In fall 2004, Sony Pictures declared its Screenblast con-sumer etailer/video club dead and reconfigured their low-cost post-production software line as a consistently named line of "Studio" products. In the December article "Pre-Pro NLEs" we looked at Vegas Movie Studio 4 as a whittled-down version of Vegas that offered a solid introduction to the Vegas interface and an impressive feature set for a $99 product. It also provides a window into Sony Pictures' strategy for integrating its "pre-pro" product line: with a single click on a clip's audio track in the Movie Studio trimmer, you can open the track in Sound Forge Audio Studio and refine it there.
Software suites seem to be the name of the game in desk-top post-production these days, from Ulead's Studio Quartet to Adobe's Video Collection to Avid's Studio. Part of the hook for the Ulead and Adobe bundles is the reduced price; you can get all three Sony Studio products—Vegas Movie Studio, Sound Forge Audio Studio, and ACID Music Studio—for $199, or pay $99, $69.95, and $69.95, respectively for the three as sold separately.
Besides price, the ostensible appeal of these post-production suites is how well the products are integrated, and their ability to launch one another. What the Sony Pictures Studio family offers is not just inter-launching interplay but a great deal of commonality between the inter-faces of the various tools. They're all timeline-based, they use similarly organized nested and tabbed windows for arranging and trimming media assets and similar controls for mixing audio. And they all seem to ship with the same 1,001 Sound Effects disc—a nice perk of the connection with Sony's film studio arm, since all the effects are drawn from the studios' vast archive.
Sound Forge Audio Studio itself is a lot like Sound Forge in the way Vegas Movie Studio is a lot like Vegas. The work-space is much the same, so much so that the product ships with the Sound Forge manual in a new cover. You have the same edit tool selector in the data window when you open a waveform for editing and the same trim/crop controls. The biggest difference is the shorter list of configurable effects. You have fewer plug-ins, presets, and bit-depth options (Audio Studio confines you to 16-bit); and none of the spectral analysis tools or (surprisingly) the waveform and pan envelopes you get in the full version of Sound Forge. B
ut you do get most of the tools a videographer is likely to want in an audio tool, including the ability to work with the audio tracks of video clips in several formats (AVI, WMV, QuickTime) and preview video clips in all those formats, instant preview (of all the effects I tried), sound level balancing, DC offset, and punch-in recording, which is indispensable for recording matching bits of narration when your video is already in place or getting a usable take for original music you're creating for video projects.
Many of the additional features that come with the full version of Sound Forge are designed for recording studios specifically dealing with audio. Like Adobe Audition, Sound Forge has lots of cool, configurable effects for music recording like flanger and wah-wah, but most of those typically don't come into play in video projects. Given what most videographers are likely to need in an audio tool, Audio Studio is an excellent value. It's also got great audio restoration features, which are welcome in any audio tool.
Sound Forge Audio Studio is fairly intuitive and quite easy to operate if you have some familiarity with other Sony Pictures tools like Movie Studio, Vegas, ACID, and CD Architect. Of course, if you're a Vegas editor working with Vegas 5, you've already got an NLE so jam-packed with audio features you may be able to get by quite well without an audio-specific editing application.
System requirements: 400MHz PC with 64MB RAM (128MB recommended) running Windows 2000/XP; 60MB available HDD space for installation; Windows-compatible sound card; DirectX 8+.