The Vegas range of video-editing applications invokes the same reactions as Saab does for its cars. It commands a degree of solemn respect, but ultimately it just seems a bit odd – and dull.
In some ways, these are fair criticisms. Vegas has its own ways of doing things, many of which might feel peculiar, and there’s a notable lack of bells and whistles. The upside is that Vegas’ streamlined interface is extremely quick to use, with most tasks performed directly on the timeline. It’s also very responsive. Screen redraws are fast, so manipulating a complex timeline with multiple layers of HD video is as quick as trimming a couple of DV clips.
It helps that the preview engine is efficient too. The high demands of HD formats mean editors often drop frames during playback. Movie Studio Platinum lets you offset preview resolution against smoothness, so simple sequences can be viewed at full resolution, and complex, effects-laden ones at lower detail levels. Half resolution is a good compromise for 1080p footage, and the software played four simultaneous AVCHD streams at this setting on our Core i7 test PC. Sadly, Movie Studio Platinum isn’t available as a native 64-bit application – Vegas Pro is, and managed six AVCHD streams on the same PC. Best of all is Adobe Premiere Pro CS5’s (web ID: 357025) 64-bit engine, which managed ten streams. However, Movie Studio Platinum’s four streams are a considerable improvement on most other low-cost editors. Corel VideoStudio Pro X3 (web ID: 355612) played two and Adobe Premiere Elements 8 (web ID: 351892) only managed one.
The effects library doesn’t have the pizzazz of some of its rivals, but its corrective tools are much more sophisticated. The Color Corrector effect has three colour wheels for shadows, midtones and highlights, as well as gain, offset, saturation and gamma controls. The Secondary Color Corrector, new to version 10, lets you select a limited range of colours in the footage and process only those areas. Also new is a White Balance effect that removes colour casts by clicking on a neutral colour in the footage.
Movie Studio Platinum finally gets a stabilisation effect and it’s a good one, often producing results that resembled Steadicam footage rather than from a bumbling, handheld camera. Unlike most such effects, it had no problem distinguishing between unwanted shakes, intentional camera pans and moving subjects. The one downside is that clips were sometimes excessively cropped. There’s also an option for correcting rolling shutter – a common problem with CMOS-based cameras that manifests itself as skewed geometry in fast-moving clips – but this element wasn’t so successful.
The bundled authoring tool, DVD Architect Studio 5, includes some attractive menu templates but there’s a notable lack of animated designs. However, the scope for customisation is more in line with professional authoring software. Blu-ray output is now available too, using the same design tools and templates as for DVDs.
Movie Studio Platinum isn’t ideal for everyone, however. The controls are slick but the lack of a tabbed, step-by-step interface may leave novices wondering where to start – until they find the friendly interactive tutorials. Video overlays, graphics and text animations move in straight lines only, with nothing like the finesse of Premiere Elements’ Bézier curve animations. The Text object is very basic. Our biggest gripe is the lack of proxy-editing facilities for editing HD on slower PCs. Rival packages generate low-resolution proxy copies of the raw HD footage to speed up previews. Without it we can’t recommend this for HD editing on anything slower than a Core 2 Duo PC.
As for accusations of dullness, our experience is the opposite. There’s nothing duller than grappling with cumbersome controls; by providing users with simple tools to edit quickly, Sony lets the interest come from the raw footage rather than the software’s features. That usually leads to better quality videos.