Sony Pictures Digital Vegas+DVD (Vegas 4.0) review: Sony Pictures Digital Vegas+DVD (Vegas 4.0)
Version 4.0 improves Vegas significantly, delivering enhanced editing tools, HD and 24P support, surround-sound audio, project-level effect tracks, color correctors, video scopes, better media management, and scripting. The Vegas+DVD bundle includes the DVD Architect authoring tool and a Dolby Digital AC3 encoder for creating 5.1-channel mixes. A standalone version of Vegas 4.0 is also available.
Vegas 4.0's installation is clean but not as simple as we'd like. It requires a serial number, but you still start off with a 30-day trial, so you must register online with Sony Pictures Digital to keep the program from expiring. You install DVD Architect separately.
Vegas's default configuration tiles components within the full-screen main window. The timeline stretches across the top, while the asset, audio-mixer, and video-preview windows sit at the bottom. You build tracks in the timeline and access media, apply filters, mix, trim, and preview with tabs in the lower windows. You can drag the tabs out into individual windows that are docked within the tiled layout or float separately. The windows' interior layouts, including track height, are adjustable. And you have complete freedom to customize the track display and annotations with text, thumbnails, waveforms, and the like.
DVD Architect uses a different interface than Vegas, combining simple drag-and-drop authoring with a variety of customization tools. It's plainer and less consumer-oriented than the interfaces of products such as Sonic's MyDVD Studio, which makes it less obvious how to use DVD Architect for casual work. The interface also suffers from some inconsistency. You access some tools with buttons and icons and others with menu tabs. For example, you'll find useful tools for aligning buttons in the menus, but if you want to edit button text, you'll have to select a separate tool by clicking an icon. And while you can search for media files to import with the Media Explorer and preview individual files, the interface does not provide a visual browser of video clips or images.
Vegas has bulked up into an impressively full-featured video-editing environment that handles an unlimited number of tracks and provides real-time previewing. Bins organize video and make it accessible from multiple projects, although they're not designed for conveniently trimming a long clip into multiple subclips. You can now trim via keyboard shortcuts, copy and paste attributes, create 5.1-channel surround-sound mixes, and undo as many commands as you like. You also get split-screen A/B previewing, and master bus tracks let you apply effects across an entire project.
Pro-oriented additions include three-wheel primary and secondary color correctors; video monitors with waveform, vector, parade, and histogram displays; and ASIO driver support. A scripting interface using Microsoft's .Net Framework enables you to automate repetitive tasks, integrate Vegas with other applications, and build customized features.
Vegas reads and exports common formats, including AVI, QuickTime, and Windows Media 9 (including surround encoding). It also supports high-definition video up to 2,048x2,048 and 24P footage. The program has an improved MPEG-2 encoder and integrates with DVD Architect for DVD authoring.
With DVD Architect, you build clip menus and either link them together or nest them in a tree hierarchy. While the program does not automatically create a menu layout from a collection of clips, you can size and quickly align buttons, create button frames, incorporate video into menu backgrounds and buttons, and apply preset or original design and layout themes. You write your own in the documented XML format. Built-in editors let you put together picture slide shows and music compilations.
DVD Architect can import and transcode AVI, QuickTime, and other formats, and it can import DVD-ready MPEG-2, WAV, and AC3 files. The program also includes a full Dolby Digital AC3 encoder for authoring surround-sound mixes from Vegas. The convenient Optimize DVD dialog box lets you review and adjust compression ratios and options for all the media in your project. You prepare your DVD by building the DVD image to a hard drive, from which you burn the material to a disc.
Vegas provides an impressively fast editing environment. On our 2.53GHz P4-based test system, rendering time simply wasn't an issue. We got real-time previewing even when projects had multiple tracks and filters, and final output generated at a reasonable speed. Vegas also supports real-time previewing over FireWire for editors working with a professional video monitor.
DVD Architect's interface graphics exhibited a few glitches, but we resolved them all by forcing a screen redraw. Nice, subtle indicators alerted us to simple errors, such as overlapping buttons. Ironically, however, the software went ahead and created an entire illegal DVD without any warning.
When we installed Vegas, a variety of other video and DVD applications were already on our system, and we added more during testing. Unlike far too many other programs, Vegas came through conflict-free.
Vegas and DVD Architect both come with well-organized online help, such as task-oriented instructions, references, and glossaries. The "--="" rel="nofollow" class="c-regularLink" target="_blank">&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fmediasoftware%2Esonypictures%2Ecom" target="_blank">Sony Pictures Digital Web site provides support resources, including trial and update downloads, searchable PDF versions of the extensive product manuals with hyperlinked contents and indexes, and a searchable knowledge base.
Sony offers e-mail customer service, but our inquiry generated only an automated response. If you've registered, you can phone in to get free help for 60 days; representatives are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., CT. After that initial period, there are two ways to continue telephone support: pay $100 per year or call a 900 number that charges $3 for the first minute and $1 for each additional minute.