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Lights, computer, action!

The Mac has two well-deserved reputations: ease of use and a haven for artist types.

Dabblers in home video take note. Today's Mac takes its professional video editing legacy and allows the average person to create decent quality DVDs and videotapes.

Half of this equation is iMovie 2, an application bundled with new Macs and available for $49 for older machines. IDVD 2 is the other half. You need both programs because preparation of video segments is performed with iMovie, while your finished work is saved on a recordable DVD disc using iDVD.

The iDVD software is either $20 or free with new Macs that include a SuperDrive. (This new type of Apple SuperDrive can burn both DVDs and CDs, borrowing only its name from the SuperDrive floppy disk drive that was in the original 1980s Macintosh line.)

Being a jump-into-the-fray kind of guy, all this took me a short time to figure out. I plugged my 2-year-old Sony TVR-120 Digital 8 camera into the Mac's built-in FireWire port and iMovie automatically slipped into acquisition mode. Once in this special mode, the camera is controlled by iMovie. Clicking the big, friendly Import button started the transfer process.

If you have a fairly recent video camera, importing into iMovie is painless and brainless. In fact, if you don't care about producing DVDs, iMovie does a handsome job of writing video back to tape complete with captions, titles, sound effects, fades and other effects.

IMovie senses when you stopped and started recording with the camera and stores each scene as its own movie clip. So you don't have to hunt breaks in the action and manually split up the footage.

It would have been nice to have iMovie and iDVD completely integrated. I had to bring the video into iMovie, edit it, export it for iDVD and import it into iDVD. The iMovie software doesn't remember my last export setting and defaults each time to "export to camera." Every time I exported a clip I had to reselect iDVD as the destination. It's a minor gripe and not quite up to Apple's usual user experience.

IMovie makes cleaning up video a breeze, though. Once the footage has been imported and, say, there's a section you want to trim, all you do is highlight the offending bit and hit the delete button. It's good-bye ugly in-laws.

If you plan to get into this hobby, let's hope you've got tons of disk space. Video is a disk hog. I used up 30 gigabytes of a 60GB disk by the end of my editing session and I was playing with only about 45 minutes of video. Serious videographers may consider an external FireWire disk drive for video editing to avoid running out of space on the internal hard drive. Less serious types or those who are cheap might want to get a really big hard disk to start with and regularly clean up unused files.

Like on a professionally produced DVD, iDVD uses a folder and file metaphor. So you can split your vacation or party action into scenes and store them all together. Each folder can contain a maximum of six video clips, regardless of duration.

The program comes with 14 home-oriented themes such as new baby, sports and travel. These provide features such as backdrops and music. Tweakers and twiddlers can create and save their own themes. A preview mode allows you to figure out what the DVD will look like before you get into the habit of creating expensive drink coasters.

And when you're done, it's burn, baby, burn.

If you've seen the cute Apple ad with the new father, his new baby and the iBook on TV, notice that he's not burning a DVD right there in the hospital. If he did the kid might be walking by the time he was done.

IDVD claimed it would need about 55 minutes to render 30 minutes of video to DVD. It actually took closer to 35 minutes, so the countdown timer is a bit off. Either way, make some coffee or go for a walk while it's rendering; you can't do much else with your Mac in the meantime.

This harkens back to the early days of single-speed CD-ROMs. Today, we think nothing of writing an hour of music in a few minutes because the drive is recording many times faster than the CD-ROM plays. DVD drives still are new but they'll catch up.

IDVD and iMovie are a powerful video editing combination for the home user. I'm sure video professionals scoff at the tools in the same way serious Sunday morning bikers don't wave to me in my scruffy T-shirt on my beach cruiser. But I think we both know who's having more fun.

IDVD 2: Free with certain Mac configurations or $20 from Apple.

IMovie 2: Free with new Macs or $49 from Apple.

Test equipment: 933MHz PowerPC G4 ($2,299)

256MB SDRAM memory

60GB Ultra ATA drive