The latest version of Vegas offers plenty of professional features at a competitive price. So can you expect compromises in performance, or is Vegas Pro a spectacular deal?
When the chance came to review Sony Vegas Pro 10, I jumped at it. Sony Vegas has always had a reputation for being a little bit 'different' to the mainstream video‑editing products, and I was keen to find out why.
Sony Vegas Pro is the professional version of Sony's consumer software package, Vegas Movie Studio. As such it has a whole raft of professional features, including support for XDCAM and Red One media, the ability to interface with the Aja Xena series of video-capture hardware, 5.1 surround sound mixing and so on. At $599£581 including VAT, it's relatively affordable as full‑featured software goes, being significantly less expensive than Adobe's Premiere Pro CS5, and much less expensive than Avid's Media Composer 5. Included in the package is DVD Architect 5.2 for burning video to optical media, but if you want to add the companion Production Assistant 2 (see the 'Production Assistant 2' box), you'll need to shell out a further £124.
In writing recent reviews of Avid's Media Composer 5 (See SOS Video Media September 2010) and Adobe's Premiere Pro CS5 (See SOS Video Media November 2010) it's apparent how similar these products, along with Apple's Final Cut Pro (FCP), are becoming. There seems to be something of a convergence of approach taking place. Does Sony Vegas 10 fit this trend as well?
On starting up the software, the answer seems to be 'partly'. Unlike FCP, Premiere or Avid, which are both very much studies in grey, the interface of Vegas Pro is alive with colour, populated with multi‑coloured icons which are much more pictorial in their design than the rather 'runic' approach taken by most other NLEs.
Compared with previous versions, however, the v10 interface does look more like those of its rivals. The Video Preview window now has transport controls beneath it, the audio meters have shuffled over to the far right, and the Trimmer (used for editing footage before placing it in the timeline) is now displayed as part of the interface by default.
There's a Project window much like that in many other NLEs, where you can organise the clips you're working with, and you can create Bins to separate them into different categories such as stills, interviews, music and the like. Bins can only be viewed in the Project Window — they can't be opened separately as they can in Premiere or FCP — and this means that you can't display the contents of more than one Bin simultaneously, which is a pity.
Unlike its rivals, the default layout of Vegas Pro doesn't have a conventional source viewer: if you double‑click a clip in the Project window, it loads straight to the timeline, rather than giving you a preview in a separate window. This was a bit shocking at first, as I'm used to clips loading into a Viewer or Source Monitor, from which I can select what I'm going to edit into my timeline.
The Vegas approach encourages you to you trim off or delete the unwanted material once you've put a clip in the timeline, leaving behind the shot you want. This is all very well if your clips are short and well organised, but it's an approach that falls down if you have long clips, or clips which contain many useful shots.
Fortunately (for me at least!), there's a program preference to change this. Clips will then load into the 'Trimmer', which functions much like other programs' Source Viewers. From there, clips can be marked up and either saved as Subclips back to the Project window until needed, or added to the timeline by dragging and dropping. It feels odd, though, to have to delve into Preferences to do something that seems the natural way to operate.
There are two fundamental kinds of timeline editing. Avid Media Composer is designed to let you build a timeline by selecting the clips you want and adding only the parts of them that you choose: the timeline is additive, if you will. Vegas builds the timeline the other way round, by asking that you put everything in and then remove the unwanted — it's subtractive editing. FCP and Premiere sit somewhere in the middle — they are designed to work equally well either way round, so users can choose their own method.
The Vegas Pro interface is quite reliant on drag‑and‑drop techniques for many aspects of editing in the timeline. Working in the professional arena, I come across many instances of hard‑working editors suffering from RSI (repetitive strain injury) induced by excessive mouse use, and there's a general feeling that doing as much manipulation via keyboard commands as possible is ultimately better for health when using software a great deal. Not only that, but a well‑designed keyboard interface is usually quicker to work with. While drag‑and‑drop is simple and intuitive, it's not really very 'Pro'.
