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Edit Review: Sony Vegas Pro 8

In a Sony Vegas Pro 8 multicam track, clicking the mouse or keyboard switches between clips. In the upper left corner of the screen is the new ProType titler, offering complete keyframe control over text animation and effects.

Sony Creative Software has been fairly aggressive in developing its line of media products, updating its Acid music-composition software while introducing new packages such as Cinescore. This time around, the SD/HD video-editing program Vegas Pro gets an update with an impressive array of forward-thinking features and helpful additions that are sure to please current fans and bound to make some fence sitters take the jump.

While other editing programs are working to refine their interfaces, Vegas basically sports the same look and feel it has had for years. It also demands a big monitor — I mean a really big monitor — because the interface is a mashup of lots and lots of large windows. Screen real estate is definitely used. I used a single 1920×1200 24in. screen, and even on this, I was dragging stuff around. Luckily, you can pull the windows apart and separate everything, so you can easily drag some stuff to a second monitor for more breathing room.

Vegas does a lot of realtime stuff, but because that term is overused, I’ll invent a new one: no render bar (NRB). If you are used to using a program such as Adobe Premiere Pro, you are probably used to capturing HD but not seeing the video on your computer screen (just on the external video monitor or camcorder). You may also be used to being able to drag all different kinds of clips — MPEG, QuickTime, etc. — to your Premiere timeline, but you’ll often see the red render bar and playback will be choppy. Not so with Vegas; when capturing, you’ll see (and hear) your video as it’s grabbed. Drag in clips, and they typically play back completely normal. I have a regular client for one of my shows that sends large, 30-second QuickTime clips. In Premiere, these clips need to be rendered for smooth playback; in Vegas Pro 8, they play back as smoothly as bringing in native HD. Same goes for effects. Rendering of transitions and effects scales with your processor, so even a basic current machine will play back without rendering. I tested on an Intel Pentium dual-processor Extreme Edition, 3.2GHz with 3GB of RAM, and everything played back smoothly and rendered speedily.

This is probably the largest asset of Vegas. It lets you experiment and play around and not have to stop and think if it’s “worth rendering.” Sony has included a new feature in this version to make workflow even speedier: The program no longer performs recompress rendering for long-GOP formats (such as XDCAM and HDV). For example, say you had a 20-minute program with a single effect. When you render it out, the program only renders the effect. The remaining video is passed through unmodified and unrendered. This saves generational loss and greatly speeds up export of cuts-only projects.

Also new is the ability to process video via 32-bit floating point. Many editing programs perform in 10-bit, which admittedly works fine for most projects; however, it can be limiting if you do a lot of compositing and graphics. A lower bit level can cause gradient banding in some onscreen objects; 32-bit allows smoother color gradients and transitions, and it comes in handy if you plan on a lot of color tweaking and processing. I tested in HD, both graphics and video, and I didn’t see any banding — perhaps because of the increased resolution.

Multicamera editing has been a highly requested feature and one that Vegas has lagged on until now. Vegas Pro 8 offers full multicam editing with up to 32 video sources. You play the timeline and click the mouse to switch — very easy and intuitive. However, it took me a while to get it rolling because there are several steps to setting up a multicam track, and the built-in help does a cryptic job of explaining it. I had to jump onto the Sony forum online and get some answers, but now I can do it easily. Once I figured out the process, it was easy — pretty much like a broadcast switcher.

Speaking of help, the program now sports interactive tutorials built into the program — the animated kind that pop up an arrow around the interface and ask you to “click here” to perform the tasks in order. There are about 35 of these, and they are amazingly handy for new users getting up to speed. The program has grown in the past eight revisions; it’s now dense with features, windows, and options, so it’s great to see some basic tutorial guidance included.

