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Review: Vegas Video

Speed.

Not just a bad movie, but more than anything else, the quality that distinguishes Sonic Foundry's Vegas Video from its competition. Vegas Video edits, composites, titles, processes and posts video with more raw speed than anything else at its price.

Not that it's free. At $699, the initial price of Vegas Video approaches the top of the software-only video editor line. And it cost you in other ways too. It simply doesn't work on a machine any less-endowed than its required 400mHz Pentium II--supported by at least 128 MB RAM and 20 MB of disk space. Anything slower than that and the program will choke on even the simplest transitions. It's also the only application I know that will not run on any Windows system earlier than 98 or NT 4.0 (SP4 or later. And no--true to the Sonic Foundry credo, there will not be a Macintosh version). Not that these are outrageous demands, since it's hard today to buy a new PC any slower than 500mHz. But If you've been limping along on a computer any more than a year or so old—a paltry 300mHz unit, for instance, or even a (gasp!) plain old, pre-II Pentium—you do have to shell out the thousand bucks or so for a new system and add one more expensive doorstop to your cyber-compost heap if you want on the Vegas bandwagon.

So what's the deal with Vegas Video? For an opening ante, the program does pretty much what you expect from a video editor. It lets you drop digital video clips onto various tracks of a timeline, rearrange and trim them, add effects, edit their audio and finally play them back out to tape or render them to a hard disk. (Although it hasn't appeared as of this writing, Sonic Foundry representatives at the recent Real Conference told me a new build is imminent that will connect via IEEE 1394 [FireWire] to DV camcorders and decks, both for capturing video and playing it back through an external monitor.)

After this first round though, the stakes are raised.

First of all, like the multitrack-audio-only Vegas and loop-sequencer Acid before it, Vegas Video builds on the utile, efficient interface first developed in the company's flagship application, Sound Forge. The interface takes a no-nonsense approach to making your work easier and more effective. Advancement modified by consistency is the watchword here, and while each app has developed the interface a bit farther and added endemic functions, If you know any one of these apps, you have a real good start on all the others. The brainchild of Sonic co-founder and former Microsoft engineer, Curtis Palmer, the interface makes navigating, processing, editing and previewing convenient, quick and stable, combining intuitive operation with deep functionality.

Vegas Video opens with a timeline above and an explorer, video monitor and audio meters below (Figure 1). Behind the explorer are a trimmer, media pool (showing all the clips in the project) and transitions palette you can see by clicking on--or dragging a clip to--a tab, or by resizing or detaching (so they float freely) any or all the other windows (even onto a second monitor) with complete flexibility.


Figure 1

The Explorer window, debuted in Acid, lets you navigate files and folders exactly as you do in Windows Explorer, but adds further capability. Click on any file and it will not only display frame size, color depth and frame rate for videos; sample rate, bit-depth, and mono/stereo channels for audio and duration for both. It will also play the file as soon as you click it. This is a wonderfully speedy way to find the media you want. From the explorer, you can drag a file to the timeline or media pool, where it's logged and annotated with 21 different parameters from sample rate to alpha channel.

The program is also codec- and capture card-agnostic. It will play .avi, .mov, .wav, .w64, .aif, .mp3, .mpg (video), .bmp, .gif, .jpg, .png, .tga and .tif. File specs are essentially irrelevant, since Vegas video plays any or all these formats, with any combination of specs. I dropped files of multiple formats, sample rates, image sizes…you name it…into the Vegas timeline, and it played them all, together without so much as a hiccup.

You can likewise export your work from the program in: .wav, .aif, .avi, .wma, .asf, .rm, .mp3 (with optional plug-in), .mov (streaming), and .w64 formats.

Vegas' agnosticism is apparently expanding. Sonic Foundry representatives maintain that when the program's ability to capture DV arrives, it will work with any 1394 card, regardless of manufacturer, so theoretically you can use whatever card you may have, or buy the cheapest one out there, and still get the performance you want.

Now, back to the speed part. Once you have a batch of audio and video files on a Vegas timeline, the program uses the "rubber-band envelope" metaphor to give you fast and intuitive control of such parameters as fade, composite level and velocity (how fast the clip plays). Once you've placed an envelope, you just drag it up or down to change a parameter value. The amazing thing is that these changes are visible immediately. There is no waiting for rendering.

A basic crossfade is accomplished as simply: Put two clips on the same track, drag either clip left or right over the other, and they automatically crossfade--and play back rendered in real time. You can create more complex transitions by putting two clips on different tracks, then dropping one of the transition palette's nine transitions on the effect track between the video tracks. You can edit various parameters of each effect, including unlimited keyframing, in a dialog that pops up when you click.

Panning, zooming and titling are done via graphic dialog that again uses keyframing and drag-and-drop to place the image. The results of an edit can even play back while the dialog is open.

I asked Curt Palmer how Vegas Video is able to perform all this real time rendering, and he said, "It's no big deal. We simply wrote it specifically to take advantage of the new faster machines." Uh-huh. Go ask an engineer.

In all, there are too many features in this application to cover in anything short of a book: I haven't even mentioned that the program is also one of the best multitrack audio editors on the market. To say that Vegas Video is fast is an understatement. It can decrease your editing time enormously. If you have access to a 400mHz-plus P-II, download the beta from www.sonicfoundry.com, and see for yourself.

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