Vegas Pro 11 was announced at IBC in September and is an exciting and much-anticipated upgrade to the cornerstone in Sony Creative Software's (SCS) media production line. It is available now at www.sonycreativesoftware.com for immediate download. There are some important changes afoot and in this review we're going to take a look at what's new, what's changed, what's missing, and whether or not you should upgrade from your current version.
"This One Goes To 11..."
Here's a quick breakdown of the new feature set that we're going to cover: GPU-accelerated video processing, new Titles & Text plug-in, better plug-in organization, and performance.
In version 10, SCS tempted us with GPU-accelerated rendering on a single render format (Sony AVC), which was the first phase of tapping into the video card's power. But Vegas Pro 11 brings even bigger news. For the first time ever, Vegas can take advantage of your video card's GPU during playback of the timeline. This is a paradigm shift in that a Vegas "claim-to-fame" has always been that you didn't need special hardware for it to run well on most video material. That's basically still true, but with today's highly compressed AVC-based video (think DSLR and almost all current prosumer HD video cameras), every NLE struggles to keep up when editing native files using CPU power alone.
Some NLEs require you to have very specific video card hardware just to run their software at all. Vegas Pro 11 does not require special hardware, but I think all users of Vegas Pro who are editing HD video will welcome the change in direction.
Vegas will offload the timeline playback to the GPU if you choose this option (and have compatible hardware). This means that you can have various video filters, transitions, and composites all playing back at a high frame rate without rendering. Your actual performance with GPU assist will depend on how powerful your video card is and which specific filters or composite options you choose. Here are some real examples from our studio: Our main editing PCs are based on Intel i7-950 processors running at stock speeds. They also have NVIDIA GTS-450 video cards, which is a $120 video card, certainly not a powerhouse. Using this hardware in my first test with Vegas Pro 11, I created a .veg file consisting of a single event containing a file from a Panasonic GH2 camera recorded at 720/60p. My preview settings in Vegas were set to Best/Full. With the Sony Color Corrector and Gaussian Blur filters applied, I get between 2 and 6 frames per second (FPS) playback without GPU assist and 45-60 fps playback with GPU assist. Not bad, and I'm pretty impressed. Full-frame blur is very taxing on the processor.
I configured another test for 29.97fps and used an AVCHD 24Mb/sec clip with some generated media, Bump Map, and Chroma Key composites in slow motion. Without GPU Assist I got less than 3 fps. With GPU Assist I scored a full 29.97.
Timeline performance without GPU Assist
Timeline performance with GPU Assist
And remember, this is with what most Pro users would consider a budget card. When I chose this card for the PC build, GPU Assist did not exist; I chose it for resolution and multi-monitor display only. I'm pleased to get any boost at all.
AMD/ATI users, you're not left out. Vegas has always maintained a close relationship with AMD and these acceleration features will work with many AMD GPUs as well. I did not have one to test with, but many OpenCL-compliant Radeon HD and FirePro GPUs are supported.
Whether you have an AMD or an NVIDIA GPU, realize that you may not get the best performance using GPU assist. If you have a high-powered CPU and a lower-powered GPU, you will want to try running Vegas Pro with GPU Assist off because this scenario may result in decreased video-processing performance (lower-frames-per-second playback). But if it's time to upgrade your video card, or if you're contemplating hardware specs for your next PC build, it's now worth it¬-for the first time with Vegas-to drop in a powerhouse AMD FirePro/Radeon HD, NVIDIA Quadro, or basically as much GPU as you can afford, now that Vegas can take advantage of it. Be sure to check the system requirements for Vegas Pro 11 at the Sony Creative Software website for detailed information on compatible video cards.
Plug-Ins and Plug-In Organization
Vegas Pro 11 includes two new titlers: one built-in 2D, and one 3D titler from NewBlueFX. The 2D titler is the Titles & Text plug-in first introduced in the lesser Vegas Movie Studio product a few months back. The 3D titler is from NewBlueFX and was not made available at press time. If the NewBlueFX titler is as useful as the 3D titler included in Boris Continuum Complete, that will be a nice addition to the base package. This makes 4 title utilities available in Vegas Pro, if you're keeping score.
