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Is Sony Vegas a Good Bet? New Features and Functionality in v.5

Vegas 5 is one of those software applications that squeezes every ounce of power out of a computer’s operating system. Vegas started out as a multitrack digital audio editing and mixing application and then gained video features as it evolved. When Sony Pictures Digital acquired Sonic Foundry-along with Sound Forge, Acid and DVD Architect-the flagship Vegas product came under the Sony banner. Development has continued and Vegas, now in version 5, has matured to a full featured, software-based nonlinear editing application. Vegas 5 continues with developments started under Sonic Foundry, namely the ability to execute more complex, real-time functions than nearly any other comparable software NLE. The software uses a less graphic-intensive user interface and relies heavily on the built-in Windows architecture to achieve this functionality.

I’ve had a chance to experience the power of Vegas firsthand over the years. My son runs Vegas as audio recording software on his HP xw4100 workstation. Vegas will interface with various audio I/O modules, such as the Aardvark Direct Pro Q10, using ASIO or Windows Classic drivers. Multiple tracks and numerous real-time plug-ins run without a hiccup. Pound-for-pound, this becomes a viable alternative to a Pro Tools, Nuendo or Logic system. For this review, I loaded Vegas 5 on my Compaq Presario notebook, a standard model with average specs. As with most notebooks, the hard drive speed is slower than recommended, but performance still seemed quite good.

Installation and the Interface

When you install Vegas 5, you must also install the Windows .NET Framework software, which is included with the Vegas 5 CD. Both installations are simple and don’t seem to affect any other software on the computer. If you are working strictly in the DV world, then you are done after the software installation. If you are adding other hardware (we added the Aardvark card), there may be a little more to it, though usually nothing that the typical computer-savvy person can’t handle. I was then ready to plug my DVCAM deck into the computer’s built-in 1394 (FireWire or i.LINK) port and start capturing footage.

If you are used to the look and feel of Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Xpress Pro or Apple Final Cut Pro, then the Vegas 5 UI may leave you a bit clueless at first; the interface is really styled after audio workstation software and not the so-called “industry standard” layout. The interface uses a series of dockable windows, generally dividing your monitor into four sections. The upper left quadrant contains the track list and bus controls. These are the basic controls for audio and video tracks and work much like the channel strip controls on an audio console. To the right is the track view (timeline), which displays video tracks with reference picture frames and audio tracks with waveforms. Below these two main windows are transport controls, including a slider for analog-style timeline scrubbing. The lower half of the screen contains a series of tabbed windows that can be opened and expanded as needed. Here you’ll find viewers for media, bins, videoscopes, effects, transitions, the trim window and mixer. The preview window, where you view the output of the edited program as well as in/out frames during trimming, is on the lower right of the interface. This layout may seem similar to Leitch’s Velocity interface, but it’s actually just an audio design approach to a video editing tool. It might be confusing at first to experienced video editors, but it is often already familiar to audio engineers moving into video and other video professionals who aren’t full-time editors.

Editing with Vegas 5

At the start, Vegas 5 feels pretty comfortable. The process for starting a new project and capturing footage is similar to that of most other NLEs. A DV deck is recognized by the software when it’s plugged into the 1394 port, and you can capture individual clips or log a series of clips and then batch capture. Once back in the Vegas 5 editing mode, you will see the captured clips inside the Media Pool. This is Vegas’ method of organizing bins and clips; it doesn’t necessarily correspond to specific folders on your hard drive. You can specify the capture location in your preferences, but Vegas gives two windows for media: one for just these clips and a second Explorer window that locates any other files on your hard drives. Since the system may reside on a standard IT network, there is no reason that your media couldn’t be on shared, networked drives, assuming that your network connection speed is fast enough.

