Avoiding Lengthy IMovie Letterboxing

Reader Hans Matthews' patience with iMovie has just about evaporated. He writes:

Whenever I import movies from my Panasonic HD camcorder into iMovie HD and then try to edit a clip, iMovie tells me it needs to letterbox the clip. This process can take hours. Is there some way to avoid this long wait?

You have a couple of options. The first is to ensure that you're importing your video correctly. Given that you're likely using that camcorder's HD capabilities, the video you're importing is in a widescreen (16:9) aspect ratio. If the project you've created is in a standard (4:3) ratio, iMovie will letterbox it so all the video appears in the clip (with a black bar above and below the video) rather than fitting the video to the clip by cutting off its right and left edges. So, when you create a new project choose either DV Widescreen or one of the HD formats from the Video Format pop-up menu in the Create Project window.

Ah, but suppose you want your movie output in a 4:3 aspect ratio because you'll eventually watch it on an older TV but don't want it letterboxed. Open iMovie's Preferences, click the Import tab, and disable the Automatic DV Pillarboxing & Letterboxing option. This will discourage iMovie from letterboxing your video. You'll lose some of your video--those left and right edges--but iMovie shouldn't force the tedious letterboxing process on your movie.

The day may come when you move to iMovie '08. That version of iMovie makes the Aspect Ratio option even easier. When you choose New Project, down pops a sheet that includes a clearly marked Aspect Ratio pop-up menu with just three options: Standard (4:3), iPhone (3:2), and Widescreen (16:9). The last is the option you want.

Unlike iMovie HD, iMovie '08 lets you change aspect ratios after you've started work on a project. Just choose File -> Project Properties and in the sheet that appears, change the setting in the Aspect Ratio pop-up menu.

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