That said, once you get digging Vegas Pro 10 is actually stuffed with professional features, so ultimately whether or not you enjoy the interface comes down to personal preference and method.
Both Windows Vista 64‑bit and Windows 7 64‑bit are both supported by the new version, as well as 32‑bit varieties of XP, Vista and 7. Vegas Pro 10 doesn't make such a song and dance about its 64‑bit support as Premiere Pro CS5 does, but you should expect to benefit from the increased amount of RAM available in HD projects. Of course, there's no Mac OS X version available — Vegas Pro is Windows only, so Mac fans like me are out of luck.
Vegas Pro 10 also makes use of Nvidia's CUDA-enabled graphics cards to speed up encoding of projects into Sony AVC format. It doesn't, however, use CUDA to provide the enhancement of timeline playback that we've seen in Premiere Pro CS5, which is a shame. Indeed, the lack of GPU acceleration in Vegas Pro places something of a limitation on the software generally.
>SOS readers will be glad to hear that there are plenty of nice audio features in Vegas Pro 10! The heritage of Vegas Pro is as an audio editing package, and v10 still has features that show these origins.
New in this release are input buses, which allow you to both loop your timeline out to external effects hardware, mix external audio sources into the timeline and monitor external audio sources such as talkback mics. This is something that's not usually so easy to do in an NLE.
You can add up to 26 input buses, which should be plenty for most people. Input buses are added directly to the Audio Mixing Console, and can be assigned to any available input to the PC. Similarly, their outputs can be assigned to the timeline Master bus (if it's to be used to add audio into the timeline) or directly to an output from the PC, if it's not.
It's all very well being able to loop out to an external effects processor, but to make that useful, you need to be able to capture the result. Vegas Pro 10 includes the ability to carry out a 'real time audio render', so that the audio in the timeline is sent out to the effects processor in real time, the result brought back into the system, and incorporated into the final mix.
Audio effects were already pretty well catered for beforehand, but Vegas Pro 10 has added the ability to apply them to individual events on the timeline. Conversely, one of the new features of Media Composer 5 was to allow audio effects to be applied to entire tracks rather than to individual clips, such is the difference in focus of the two.
Audio level monitoring has also been improved. Each track now has a mini level monitor in its header, making it easy to see at a glance what's going on, and there's a proper VU meter display per track in the Audio Mixing Console.
Other audio department tweaks include a dedicated pan fader in each track header in the timeline, and support for .bwf (broadcast wave format) metadata in recorded audio files. All very nice, and in keeping with Vegas' audio credentials. The only surprise is that input buses haven't been incorporated before now!
Here's the headline‑grabber! Vegas Pro 10 can edit stereoscopic 3D material. In this respect, it's right up there with Avid's Media Composer, which has had 3D editing capabilities for a little while now. It's good to see this capability in a much less expensive software package like this. Of course, the amount of 3D production being carried out at the moment is pretty small, so to some extent this is more window‑dressing than real mainstream capability, but the software does a competent job. We can expect to see the 3D production arena expanding in the years ahead.
The software can handle either separately shot video from two cameras, or 'combined stream' 3D video from cameras like the new Panasonic HDC SDT750. If shot separately, the left and right images must be combined into a single stereoscopic clip. This is done be first syncing the two up and then combining them via a new command, 'Pair as Stereoscopic 3D Subclip'.
The Project Properties allow you to choose between the different methods of viewing 3D, including anaglyphic mode (using coloured glasses), half‑res side‑by side mode and full‑res side‑by side, for example. Of course, you're going to need 3D monitoring to be able to see the results of some of 3D modes, but anaglyphic mode and a pair of coloured specs is reasonably successful.
There's a new 3D effect to allow you to tweak the registration of the two 3D images and adjust 3D depth. This is essential, because viewers find drastic changes in 3D environment from shot to shot disturbing. The Cineform Neo3D codec is also supported, although it's not included in the package. Neo 3D has established itself as a worthy 3D format, and Vegas Pro 10 can natively play back, edit and render projects to Neo 3D QuickTime or AVI.
