Five Easy Pieces: Sony Pictures Announces—and Ships—Vegas 5 at NAB 2004
Posted Apr 19, 2004

The first Vegas announcement of NAB 2004 came out of Madison, Wisconsin, as Sony Pictures debuted a full-step upgrade to its popular pro software NLE, Vegas 5. The company also offered up a new version of Vegas' accompanying DVD authoring tool, DVD Architect 2. And unlike many of the other hot technologies and products unveiled at NAB, both Sony tools shipped April 19, the first day of the show. Vegas 5 lists for $699, and the Vegas+DVD Production Suite (including both Vegas 5 and DVD Architect 2) carries an MSRP of $999. An upgrade price of $199.95 is available to registered users of the full (non-LE) versions of previous iterations of Vegas.

Both Vegas and DVD Architect were among the properties picked up last summer when Sony Pictures acquired the desktop software assets of Sonic Foundry. Several aspects of the new product release demonstrate how Sony Pictures has integrated the two companies, and how the desktop software line is leveraging Sony's considerable size and sweep. Concurrent with the Vegas 5 release is the launch of the Sony Pictures Sound Effects series, a five-disc (so far) set of audio effects and field-recorded content drawn from the Sony motion picture archives. The 1200+ sounds range "from rollercoasters, room tones, and rocket launchers, to biplanes, Bengal tigers, and bar room brawls," according to Sony Pictures press materials.

Other evidence of the acquisition's impact is Vegas 5's native support of the Sony DSR-DU1 and DSR-DU100 Disc Recorder, which eliminate the capture step from the post-production process. "Why should bringing in files from my camera be a sensitive, real-time process like recording? Why can't I do it at 50X?" asks Sony Pictures media software director of engineering David Hill. Vegas 5 also includes native support for Sony's J-H3 HDCAM player via i.Link (FireWire) connectivity. Finally, Sony Electronics now holds sales and distribution rights to the media software line that includes Vegas and Vegas+DVD.

Key new features of Vegas 5 include an XP-like look, 3D Track Motion, and Compositing, with a track grouping model that allows multiple tracks to move and rotate in 3D space. Vegas 5 also enables users to produce keyframeable Bezier masks for complex objects, letting them track object outlines to mask and keyframe shape and motion changes over time. This translates into depth-of-field effects, the ability to apply color correction to specific sections of a clip, crop surrounding source material, and create mask overlays. "One of the problems with the video look,'" Hill says, "is no depth of field. Masking lets you create it artificially."

Vegas 5 also offers XML-based scripting ("so a human might actually be able to read it," says marketing VP Dave Chaimson); control surface support, which allows users to integrate mixing boards and other external control surfaces into their Vegas workflow; customizable keyboard mapping for editing and creating new shortcuts; real-time A/V event reverse; and user-definable multiple window docking to optimize workflow and minimize clutter, with the ability to save as many as 10 layout configurations for single- and dual-monitor setups. Vegas 5 also boasts network rendering, the ability to off-load processor-intensive rendering tasks to other PCs on a network; Vegas breaks a project into multiple chunks to distribute the rendering burden and then reassembles them into a single file before returning them to the editor's PC. The software ships with two render-only service packs, with additional licenses available at additional cost.

Sonic Foundry's origins are in audio, beginning with Sound Forge, and that genealogical pattern has always shone through in the acuity of audio features in the Vegas line. In Vegas 5, new audio features include envelope automation recording, for real-time recording of track envelope and keyframe parameters using a mouse or external control surface hardware, with support for both stereo and 5.1 surround tracks. Also new on the audio side are punch-in recording on-the-fly, auto-input monitoring, and improved audio time stretching designed to reduce artifacting, with 19 user-definable timestretch modes. The software boasts keyframeable surround panning via a visual, spatial interface. The goal of the upgraded audio features of Vegas 5 is not so much to provide interchange with DAW software like ProTools or even Sound Forge as to bring advanced features into the program itself, Hill says. "We like to provide the tools to allow people to stay within the application as opposed to making it easy to move elsewhere."

DVD Architect 2 also delivers a host of new features, including a new project overview window with a Windows directory-like representation of DVD sequencing and navigation, a customizable user interface comparable to Vegas' user-definable window docking, programmable end actions for menus and media, multiple audio track support, and subtitle creation keyed to Architect's integration with Vegas. Architect also features real-time project preview to an external monitor via FireWire (or i.Link in Sony-speak). Another interesting new feature is Architect's "Fit to Disc Compression," which allows users to economize space on a DVD by modifying compression on a file-by-file basis, determining, as Hill says, "what needs compression and what doesn't." The software's AC-3 audio support assists in this effort as well.

An improved MPEG-2 encoding engine offers accelerated two-pass encoding. Enhanced MPEG-2 support in the Vegas Production Suite also extends to the MPEG-2-based HDV format pioneered by JVC in its HD camcorder series. Through a partnership with Cineform and integration of its Connect-HD technology, Vegas offers unabetted HDV capture via FireWire.

Another key point of emphasis in DVD Architect 2 is 24p support for the "film-like look" many indie filmmakers and others find wanting in digital video. Architect supports 24p encoding of MPEG-2 files and creation of 24p DVDs. For users determined to pursue the old-school cinematic look, the Vegas 5 Production Suite bundles Magic Bullet Movie Looks, the Red Giant-distributed off-the-shelf version of the film-effect technology developed by Stu Maschwitz at the Orphanage. Movie Looks includes 10 presets designed to mimic popular film "looks" and shooting styles and a variety of cinematic tints and glows to make DV look more like celluloid.

The Production Suite bundle also includes Boris Graffiti 3 LTD, a "lite" version of Boris' vector-based titling tool.