Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review - Sony Vegas 10 – It’s fast, it’s stable*, it’s solid*

I have now been using Sony Vegas for quite a few years. Looking back, one must wonder how we ever did the stuff we did. I am not going to get into all the details of what has changed, been added, yada yada, on this new version, but rather focus on its stability instead. Did I mention its fast? In any case, you can get a full list of all the improvements and features at Sony Creative Software (opens a new window).  I am going to focus on something else. Did I mention it is blazing fast? 

Yes, I am going to focus on speed. Did I mention its fast? It seems that this version makes full use to all extents of the 64 bit environment. Heck, even the video capture via fire-wire seems to work very well now. In Vegas 9 this was a problem in the earlier versions, but even in Vegas 9- towards the later rev’s it got a workin’. So this was expected to work. And it does – far better than before. No more crashes once one “sucked” in a whole tape off of say, a Sony M10-U deck. It now processes the clips very quickly and actually stays “alive” thereafter.

Another thing I noticed right away was that when you bring in “fodder”, okay, clips as material, let’s say, a batch of clips, a large batch, it loads them  very quickly. In prior versions, you could literally go get a coffee while waiting for it to churn through the data and then render the audio tracks. Of course you could cancel that process, but it wouldn’t let you do that until all was pre-loaded, and I use that term lightly, regarding all the clips. So as a work around, one simply needed to only bring in say 10 clips max depending on their size.  Cumbersome, to say the least! For batch processing a slew of clips for stock footage it was a real pain in the . .. but do-able, just cumbersome. 

I know. You are thinking – what idiot would bring in a whole 2 hours of rough footage at once? Well, I am happy to say “This idiot!” J Why? Because it is a fast work flow when you can “range” out segments, “batch render” them and quickly have a series of stock footage. Remember, this idiot, me, processes tons of stock. So if there is a way to batch, then this idiot will find it.

Which leads me to the next important issue; Sony Vegas has always had one of the sweetest batch processing scripts for exactly that purpose.  I have not found any other faster or cleaner method via any other app. So this is one reason I adore Vegas. Now even more, because I have thrown a ton at it and it didn’t even hiccup. Oh, and to really make it nasty, I mixed formats as well. Some of the stuff was raw .m2t (from my Sony A1U) and other footage was Quicktime .mov’s from my Canon T2i. Some I even ran through Neoscene from Cineform (converted to .avi) (opens a new window) – Sony gobbled it all up without an issue.

But here is where the speed really shines. Adobe has been touting its Premiere Pro CS5 as being a “performance angel” during playback on the time line provided you get some specific video card (a.k.a. the Adobe Mercury Playback Engine)(opens a new window). Definitely a step in the right direction, but it was not super crucial for me. Yet, I was a bit curious as to how Vegas 10 was doing along those lines. And I was blown away! Literally! 

Here is what I did:
I took some footage that is to be keyed (Sony Chroma Key and/or NewBlueFX’s key), keyed it, laid some additional footage below that layer for a new background, slapped some text generator stuff above that layer, added some effects to text etc – and probably made the thing look pretty stupid with some additional fx stuff. But I wanted to see how well Vegas would chomp through all this is “real time” on the time line for playback in the preview. Like I said – I was blown away! I had the preview set to “best” all around – and it damn near played without a hiccup in real time. Hence, this thing had to process all this layered stuff in real time and show me a result. Very cool!  And I didn’t have to upgrade my video card to that “special one” that Adobe requires to do the same. Somebody over at Sony was really thinking ahead. The amazing thing is that Sony does not tout this simple little fact. But they should.

All in all, Sony Vegas 10 rocks! I have put it through quite some paces, loaded older troublesome projects without an issue and it just chomped right through them.  If someone were to ask, I would say Vegas 10 loads about twice as fast as old 9, processes far more efficiently and you can see that clearly when you watch the counter go during rendering.  Sweet! Look, I have been using Vegas for years now. I have a love-hate relationship with them. I was literally looking at other options, which meant I would need to really get used to other workflows etc. But I gave Sony one more chance, on my dime. Yes, I paid for an upgrade and I recommend you do as well so that you can reap the benefits of the deals they always give you when you upgrade. (A worthy benefit, of being legit with software licensing from Sony.) This time I actually got more back in retail value than what I paid for in the upgrade price. Awesome!  In any case, giving them another chance seems to have paid off. It seems since the Sony “mothership” has finally taken the Vegas division more seriously, they have also thrown more resources at it. It really shows. This is a very good thing.

Now, for the “asterisk” part: Yes, those asterisks in the title of this review. Those darn asterisks! They usually mean; “read the fine print”. So here it is. It also proves a point. The point being that there is no such thing as perfect software. This could be due to outside forces. It could be due to other apps on a system. It could be a flaw in the OS. But I do need to point this out, as this issue seems to haunt Sony Vegas since, well, forever. I have brought this up to the guys at Sony Creative (several times, always hoping) , but it has yet to be resolved. Maybe, by publishing this, they will take a closer look? Sony, are you paying attention? Not saying this is your fault, but none of the other apps seem to do this. As a matter of fact, not one of my other apps do this. Kind of helps narrow it down, don't you think? But I could be wrong. You decide.

If you load a project (or start a new project) – and leave it sitting for a while, you will notice that Vegas likes memory. It likes it so much that it keeps eating away at as much of it as you can give it. For no apparent reason, it just keeps getting fatter and fatter. Perhaps "electronic obesity". This is probably due to some “memory leak” that has come through in the code over the last several versions, or from the old C compiler from Microsoft, or maybe simply an endless loop in the source code that has yet to be fixed. It makes no sense. So how do I know that this is happening? I use the infamous windows “Task Manager” and watch it grow. Simply right click on the Windows pop up menu bar (not the Start menu, but the bar the Start Button resides on) and select “Start Task Manager” , then click on the “Processes” tab, then look for “Vegas” under the description column – you can sort that column alphabetically to make it easier to find. Have a look at the pic (click to enlarge):

So what’s the work around for this issue? First thing – turn on “auto save”! Just in case. Second, when you take a break, and I recommend you do that at least once an hour. (Your boss will disagree here, I know.) Simply save the project, exit and restart Vegas. It does this so fast now, that it is a simple method and solution.  Whatever you do, don’t walk away and let Vegas just sit there for hours – it will keep “eating and chomping” until finally, you guessed it – there is no more. We all know what happens then, don’t we?  

So, for those that are wondering – I have a Pentium I7-920 (8 processor threads available) class system with 6 GB ram running on Windows 7 Ultimate with an ATI Radeon HD 4800 video card. I did get an e-SATA raid box as well, as this type of speed or access was mandatory for AE CS5. Vegas will chomp at slower speeds, yes, even from good old USB 2.0 (4 year old) drives.  As you might have guessed by now, I  also have the full Adobe Suite. I like AE. I put up with Premiere Pro. But as I am used to Sony’s work flow, it is always a task to feel comfortable in PP. (This was punny huh? PP means Premiere Pro, not peepee :))  I suppose the truly fair thing to say is that I am biased towards Sony because I know the product very well. I don’t really want to change to another NLE if I don’t have to. My brain might explode.

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