Oddly, however, DVD Architect has not yet been upgraded to support the new Blu‑ray 3D format, so your HD project will have to be output in either anaglyphic mode or in side‑by‑side mode, either of which halves the effective resolution.
Closed captioning, or subtitling, has become an integral part of programme‑making in these days of multi‑language broadcasting. Closed captions are subtitles that you can choose to display, as opposed to open captions, which are subtitles that are 'burned into' the video and can't be switched off. Generally, closed‑captioning information is encoded on line 21 of the SD video frame, just before the beginning of the actual picture on line 23. Increasingly, there's a need for NLEs to be able to preserve any line 21 data through the capture/edit/export process, and Vegas Pro 10 has fallen into line with this.
The software can also import caption files from a variety of formats and marry them up to the timeline, and there's support for displaying the captions in the Preview window.
It's also possible to create captions directly in the timeline, although you'd be a bit of a masochist to do so, such is the complexity of this apparently simple task! Formatting of the caption text is by Caption Markup commands, similar in style to HTML tags. Since there's no nice interface to help with this, however, you have to hand‑code the commands into the dialogue box. For this reason I'd say it's better to use some external captioning software for the task.
Timelines with closed captions can be exported for Windows Media Player, QuickTime Player, YouTube and Real Media Player, as well as to DVD Architect, the bundled DVD Authoring package.
New HD video formats appear at a dizzying rate these days, which is keeping the NLE software writers on their toes. Vegas Pro 9 already offered support for various AVCHD‑based formats including DSLR media and Sony's own NXCAM.
Working with file‑based media of this sort can be a mixed blessing in some respects — for example, every clip has the same timecode, generally starting at 00:00:00:00, making logging on‑set a nonsense. Sony's NXCAM format has the ability to attach time‑of‑day timecode information to the AVCHD media, and Vegas Pro 10 can read and display this.
Improvements have been made to the handling of QuickTime‑based AVC media, such as that produced by DSLRs. This has been a particular beef with Vegas Pro 9, and will be welcomed by existing users. Regarding Project formats themselves, Vegas Pro 10 newly supports 720p/50 and 720p/60 formats for capturing, output to tape and rendering to AVI, which is a useful addition.
The big noise in the video side is of course the 3D editing, but some work has been done in the video effects department as well, although not to the extent that many users might have been hoping. Unfortunately the lack of 'keyframing' (the video equivalent of automation) for effects parameters is still a frustration in v10, and you cannot easily automate changes over time.
A solution could be on the way, however. Vegas Pro 10 introduces support for plug‑ins written to the specification of the Open Effects Association. An SDK is available, and Sony hope that the new capabilities this offers software developers will result in a new generation of video effects becoming available. The first fruits of this are seen in the 3D adjustment effect, with each parameter separately 'keyframable' and a choice of interpolation methods between keyframes. These are facilities that other NLEs have long taken for granted, and Vegas Pro needs to play catch‑up in this aspect, as the current system is not as simple to use as that in Premiere Pro, for example.
Also new in Vegas Pro 10 is an image stabiliser, which as its name implies, tries to remove the wobbles from handheld camera footage. Oddly, this isn't applied as an effect, but is instead a menu item, available when right‑clicking an event in the timeline. By comparison with other image stabilisers I've used it was quick to render, but don't get your hopes up too much. In my test clips the results were only a modest improvement in stability, even when set to maximum quality, so stable camerawork is still the best option.
Multi-camera editing is one of those features that is likely to appeal to SOS readers, since it's a good technique for the production of music videos. Once you've shot the performance using two or more cameras, you can sync them up and then edit 'live' on the timeline, switching back and forth as the sequence plays back as if you were mixing different cameras live.
