Napster -- the once outlaw music downloading service that Roxio purchased and repositioned as a credible competitor to Apple's iTunes.

The best way to get a feel for this product is to click on view some of the "how to" videos on Roxio's web page that give you a pretty good feeling for the way the program works.

With Easy Media Creator Suite you'll have all the tools you need to convert your PC into a complete media studio. Talent, however, is not included. You have to supply that yourself.

A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."

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By Larry Magid