by Paul Mills

I originally started using the Vegas editing system when they had the current version 3 and it was still part of Sonic Foundry. The program was easy to use and seemed to be more logical than similar level programs available at that time. It was fairly obvious that the program had some way to go in terms of broadcast development, but the basics were all there and best of all, they made sense to a plebeian like myself. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who thought that the program had potential. Just after the release of Vegas version 4.0, Sony acquired the company and released the first version of the now famous Sony Vegas editing packages.

Development has gone on since these early days and after some obvious tweaking by the Sony Engineers, (with their years of broadcast experience), there has been a new updated version available practically every year. However the basic program was still very much, well, basic. While it was being received with much acclaim, it did have its functional issues. Version 6.0 was the first one to start actually delivering the goods in terms of professional usability. It could work with HDV and the processing engines devised by the Sony staff seemed to have the edge over their competitors. Version 7.0 really started to hum, and just when we were getting used to it, along comes the latest version, Sony Vegas 8.0 Pro. Almost a year to the day after Vegas 7.0. Fortunately, for loyal Vegas users, the upgrade is really affordable. (There is a reduced facility version for the domestic user which is identified as Sony Vegas Movie studio.)

Well, after spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone to FedEx (Not the fault of FedEx, merely my enthusiastic anticipation), the Vegas Package arrived, and like the city, it’s full of glittering surprises which make my heart go pitty pat. But it’s more than just window dressing!

There is no doubting Sony’s credentials when it comes to broadcast television. One only has to look back into television history to realize that they have been a primary driving force in broadcast television for many years.

Now there are a number of editing packages available. We have the Avid groupies who dismiss anything non-avid, likewise the Final Cut Pro group. (Of course we won’t go into the PC vs. Apple debate) As far as they are concerned, everything else is for the kiddies. Well, anyone who dismisses the new Sony Vegas 8.0 Pro as a domestic toy, had better take their powders and sit down, they’re in for a shock. (A pleasant one, although it’s not without it’s problems).

The basic operations have remained consistent throughout the range, so when the new one arrives it’s a case of picking up on the new stuff, knowing that the processes will be similar if not the same. The interface has remained similar since I have started using it, although the ability to be able to customize it to suit one’s own style is very pleasing. There are those who feel it should be “pimped”, but not me. The visual interface is a purely cosmetic thing, but I do like familiar. (I’m probably getting old). The interface is basically a tab driven affair, so you can select what you need to work with, and hide the other stuff. Coming from the old school, I am used to Waveform Monitors and Vector scopes, and the ability to display these, running in real time is a real bonus. (This facility has been available since Vegas 4.0) However if you select a lot of view options, the screen can get somewhat cluttered.

There is no doubt that the ability to work across two screens is an essential to anyone who is going to be spending any amount of time behind the edit desk. In Vegas the second screen can be toggle switched to produce a full screen image. These are some features which add value to the system. Another issue is the recently announced ability to interface with AJA SDI video cards. So the playing field has just been opened up significantly. Up to now, I have had a professional D-9 editing recorder with SDI sitting on the side, and anytime I needed to use material from this, I have had to do analogue transfers to the Vegas computer, but no more. (whoopee!)

The major differences are in processing and this package will please the higher end producer. The major change is the selectable ability to process video in 32-bit colour space. This takes Vegas into the big league when it comes to reproduction of colour and post-processing. The colour grading and compositing functions are significantly improved, and it shows. The rendering times using the 32 bit arena are significantly longer, but the results are exceptional.

Additionally the ability to work with multi-camera images on a single screen is a godsend. I have done a lot of multi-camera work with the previous versions and haven’t struggled, but the ability to have it displayed in a multi-monitor format just makes it all that much easier. The ability to work with HDV has been around for the last two versions, but Sony seems to have developed the process and the current version only does changes where necessary, as opposed to rendering the whole timeline as a single file. Minimizing re-compression can be a huge advantage, but having tested this with HDV on two separate systems (XP & Vista OS) I have found it somewhat lacking. There are glitches which appear around edit points (Similar to mis-matched match frame pick-ups) which would make this an impractical way of working in the professional domain.

