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I've worked with a diverse range of video editing programs, some that cost thousands of dollars, and some, like Microsoft's Windows Movie Maker 2, that are free. How does Movie Maker stack up?

Well, when comparing editors, I look at both usability and functionality. The first assesses how quickly and easily a new user can start to use the program effectively. In this regard, Movie Maker rates very high, since most users should be able to quickly get up to speed and start editing, especially (ahem) with a good book to help.

Movie Maker also does well at providing basic levels of functionality, with good capture, trimming, and clip organization features that let you capture video from your camcorder and arrange it into a cohesive movie.

If you're looking for slightly more advanced functionality than what Movie Maker offers, you should still be in luck. As shown in Table i.1, Microsoft and several other companies offer a range of products and tools, some free and some available at a nominal cost, to round out Movie Maker's capabilities. Each of these products and tools, plus the URLs for downloading the tools or getting more information, is discussed in some detail in this book (see the corresponding chapter listings in the table). Throw these into the mix, and you have quite a formidable product.

Table i.1. Movie Maker Tools and Enhancements
Windows Media PlayerFreeRip CD-Audio tracksChapter 7
Microsoft Plus! Analog Recorder$19.95[*]Digitize analog audioChapter 7
SmartSound Movie Maestro$49.95Create custom background music tracksChapter 12
Windows Movie Maker 2 Winter Fun PackFreeBackground music, transitions, effects, animationsChapters 10 and 11
Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition$19.95Effects, transitions, toolsChapters 7, 10, and 11 and Appendix B
Microsoft Creativity Fun PackFreeTitles, sound effects, music tracksChapters 12 and 13
Pixelan SoftFX, PiPFX, CoolFX Transitions$29Transitions, including picture-in-picture transitionsChapter 10
Pixelan Color/Tint/Contrast/Blur Effects$19Color correctionChapter 11
Pixelan Pan/Zoom Effects$19Pan and zoom effects for still imagesChapter 11
Microsoft PhotoStory 2$19.95[*]Animated slide showsAppendix B
Sonic Solutions MyDVD$49.99+DVD authoringAppendix A
Microsoft Windows File EditorFreeTrimming and adding markers, text, and URL scriptsAppendix C
Microsoft Windows Media EncoderFreeScreen capture and enhanced encoding capabilitiesAppendix C

[*] Component of $19.95 Plus! Digital Media Edition

Once you realize how many options you have to bolster Movie Maker's functionality, however, you will probably eventually ask yourself how much money you should invest to enhance a free product. It's a good question, and one that you'll ultimately have to answer yourself.

From my perspective, several enhancements, most notably Pixelan's Color/Tint/Contrast/Blur effects, add so much value that the dollars are well worth spending. Similarly, if your goal is to produce DVDs playable on living room DVD players, Sonic Solutions MyDVD is a relatively inexpensive, but highly capable, program.

That said, even with additional software from Microsoft or third parties, there are some creative options that Movie Maker simply cannot provide. For example, Movie Maker can't overlay a logo or watermark in videos—a very common effect—and its ability to mix multiple tracks of audio is very limited. So if you have your heart set on these effects, you'll have to purchase a completely different editor.

Overall, my approach in this book was to describe Movie Maker's native capabilities and identify other programs, when available, that complement and enhance its operation. I also try to be frank about letting you know when Movie Maker has reached its limits.

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