Some of the aforementioned forward-thinking new items include support for Sony AVCHD format import, edit, and export, as well as burning Blu-ray Discs directly from the Vegas timeline. AVCHD support is critical for Sony to give this format a long shelf life, so being able to drag HD footage from a memory stick right into Vegas is handy indeed. With other editing programs, there is either no support at all (as of press time, Adobe Premiere Pro has no direct AVCHD options in the CS3 release) or uninspired workarounds.

For example, Apple Final Cut Pro 6 offers AVCHD support, but not natively — it must be transcoded to an intermediate upon import, creating a file way larger than the initial clip. Oh, and that only works on a Mac Pro, by the way. So for AVCHD editing, Vegas is the place to be for now.

Blu-ray burning from the timeline is a handy feature if you need to output an HD movie to a client, although Vegas Pro 8 provides no options for menus or titles. It does include a program called DVD Architect (it’s at version 4.5 and is not updated for this package), which does a great job of creating DVDs (and supports DVD-R DL), but hi-def mastering with menus will have to wait until the next version. Sony’s Blu-ray-compatible Playstation 3 and Vegas Pro will no doubt intersect at some point.

Other new features include a brand-new ProType Titler for creating animated titles, lower thirds, and credits. You have full keyframe spline-path control over movement, rotation, and zooms as well as shadows, blurs, and gradients. The first thing that hits you is how un-Vegas-like ProType Titler is, which is a good thing. It looks more like the sleek lines of Adobe After Effects CS3 than the Microsoft Office boxiness of the Vegas interface. I really hope that this is a future template for a redesigned Vegas interface, with its shaded semitransparent menus and subtle shades of gray finally taking it out of the ’90s. Other new features include a redesigned audio mixing/routing console, which provides amazing amounts of control over audible flow; a full-screen timeline preview for laptops or those with a second monitor; FAM-mode support for XDCAM workflow; Windows Vista certification; and digital signage support, which allows you to rotate your Vegas editing window and clips in case you are editing in 9:16 portrait mode (90-degree rotated widescreen) for playback at tradeshows or in window displays.

I tend to edit shows that include a lot of graphics, supers, and overlays, and in this respect, Vegas allowed me to stack up and not suffer by having to render. It played realtime without a hiccup. All this is in HD, too.

Also, the realtime HD capture (viewable on the computer screen with audio) is a plus when I am editing a commercial for a client in HD. Even though the production is short, it often involves hours of footage that need to be captured and logged, and being able to do that right from within Vegas is a nice bonus.

I edit several podcast shows weekly in HD with HD animations overlaid and text fading in and sponsors logos, etc. I always create an HD master even though I render out to lower resolutions for devices such as Apple TV and iPods. In other editing programs, the HD layering is where things always tend to slow down (SD editing in any current program is usually fine these days). So using these other editors, I just thought my projects were getting more complex with higher resolutions and were not playing as “realtime” as I would like. But revisiting Vegas over the past few weeks has proven that there are programs that are expertly written to allow multiple layers of effects without the need for third-party plugs-ins or dedicated video boards.

If you are curious about Vegas, I would definitely download the trial version from the Sony Creative Software website. With this version’s new features — such as multicam, 32-bit processing, no recompressing for long-GOP, and a spankin’ new titler — you can really do some pro work with it. I would like to see the interface redesigned and able to work better on smaller screens such as laptops, because that is where Vegas shines most brightly. It harnesses the power of your CPU for realtime (I mean NRB) work, and it does not hog that power.

Vegas remains a spry application that is fast and fairly easy to master. I tend to hop around to various editing applications on Mac and PC, the biggies we all know and use, and each has its strengths. Vegas Pro 8 nails it with speed and less rendering, as well as low overhead. It’s a solid addition to any producer’s software shelf.


Company: Sony

Product: Vegas Pro 8

Assets: Fast, realtime workflow, multicam, 32-bit processing, no recompressing for long-GOP, brand-new titler.

Caveats: Interface looks as if it’s from the ‘90s, screen real estate is monopolized, built-in help can be cryptic.

Demographic: Any video producer looking for speed, less rendering, and low overhead.