The Sony Titles & Text utility first introduced in Sony Vegas Movie Studio 11-1 of 4 titlers now available in Sony Vegas Pro 11
With respect to managing your plug-ins, you now get the ability to organize plug-ins into folders and to search for them from within the project window. There's also a new Compositors window that can accessed from the View menu. All video FX designed for composition will appear under this new window.
Choosing BCC plug-ins
This is a small enhancement, but I like being able to catalog filters and effects this way. I find that with any multieffect tool, I use just a few of any of them. This way I can group the ones I like together as my "best of breed." I know I'll use the search function to wade through the mass of plug-ins to find the one I installed last year but can't find anywhere.
Time Marches On
In the "It Had To Happen Sometime" department, Windows XP is not supported at all. You need at least Windows Vista to run Vegas Pro 11. (I tested 64-bit Vegas Pro on 64-bit Windows 7).
There's a small but useful feature included in version 11: For those of us who host video files on our own websites, we've had to use a utility such as YAMB to activate the streaming (or progressive download) of these files so they will play as soon as possible without waiting for the entire file to download. Vegas Pro 11 includes streaming support for AVC/MP4 files. It's a small update, but an extremely useful one, in that it tightens up your workflow just a little bit more.
Enabling progressive download in the MainConcept Custom Settings window
Speaking of rendering, the Render dialog box has had a major upheaval, same as we've seen in the Vegas Movie Studio product. You can now organize and get to your favorite render templates quicker in most cases. I know I use the same 3-4 templates 90% of the time and, if I don't have to wade through a massive list of presets that I don't use but don't want to delete, that's a good thing.
Overall, performance was snappy and, as usual, Vegas Pro is a joy to work with. I've been a fan since version 4. I did experience an occasional lockup while writing this review and don't know exactly what to attribute it to. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for updated audio and video drivers in case the problem is on my end. My experience has been that those random, unrepeatable lockups are almost always a local system configuration issue and no one is immune to them, it seems.
Sony has improved Vegas Pro's built-in stabilizer, incorporated a new style of event grouping called Sync Links, and added several 3D enhancements, including support for NVIDIA 3D Vision. There's also a star wipe transition for all you Dallas Cowboys fans, a new pixelate video filter, a much-improved audio mixer layout, and a built-in Upload to YouTube option to round out the package.
The new Upload to YouTube option
DVD Architect 5.2 is also included in the package. I wish I could say more about this, but it hasn't changed at all in this version and didn't change much in the last version. I would really like to see DVDA updated to at least include motion-based theme elements that integrated with Vegas Pro. So much of our customers' first impressions of us are formed by the Blu-ray and DVD products that we produce.
I've written about using third-party motion menus with DVDA but I would like to see Sony either include their own set of these or partner with someone who does. Maybe they will do that soon instead of including a 5th titler.
How Much Down, How Much A Month
Retail price for Vegas Pro 11 is $699.95. Updates from previous versions will become available immediately, and Sony usually has very good deals for us early adopters.
All in all, I'm very excited about this version. The GPU Assist alone makes the upgrade worthwhile for us. If you produce any flavor of HD video, you'll see a marked improvement in timeline performance with even a moderately priced video card. As I said earlier, this is a first for Sony Vegas Pro, and I encourage you to first check your hardware specs, give the trial a spin, and see if it makes you smile as much as it did me.
David McKnight (david at mcknightvideo.com) is half of McKnight Video of Houston. He is vice president of the Houston Professional Videographers Association (HPVA), has Sony Vegas and HDV certification, is the technical editor of the Vegas Pro 9 Editing Workshop (Focal Press), and is a contributor to the Full HD Book (VASST). He and his wife, Christie, are winners of multiple HPVA awards.