PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Sonic Foundry Vegas 4

June  2003  

£300 Video capture and Non-linear video editing on a PC that does everything and more that a £3000 package does.

Vegas 4.0 is outstandingly good stuff. And I mean really good. It’s hard to be too enthusiastic about this software from Sonic Foundry, whose legendary Sound Forge software still sets the standard for audio editing.

If you have been watching the numerous false dawns in the “you, too, can edit video on a PC” saga that’s been running since the earliest editions of Adobe’s Premiere began to look credible, and video capture cards dropped to affordable prices and acceptable performance – then Vegas 4.0 is daybreak at last.  Now add Vegas 4 to the fact that mini DV camcorders prices have been sliding gracefully down to under £300, and we are about to be besieged by more video than you could shake an entire rainforest of sticks at, since just about everyone agrees that video is by far the most effective information delivery medium, this convergence of price and practicality is irresistible.

I raved about Vegas 3.0 with its wonderfully robust and obvious interface – plus killer abilities to mix and match DV with Windows Media, Quicktime and MPG1/2/4 files – so you are not forgiven if you haven’t heard of the Vegas genre. This new release appeared in February, and although not a huge upgrade to an already outstanding non linear video editing package, it goes the extra mile and now has a companion (DVD Architect 1.0) that does all the DVD stuff you need..

The audio capability of Vegas has always been awesome, so much so that there really wasn’t a lot more left to do – and apart from the major extra of 5.1 surround sound mixing, most of the tweaks in 4 are in the video department, where the influence of real video editors is now clearly apparent.

It’s only when you actually have a robust enough editor to get stuck deep into projects that you then start to understand more about what’s missing from a package – and management of video clips is top of the list of those who manage to progress past the basics stages without getting bored by crashes. Even though disks are cheaper by the month and capacity keeps creeping up, you can eat all of a 120Gbyte drive in no time if you are not ruthless in managing your media, and deleting the junk as quickly as possible.

The new shuffle mode and ripple editing features make managing large projects as intuitive as I could imagine for anyone with a basic understanding word-processing.  The scrubbing and fast forward/back option is considerably expanded.

Purists will now find video scopes and colour correction – much needed in the land of the ropey old NTSC standard. As we all know, NTSC means “Never Twice Same Color.” This feature is great, but will probably be less frequently required in the world of PAL – unless you are using scanned cine film.

The range of supplied effects and speed of rendering is remarkable. AA range of filters previously supplied at extra cost with Vegas 3 are now integrated with version 4.

But having unleashed a monster of a product, I get the impression that Sonic Foundry doesn’t have a marketing bone in its body, or instead of a no save demo edition, it would be one that watermarked all files with vegas4 and their url. And then just about every bit of video anywhere on the web would be promoting Vegas with a few months, since this product is such a complete and comprehensive solution.

I’m still in awe – and the release is widely regarded by the cognoscenti as “bug free”. I haven’t yet managed to crash it, although I have run it hard round the bends on many occasions. Under Windows XP ona 1G7 CPU system, I have used a 1394 hard drive to capture video from a Sony DV camera plugged into the same 1394 card, and even working on some applications (within reason) at the same time, it doesn’t drop a frame using the excellent capture system included with Vegas.

Generally speaking, where graphics are concerned, I am a huge Adobe fan – but Adobe is still more than a bit hampered by the Mac roots of most of its products, and the awful help schemes that this imposes. The Vegas 4 help system is yet another tour de force, allowing the software to be used without reference to the full manual – but since there is so much going on with the software, browsing the manual will also reveal many more subtleties than you will blunder into by chance.

Vegas 4 is so much better than Premiere 6.5 that it is completely embarrassing for Adobe usual supporters. Premier is to Vegas what Jo Brand is to Kiri Tekanawa. And let’s give thanks that Microsoft hasn’t stifled this area of software innovation with it usual brand of mediocrity.

This is the sort of product that is treasured by its fans – and there are several fan sites out there, notably

There’s a $399 introductory price for Vegas 4 – maybe going up to $499 by the time you read this. But if I were Sonic Foundry, I’d keep it at $399 and watch Avid and the rest of the so-called high-end video editing software business fainting with horror.