Adobe wasn't the first software company to strip down its pro-level video editing program for a mainstream market. Sonic Foundry (now owned by Sony) did just that some years ago with Vegas Movie Studio.
Despite its seniority of years, Sony's offering has yet to grab a lion's share of the mainstream market, and still struggles to get noticed next to the likes of Premiere Elements, Pinnacle Studio and Ulead VideoStudio 11.
Sony Vegas Movie Studio 8 comes in two distinct versions - the basic 'vanilla' flavour, and a Platinum Edition, which adds HDV support and Dolby AC3 sound encoding to the toolbox.
At first glance, the look and layout of Vegas Movie Studio is identical to its big brother, Vegas 8.0. The interface is composed of a large timeline, video monitor, audio monitor and system explorer panels, which are tabbed to serve also as a media trimmer, clip bin, or browser for transitions and filter effects.
Limitations of Movie Studio start to become apparent, however, with the realisation that there are only four video tracks and four audio tracks available on the timeline.
The tracks themselves have their purpose pre-defined before any media is applied, as opposed to those in the full version of Vegas which become audio or video tracks only when clips are dropped onto them.
Aside from this fundamental difference, there's very little to distinguish between Vegas and Vegas Movie Studio in terms of design and layout, which will serve users well, allowing them to upgrade to the pro-level software without encountering horrendous new learning curves.
Quite how well Vegas Movie Studio fares in terms of features depends on which version you opt for. The basic version is quite limited in its supported video formats, and won't edit HDV footage, while the platinum edition will.
This is an important point to note, as HDV camcorders are becoming so inexpensive and attractive to mainstream users. Also, the Platinum Edition will read from AVCHD devices (but won't write to them). DV is fully supported in both flavours, complete with device control, batch capture and scene detection. Video can also be imported from Sony DVD camcorders in both versions.
Vegas' approach to video editing is a rather unorthodox one, as there's no source/edit monitor layout for three-point editing, as you'll find with most of its competitors. This is less of an oddity for Movie Studio at the entry-level though, as competitors such as Pinnacle Studio and Ulead VideoStudio play by different rules too.
While Vegas Movie Studio doesn't offer a storyboard-based editing interface, video added to its timeline is presented as a continuous string of thumbnail icons, giving an immediate representation of a video's content without having to play or scrub in the video monitor.
Video and audio elements of a clip can be edited independently, enabling some more complex (but very fundamental) editing techniques such as insert and split editing.
The program offers a vast selection of video transitions and filter effects - the exact number depends on which version of the program you opt for. Basic Movie Studio users will receive around 300 filters and 185 transitions, while the Platinum Edition offers over 377 effects and 239 transitions.
Video and audio filters can be applied to entire tracks as well as individual clips, making it easy to colour grade entire projects in one action. Colour correction tools are reasonable - in the form of Vegas' Primary Colour Correction panel - but only in the Platinum Edition of the program.
Track Motion effects are provided as standard and give a huge amount of hands-on control for picture-in-picture effects, complete with optional shadow, glow and keyframed animation. Parent/child relationships can also be established, making Vegas Movie Studio one of the most advanced editors at this price point for compositing effects.
Audio envelopes are easy to manipulate on the timeline to control sound levels over time. There's no audio mixing panel as you'll find in most other editors, but each audio track has its own level slider in the track head, serving much the same purpose.
More disappointing still, Movie Studio offers no surround sound mixing tools, as can be found in Pinnacle Studio and Ulead VideoStudio. We're also pleased to see that most parameters for track effects can be keyframed directly on the timeline itself, making it much easier to control them in relation to other aspects of the movie and the edit structure.
Another limitation that's sure to work against Sony in the mainstream market is a lack of integrated DVD authoring tools. Sony is relying on users buying its DVD Architect Studio software, which does a good job for very little money, but still brings the overall price up much higher than the competition, and represents additional steps in the workflow that aren't necessary in most competing products.
Vegas Movie Studio 8 gave us no cause for complaint in terms of performance - regardless of whether we were testing it on a powerful desktop PC or a slightly older laptop. It responded immediately to commands and carried out its work without complaint.
Real-time performance of composites and video filters in a DV project was first-rate - even on the laptop. As the number of effects increased and the workload became heavier, the quality of playback would degrade accordingly, but we're still delighted with what the program could come up with prior to formal rendering.
Sony Vegas Movie Studio 8 is a very capable video editing program, and it's certain to attract a lot of 'grown-up' video enthusiasts that don't like the toybox interfaces and excessive hand-holding offered by many other entry-level video editors.
Vegas Movie Studio is businesslike and plain-speaking. It won't insult your intelligence if you're already computer-savvy, and it has an awful lot of power under its hood.
Lack of surround sound mixing and direct DVD authoring are our only gripes when comparing this program with competitors - otherwise it's a very sensible purchase for the serious enthusiast.
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