By Neil Bennett | on May 26, 2004
Price: 390 . 555
Company: Sony Pictures Digital
Pros: 3D motion-graphics system and curves-based editing system – plus top-class audio-editing toolset – makes Vegas 5 ideal for short-form combo editing and compositing.
Cons: Compositing tools severely restrict real-time performance. No GPU-driven effects. Lacks high-end colour and keying tools.
Vegas is the permanent underdog of the video-editing world. The NLE has a small but fanatical following in the US, but has probably slipped under the radar of most editors – although it’s a tool you’d know about if you always wanted to make music videos. It's available 'straight' or bundled with the DVD Architect 2.0 authoring package (reviewed here) as Vegas+DVD.
Against traditional editing packages such as Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and Liquid Edition, Vegas is an odd duck. Originally an audio-editing tool from Sonic Foundry, it saw its first NLE incarnation as Vegas Video 3.0, which added basic video-editing tools to the audio tools. By version 4.0 though, it was a single application for both video- and audio-editing – or a mixture of both.
Vegas 4.0 was like a combination of Premiere Pro and Audition (or Cool Edit Pro, as most people still remember it). Now, Vegas 5 attempts to add more of After Effects to the mix.
The problem with trying to combine editing and compositing into a single system is that unless you’re very careful about workflow, or are trying to build a twenty grand-plus finishing system for short-form media, you can end up with a tool like AIST’s MoviePack – which is a complete mess. Vegas manages it with a notable level of success, though with a few drawbacks too.
Vegas 5 introduces 3D compositing to the previously 2D-only NLE. This takes place through the Track Motion window, which was previously used for motion controls to create effects such as picture-in-picture. It still has this use, but change the Composite Mode from Source Alpha to 3D Source Alpha and you have a full 3D workspace to play with.
Back on track
As before, the Track Motion window shows a wireframe version of your scene – with the output result seen in the standard preview window. In 3D mode, multiple windows show the scene from multiple angles. At the centre of each scene in each window is a control globe to manipulate the scene in space.
This approach works very well, as it’s always clear where your clip is sitting in space, and keyframing is as easy as it was in previous versions. The only downsides are that it can be sometimes difficult to line PiP clips up with objects in clips behind them, and there’s no bézier control over the motion – as is the case with many compositing tools (and Pinnacle’s Edition). The ability to load and save motion presets has gone missing, though Sony says that it will be back in a future update.
The way Sony has combined the 3D workspace with the parent/child compositing system is impressive. Similar to Boris Red’s Containers, the system allows elements in 3D space to live together in the context of a 2D, layered timeline. For example, with this we were able to flex text around a parent-layered presenter – whose background has been keyed-out – and get the text to twist behind and in front of her.
As you’d expect, 3D compositing hits the real-time performance of Vegas hard. Vegas lacks the ability to utilize the host computer’s graphics card to boost 3D performance. Its 3D comp tools are a step beyond those of Premiere Pro, Liquid Edition or even Avid Xpress Pro – but it’s a lot more sluggish even at basic 3D effects.
Even so, working with 3D compositing in Vegas is perfectly acceptable if you’re working on short (less than 10 minute) media. The application already includes both RAM-preview and pre-rendering tools to speed up your workflow, and network rendering for when you’re done. Essentially, Vegas 5 is a very low-cost finishing system. It’s not real-time like true finishing systems, but it’s the best you’re going to get for under ten grand.
Users looking to combine compositing with their editing will also like the introduction of bézier curves for both masks and transition keyframes.
Bézier masks work naturally and identically to those in After Effects. Within transitions, the keyframes are hampered slightly by Vegas’s thumbnailed timeline layout – it can sometimes be hard to see them – but the results are worth it. Béziers transitions are created and manipulated using the envelope system as found throughout Vegas.
Both updates are mandatory if you want to avoid moving clips over to After Effects or Combustion for fine tuning, and most modern NLEs feature them – though Premiere Pro won’t graduate to bézier keyframes within transitions until the forthcoming version 1.5.
Vegas 5 sees the software’s I/O capabilities boosted. Flash (SWF) files can be imported and Vegas works well with HD footage and hardware such as Sony’s J-H3 HDCAM player (through a DV downconvert) and the DSR-DU1 and DSR-DR1000 disc recorders.
Flash files generally work fine within Vegas, but some have problems in the Trimmer, and trying to output them to MPEG-2 crashed Vegas.
Vegas’s output upgrades are DVD focused. MPEG-2 output (via MainConcept’s encoder) now features high-definition MPEG output – though this is currently irrelevant in the UK.
More useful is the subtitling system. Vegas already allows editors to mark and label areas of the timeline as Regions. Vegas 5 can output these labels as subtitles, though only to DVD Architect, the DVD authoring application only available as part of the Vegas+DVD bundle (and reviewed on the next page).
Vegas’s audio tools are without parallel – where else would you find a metronome in a video-editing application? Buses and plug-in chains instantly show the tool’s audio-suite background – but that workflow is one anyone serious about audio has to learn. Premiere users, for example, will have to learn this if they want to add Audition to their arsenal.
Vegas 5 adds live controls for what audio-heads will know as ‘automation’. This allows editors to make on-the-fly alterations to audio tracks, and have Vegas remember them. Automation is important to audio manipulation – unlike video, there is no current frame on-screen for you to work on.
Equally useful is support for ACID loops. Loops are great for the less musically competent editor (which, admittedly, includes your reviewer), as backing tracks can be built with ease. Basic loop support isn’t a patch on Apple’s Soundtrack, which keeps everything in key for you too, but it keeps Vegas as the top video-editor for audio.
Other audio enhancements include full 5.1 surround sound support, plus support for control surfaces and keyboard-driven pitch shifting. Vegas 5 adds a full customizable pane-driven interface and customizable keyboard shortcuts (not before time).
Vegas is a dark horse in the editing industry, and is likely to stay that way. Premiere Pro saved that application’s arse and no-one on Final Cut Pro or Avid Xpress Pro is coming back. Colour correction on those applications (manual and automated), text tools, and overall flexiblity, will allow them to keep their users. For short, effects- and audio-driven pieces, though, Vegas is an excellent tool – but is that niche enough to keep it going?