The problem can be resolved if you instruct the system to deliberately re-sample the whole timeline which certainly does take longer, but it does look good. The system also arrived with significantly upgraded sound mixing facilities. For those of us who were raised in the Good Old Days (analogue desks & Faders), this is a refreshing return to something we can understand. Although I do like audio envelope manipulation, sometimes it’s the little things you do as the program audio is running which makes all the difference. Most of us still use our ears as the final arbiter.

Based on what I have written so far, you would imagine that the Vegas system was rather like the manna from heaven for editors and wonder why the whole world hasn’t been beating down Sony’s door to get hold of it. I must state that Vegas has had its weaknesses in the past, and the caption package has been a significant one. The basic titling package has always been, well BASIC. Functional is about the limit of what one could say about it. Quite often when attempting to do things I considered day to day caption features in other programmes, in Sony Vegas I have had to produce composite material, using multiple lines on the time line to get a specific effect. Specifically, not having the ability to do a bottom screen crawl was always a bug for me.

The inclusion of a Pro-type title plug-in looks promising. However I have found that it seems inordinately complex to operate. I have to admit I am struggling with it, but have managed to achieve some success which encourages me greatly. I can see the potential, but my understanding of it is, at this time inadequate. And the Vegas PDF manual supplied with the program doesn’t enlighten me to any significant degree. The on-screen tutorial system also doesn’t seem to be that effective in this instance. I inquired of Sony and was sent a web address of some tutorial material, which has at least got me up and running. (Maybe it’s a case of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks. Probably it will make perfect sense to some 12 year old.) I have managed to display and animate text, and when it is on screen, it does look good. I’ll persevere.

One of the interesting facilities available is the ability to turn the whole output display through 90 degrees. This facility has been made available to allow for use of large displays in supermarkets and commercial ventures, where the portrait format of posters has been a familiar sight and the recent use of 16:9 screens turned through 90 degrees is replacing the paper & cardboard posters of old. (Is this green?)

So in conclusion, what can we say about the new Sony Vegas Pro Package. Well it’s faster than the previous version, seems to handle processing better. It is simple to operate and makes editing easy for someone who isn’t used to editing in the professional domain. I think that the lack of ability to work with a format like Panasonic P2, unless you purchase a third party plug-in is a significant mistake on Sony’s part, one I would hope they would rectify. (I would have thought that any system which claims “Pro” should be able to work with professional formats across the range when it arrives).

Recently, Sony announced the DVD authoring Package, DVD Architect Pro 5.0 to replace the version 4.5 which came with the Vegas package. It came free to users of the 4.5 software and I haven’t as of yet noticed any significant differences, but I don’t have a BlueRay disc writer which is it’s new function, so when I finally go out and get one, I’ll be able to see.

So, am I happy? Overall, Yes. I also use an older version of Vegas to teach art students the basics of video production, and they seem to grasp it very quickly. The interfaces and commands are all “Windows” based, so for a child of the computer age, it is all familiar territory. Above all it delivers most of what I expect of an editing package. It is versatile and an effective editing solution which doesn’t cost a fortune. Sony Vegas is available as a boxed set or download program. Updates are readily available from the Sony website.

Vegas was tested on two computers:

Fujitsu-Siemens Scaleo 600, Intel P4, 2Gb Ram running XP

Fujitsu-Siemens Scaleo P2662, Intel Quad core 2.4, 2Gb Ram, running Vista

Paul Mills ran a very successful production company in South Africa before selling up and “retiring”. Now he produces videos as a hobby, and teaches Fine Art students the use of the moving image as a means of producing art, Drama students the basics of production and Ethnomusicologists how to document their material properly in the field so it is most usable when they return.