- Near-professional grade features
- Intuitive timeline layout
- Reasonably priced
- Lacks polish
- Relies on context menus
- Steep learning curve
By: Dustin Sklavos
Welcome to intermediate video editing, kids: Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9. In my film classes, Sony Vegas would regularly be mentioned as a popular alternative for video editing against Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, with cash-strapped students opting to use Vegas instead of the more expensive pro-grade suites. It isn’t too difficult to see why.
Sony Vegas 9 can be had for as little as $59.95 off of Sony’s site ($89.95 for the Platinum version reviewed here which includes HDV support), but I hesitate to categorize it as entry-level or beginner software. The feel of the software is fairly logical and robust, but the learning curve is somewhat steep; many commands are handled through right-clicking and the top menu, and Vegas 9 doesn’t really employ wizards the way its competitors do. Instead, there are lengthy tutorials that teach you how to handle the extensive software options, rather than simply doing it for you.
If I’d never used a video editor before, opening and using Vegas 9 might seem very intimidating. So what does it have to offer the dedicated learner?
For starters, Sony Vegas 9 Platinum supports the modern formats you’d require, and offers a handsome number of simplified formats for output early on. For Vegas 9, you essentially choose what you want to master your video in and stick with it, though you can always change things later on. While you’re editing, the media you bring into Vegas 9 will be adapted to the format you’re mastering in. If you’re doing just generic 4:3 DV, HDV will be automatically scaled down and letterboxed on your timeline.
Unfortunately I was unable to test DVD or Blu-ray mastering in the demo version of Vegas 9, but the full pay version does come with disc-burning software in the form of DVD Architect Studio 4.5.
The process of importing footage into Sony Vegas 9 is remarkably simple.
The program includes a default Explorer browser window, and from there you can find and right-click media on your hard drive to bring into your Media Bin.
Where Vegas 9 does get slightly goofy is in capturing from tape. Capturing HDV is done within the main program, but to capture DV – still the dominant format – Vegas 9 opens a separate program. On the flipside, Vegas 9 supports the typical scene detection that most video editors do, but also supports Batch Capture. Capturing video can be tedious work, so being able to shuttle through your tape and log in and out points and then just capture them all at once is a real time-saver.
Editing is where things get tricky with Sony Vegas 9. The general timeline layout is to be praised and applauded, and while I’m trying to avoid comparisons with earlier software in favor of a big wrap-up later on, it bears mentioning that Vegas 9 does Corel VideoStudio‘s timelines properly. How?
For starters, the silly “overlay” track – used largely for green/blue-screen compositing work – is still here, but arranged in the most logical place: Above the main video timeline. And then above that is the title track, essentially ordering the individual tracks the way they ought to be properly layered as opposed to Corel’s goofy way of stacking them beneath the main video timeline. Likewise, the main audio track, dubbed “Voice” is located right under the main video track where it ought to be. Below that are appropriate music and sound effects tracks. You could put whatever sound you want in these, but at least it keeps things organized.
Vegas 9 does not, however, have a “sceneline” the way many of its peers do. No, for editing in Vegas 9 you’ll be doing things the “hard” way, which means editing all your clips into a single project, instead of editing together scenes, and editing those scenes into a complete, larger project. Also, the “Trimming” tab seems awkward and more obtuse than the simple “Source” monitor used in professional software.
And then there’s the real kick in the groin: A large amount of Vegas 9’s primary functionality is handled in right-click menus and in the menu bar. This is intuitive in the “I know how to use Windows” sense, but in many ways I feel like the screen real estate taken up by the program could be tweaked to allow for something more user-friendly, maybe like the ribbon interface Microsoft is pushing with Office 2007 and some of the apps included in Windows 7. The whole layout is a little bit absurd, with the vast majority of the screen taken up by the timelines and the monitor/playback window being needlessly small. These things can be tweaked, but they’re odd defaults nonetheless.
I’d also like to briefly touch on the “Effects” in Vegas 9, which are actually pretty robust. If you have the time and patience to learn them – and oftentimes the best way is to just take a video clip and futz with it – some of them are incredibly powerful, but they aren’t that user-friendly. Once again Sony has traded form for functionality.
Vegas 9’s output options are nicely simplified, giving you just five options that intelligently expand. You can export your video to your hard drive, to a disc, publish it online, send it to your camera or a portable device, or e-mail it to someone; the options spider out from there.
Unfortunately, exporting to the hard drive results in a mess of options so complex that I actually laughed when I saw the “Advanced Render” button at the bottom of it — because the un-Advanced version is already too complicated. Closer examination can simplify things somewhat, but again, this window is needlessly complex and daunting at first glance.
Again, I was unable to test the disc exporting software as it’s actually done in a separate suite not included with the trial version of Vegas 9, but that software does come with the full version. Publishing online includes the usual suspect, YouTube, and it walks you through the process pretty easily.
Out of the software I’ve reviewed so far — Adobe Premiere Elements 7, Corel VideoStudio X2, and Vegas 9 — I think I like Vegas 9 the best personally, but it’s not the one I’d recommend off the top of my head. I appreciate how robust and semi-professional the suite is, but at the same time Vegas 9 is a little bit too old-fashioned-Windows-looking, and it seems too obtuse for the average user who just wants to edit together some family videos. Vegas 9 is powerful and the timeline is intelligently designed, but some real polish would go a long way. Instead of having everything operate off of context menus, why not just have a menu bar at the top or side of the window that changes depending on whatever’s highlighted? Some color and larger icons don’t just simplify things and make them more attractive, they make the software less intimidating so that function isn’t lost in a sea of “holy crap, how do I do this?”
Sony Vegas 9 has the potential to bring near-professional-grade power to the consumer market, but it needs more time in the oven. The era of just shoving a new user into tutorials has been over with for a while now.
- Extremely powerful.
- Intelligently, logically laid out timeline.
- Excellent format support.
- Reasonably priced.
- Daunting looking, lacking polish.
- Relies on context menus too much.
- Requires tutorials.