When you make the first edit, you’ll notice that none of the familiar editing commands-such as overwrite, insert, splice-in or replace-are used. You edit directly to the timeline, which can be achieved by dragging and dropping a clip to the timeline or by double-clicking a clip. You can also set your preferences so that double-clicking a clip sends it to the Trimmer first. Here you set in and out marks and either add the media to the timeline or sub-clip your media into smaller chunks. Media is added to a track relative to the cursor location. Once it’s on a track, you can grab a clip and move it or trim it. Sliding one clip to overlap another creates an automatic dissolve, if that function is enabled. As with many NLEs, clips that were captured with combined audio and video stay locked together on the timeline by default. To trim audio and video tracks separately for “L-cut” dialogue edits, you will first have to ungroup the picture and sound on these clips. The editing commands are contextual, meaning that various options appear depending on the location of your mouse over different areas in a clip or track. For instance, getting close to the edge of a clip on a track lets you trim the in or out point, but if the mouse pointer is close to the corner of the clip, then you can control a fade in or out of that clip. Hover on the upper edge of the clip and you get an opacity “envelope” that can be slid up or down to change the transparency of that clip.

Compositing and Effects

Adding video effects is one of the most powerful features of Vegas 5. The simplest method is to drag-and-drop transitions and video effects from the folder to the clip or cut on the timeline track. Each effect features a small demo pane that shows the typical results of that effect. In addition, each clip features individual controls for clip effects and clip-based cropping or pan-and-scan moves. Multiple filters can be applied in a series using an audio-style “plug-in chain.” The order can be rearranged and individual filters may be modified or deleted. Vegas 5 ships with an abundance of plug-ins for primary and secondary color correction and artistic effects, including Magic Bullet for Editors (see page 34), which includes Looks to emulate film processes and treatments.

To build DVE moves that are more complex than the clip-based pan-and-scan functions, Vegas includes a complete 3D DVE engine-one of the most sophisticated I’ve seen in this level of NLE. You can work in 3D space and actually pass one clip through another. This functionality is achieved by using a complex parent/child model, which is far more complex than the interface really supports. Yes, you can do it and the results look good, but this process usually works better when an “effects tree” interface is used.

Far more fascinating is the application of automation controls to video. You often see these in software mixers that mimic a “moving faders” automated console. Vegas 5 gives you similar automation control in the video tracks to change opacity and fade-to-color functions. Keyframes may also be added to re-time a clip’s speed (the Velocity function). For instance, making your footage speed up, slow down, go in reverse and then return to normal is as easy as adding keyframe points and raising or lowering them to achieve the desired clip speed.

It is hard to argue with the performance Vegas 5 offers video professionals. The type of effects I just described all play out well in real-time preview on the system. It is easy to stack a bunch of complex effects and see how they will play out. Many of these, such as blurs and embossing, would choke other NLEs. You can even select the waveform and vectorscope displays and see them update in near real time as the video plays, something I haven’t seen other NLEs do.

High Definition

Vegas 5 can handle various SD and HD formats and sizes. I was able to drop Windows Media 9 HD clips into my DV timeline and work with them. If you add CineForm’s Connect HD plug-in, you can also capture HDV media over standard 1394 connections and edit high definition video on most upper-end PCs. Sony is also promoting the fact that its J-H3 HDCAM player can be used with Vegas 5, provided that the J-H3 is purchased with the optional i.LINK card. HDCAM footage is downconverted inside the deck to DV and transferred over 1394/i.LINK to the PC, where it may be offline edited using Vegas 5.

Areas for Improvement

I liked Vegas 5 overall, but the editing workflow is a bit imprecise. Users have only a single timeline per project-the workaround for multiple sequences is to use “save as” and duplicate the project as a new version-but multiple instances of Vegas 5 can be opened simultaneously. Timeline export file options include only EDL and XML, which seems fairly simplistic. For instance, EDLs will support only sequences with single video tracks, but there is no option within the export dialog to specify which track of a multiple-track timeline is to be sent to the EDL. These deficiencies, in spite of the overall horsepower, relegate Vegas 5 to the prosumer category. I hope that will change in the next version because there is a lot to like about Vegas 5.