Microsoft's Movie Maker sequel previewed

Windows Movie Maker for Windows XP is getting a major overhaul that will make Microsoft Corp.'s bundled video-editing app easier to use, more powerful, and more compatible with popular video formats.

A free public beta of Windows Movie Maker 2 is now available for free download. Also posted as a free download is the first release candidate for Windows Media Player 9, unveiled in September.

The Movie Maker 2 beta arrives on the heels of Sony Corp.'s release of its competing Screenblast, which shipped earlier this week.

Broader Video Support

Windows Movie Maker 2 offers aspiring film auteurs many more options than its predecessors that were bundled into both Windows XP and Windows Me. For example, you can now choose from more than 130 video effects, titles, and transitions, compared to the handful in the previous versions. You can import your video clips from analog or digital video cameras or video capture cards. And in contrast to the previous versions, which let you play back your finished video only in Microsoft's .asf file format, you can now save them in .avi format to CDs, DVDs, or tape.

If you want to turn your video clips into a home movie without actually having to create it, an AutoMovie feature will analyze the clips and music you choose, and generate a three- to five-minute film.

Windows Movie Maker 2 works with Windows Media Video 9 (part of Media Player 9 series) to compress your source video into a format that Microsoft says is one-twentieth the size of an .avi file. This lets you upload far more raw footage onto your hard drive, eliminating problems resulting from insufficient storage space for longer projects.

Microsoft says the new compressed format can easily be burned to CD, sent via e-mail to friends and relatives, or even transferred to a Pocket PC for playback.

Media Player Enhanced

The Media Player 9 Series release candidate has some changes from the beta released this fall. Added features include new High M.A.T. technology for CD burning, which Microsoft says will let you save music and videos to recordable CDs that can be played on future consumer electronics devices.

Also new in the Media Player 9 Series RC: Synchronized lyric support, so that you can add your own synchronized lyrics to music files for display on the Media Player. Microsoft has also added Auto Playlist enhancements, which the company says will increase support for more types of criteria in generating or editing Auto Playlists.

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