Video, video, video… everyone is making movies these days and there are plenty of choices when it comes to video software. This is especially true in the consumer software market. However, the professional video software category is still lead by a chosen few, one of which is Sony Vegas Pro. With each new version, Vegas Pro has stepped closer and closer to being a full-fledged video production application providing the same high-end features as its competitors. Vegas Pro 7 came close, but Vegas Pro 8 adds features that have been needed for quite some time.
While the workspace itself hasn't changed, at first glance, you'll notice that the workspace layout in Vegas Pro 8 has now been set up to more closely resemble its competitors—timeline on the bottom with controls, media access and preview on top. Of course, you can just as easily change this to your own working style. More importantly, Vegas now provides a full-screen preview, which is especially useful for anyone working on a single monitor—usually the case when working with Vegas on a laptop. The full-screen preview works in place of an external monitor so access to the preview is the same—press Alt+Shift+4 during playback and press Esc to return to the Vegas interface. In the Preview Device Preferences, this is set up as the Windows Secondary Display, but you can always set up an external monitor (just like in previous versions), if you have one. Also, very helpful is the ability to see the preview while working in the Trimmer window. It seems like a small addition, but its extremely useful to be able to see the timeline output while trimming. In addition, Vegas Pro 8 provides new interactive tutorials, which will get new users up to speed fairly quickly. I would like to see some more advanced tutorials included in the future, especially those that focus on achieving specific techniques.
To top the list of background enhancements is Vista support. Vegas is now fully-compatible with Windows Vista, which is great news for PC upgraders. I installed directly to Vista for this review and Vegas has performed without any problems under the latest OS. To further bolster its professional status, Vegas Pro 8 provides 32-bit floating point video processing. While you can still use the standard 8-bit processing engine, the 32-bit engine gives you greater color range, reduced banding and posterization on gradients, and linear light capabilities for optically correcting compositing. And to answer your question, yes, you can most definitely see a difference when processing the same video with the two engines. The 32-bit engine provides much better video output. The only downside is that rendering takes quite a bit longer because of the additional data that has to be processed. The Vegas Scripting API has also been upgraded. Scripts can now be compiled into Extensions, which are loaded as extra Vegas functions in the View, Edit, and Tools menus. Extensions can respond to changes in project data, control playback, and even provide an interface in a nonmodal window. This provides the means for script programmers to expand Vegas functionality in their own ways. One thing that's still missing, however, is a script recorder, which would allow regular users (those that have no interest in programming) to create macros of their own.
Video Format Enhancements
A number of video format enhancements have been added to Vegas Pro 8. As of the latest interim update, Vegas provides import, edit, and export support for any AVCHD footage. Long-GOP HDV and XDCAM support has been improved by removing the need for recompression. Any untouched footage is exported without rendering making the process much more efficient and faster. XDCAM FAM mode now provides trim conform functionality. Vegas can burn basic (video only, no menu) Blu-ray discs directly from the timeline. And there is the new digital signage support, which makes it easy to shoot, edit, and display "tall" (9:16) instead of "wide" (16:9) footage.
Editing multicamera shoots is now possible with Vegas Pro 8. Import your footage from each camera (up to 32 are supported) into a separate track. Synchronize the footage. Select all the tracks and Vegas will automatically build a set of tracks containing a series of events, with takes representing each of the cameras. Edit the tracks during playback by choosing the different camera shots either with your mouse or via the PC keyboard. You can also change the edited takes by simply right-clicking and choosing a different camera from the Take menu. Very nice and very easy.
Also very nice to see in this latest version is the addition of a full-fledged audio mixing console. As you would expect, all your project's audio tracks are represented as audio modules in the mixer. Each track sports insert fx, sends, I/O assignments, meters, automation assignments, pan and volume faders, as well as buttons for mute, solo, phase, and record arming. In addition to the audio tracks, there is one master module, which represents the final audio output of your entire project. You can also add bus and assignable fx modules. As per the norm, buses can be used for grouping track outputs together for fx processing, etc. Assignable fx modules are similar to buses except they are used to represent fx chains that can accept signals from both tracks and buses. Suffice it to say that the audio routing and processing capabilities in Vegas are now very flexible and powerful.
The addition of the ProType Titler also enhances workflow by providing a far more flexible way to manipulate and represent text in projects. With the Titler you can control just about every aspect of each single character of text. You can apply curves, effects, and gradients as well. And everything can be animated over time using the automation timeline and keyframes. Anything from scrolling credits and crawling titles to animated text and text along paths can be created. The only drawbacks are when working on a single monitor (such as on a laptop) because the Titler window needs to be quite large to work effectively and so it overlaps a large portion of the Vegas workspace. Plus, the preview inside the Titler only shows the text content, not a combination of the text and the project preview.
DVD Architect Pro 4.5 and 5
Vegas Pro 8 shipped with DVD Architect Pro 4.5, which itself was only a minor upgrade. Version 4.5 added Windows Vista support, more file format support, and more professionally designed themes (for a total of 44 now included). However, Sony has made up for this minor update by recently releasing version 5 and making it available as a free update for all 4.5 users. Version 5 adds Blu-ray disc burning, full-screen previewing, support for opening MPEG-2 and AVCHD files, support for AC3 and PCM audio with HD video, and support for ISO files.
Professional Powerful Video Production
There is no doubt that Vegas Pro 8 is a significant upgrade, especially for those needing multicamera support and wanting higher-quality video rendering. In addition, this version is the only reliable way to run Vegas on the Windows Vista platform. The ProType Titler is a nice addition and the new mixing console adds significant features and flexibility to the already powerful audio tools. Support for additional video formats including Blu-ray bring Vegas in line with the competition. While I did mention some aspects of the software that I would like to see improved, there are no shortcomings that would keep me from recommending Vegas Pro 8 to both newcomers and upgraders. Vegas Pro has always provided a level of sophistication combined with an ease-of-use factor that has been a step ahead of most other video applications. Version 8 adds even more professional-level features without compromising the easy workflow.