Vegas Pro 10 has some useful improvements to its Multi-camera Editing mode, and after editing you can expand the single multicam track into multiple tracks again, in order to choose whether to keep the inactive angles in the timeline, or delete them altogether. This makes both exploring other possibilities and re‑editing the multi‑camera sequence much easier. Additionally, it's possible to view the output full‑frame on an external monitor, without needing to leave the Multi-camera Editing mode first, which is quite an improvement.
Other smaller improvements include: revisions to the Device Explorer that allow drag‑and‑drop importing of clips from memory card‑based cameras directly to the Trimmer or the timeline; revisions to the interface with the AJA Xena card to allow genlocking (clocking) of the system to an external reference; and improvements to the Print to Tape dialogue to allow users control over the location of pre‑rendered files.
The bundled DVD Architect Pro application has also been updated. Buyers of Vegas Pro 10 will get version 5.2 of DVD Architect Pro. Changes are not exactly extensive — there are a number of new Themes (with preset layouts for menus and the like), and the software has been revised to use the Microsoft IMAPI drivers for disc burning in place of Sony's drivers. This has been implemented to improve disc burning reliability, with more supported disc burners.
Otherwise, nothing else has changed. As mentioned previously, it would have made sense to have included support for the new 3D Blu-ray format, given the capabilities of the editing package, but this has not been done, so DVD Architect Pro remains much as before.
Sony Vegas Pro 10 continues to snap at the heels of its mainstream rivals even though it only pulls away from them in its 'home territory': audio editing. From a video point of view it splits editors down the middle, with fiercely loyal supporters and equally vehement critics.
Offering support for many of the current broadcast formats at this price point makes Sony Vegas Pro 10 a reasonable budget choice. However, performance is adequate rather than spectacular: though it's the lowest-priced, it's also the least powerful of the professional NLEs.
As an upgrade from the previous version, I'm left with the feeling that more could have been done to enhance key areas such as video effects and video playback performance. Hopefully these will receive a boost in the next release!
Still, for those who are used to the DAW environment and looking to learn video editing, Vegas Pro could present an easier and less expensive way to transfer ediitng and software skills than some of its fuller-featured rivals.
Full‑featured alternatives include Adobe's Premier Pro CS5, and the Production Premium bundle it is included with, both of which benefit from an accelerated timeline but are more expensive than Vegas Pro. Avid's Media Composer is a great piece of software, but will set you back a lot more money, while Grass Valley Edius 6 is closer in price terms.
Production Assistant Pro isn't a standard part of the Vegas Pro package, but it's worthy of mention here because it's a little gem that any owner of Vegas should consider purchasing. Production Assistant functions both as a stand‑alone piece of software and as an 'extension' to Vegas Pro, accessed from the View/Extensions menu.
As a stand‑alone program it can be used to set up and create Vegas projects from user‑defined templates, saving the user the hassle of defining format, file locations and so on. In a pressurised production environment, this sort of hand‑holding can be invaluable to avoid mistakes being made by staff under pressure (yes folks, I always did hate editing against a deadline!).
As an Extension within Vegas Pro, Production Assistant can perform useful tasks such as batch‑processing media, which is useful for fixing issues such as video aspect ratio, audio normalisation and channel assignment, where you have lots of files.
Importantly, it does these in the background while the editor gets on with the editing job itself. There's also a useful facility to automatically scan for memory cards, and upon discovering footage from card‑based cameras, copy it to the project's media folder without interrupting workflow. This is similar to the functionality of FCP's Log and Transfer tool and Avid's AMA, and gives Vegas Pro a real boost in the competition with its rivals.
- Relatively low cost.
- 3D editing now supported.
- Comprehensive audio editing and mixer.
- 64‑bit with good format support.
- Simplistic video editing for the price.
- Outdated video effects.
- Lack of in‑timeline acceleration.
Vegas Pro 10 for Windows provides a lower‑cost alternative to its main rivals, with some great audio functionality that can't be found in other NLEs. 3D, 64‑bit support and accelerated export are all welcome, but it would be nice to see CUDA acceleration in the timeline and keyframing in all effects, both of which would help Vegas Pro catch up with its rivals.
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