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Sony Vegas Pro 9

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Vegas Pro 9 is a professional-level video-editing and DVD-creation package that allows for plenty of customization, so you can keep most of your video-creation activity confined to a single application. The editor has a full set of key features for video pros and experienced hobbyists, including real-time playback of edits, nondestructive editing, export to two dozen video formats, and unlimited undo/redo. The bundled DVD Architect Pro package lets you take your completed videos and encode them for burning to DVD or Blu-ray disc. Vegas Pro is certainly no impulse purchase, but it's one of the best suites in its class and as accessible as high-end video editors come.

The key difference in philosophy between Vegas Pro 9 and traditional editing suites such as Adobe's Creative Suite is the workflow. Adobe's product breaks each segment of video production into a separate package, with SoundBooth for audio editing, Premiere Pro for video, After Effects for titling and other effects, and Encore for DVD authoring. This makes sense if you have a large production staff with specialists handling each aspect of a video; it's akin to how traditional film is edited. For smaller production houses or video hobbyists, however, Vegas Pro's integrated approach of putting all of the major functions (sans DVD authoring) in the main application makes the process flow much more smoothly, since you don't have to switch among a bunch of applications.

The only time you need to leave the Vegas interface is when it's time to create a DVD or Blu-ray disc (BD). DVD Architect Pro lets you encode NTSC and PAL DVDs and BDs, complete with AC3 5.1 surround sound. It's a powerful, flexible program (one of the sample projects is a simple DVD game), and its user interface meshes well with that of the Vegas Pro editor. A selection of predesigned themes covers events such as weddings and birthdays, in addition to a variety of general-use designs.

Many of the new features in Vegas Pro 9 are geared toward video professionals. Vegas Pro 9 adds support for pro-level modular Red One cameras and their 4K resolution (you can edit projects up to 4,096x4,096 pixels), as well as native support for Sony's XDCAM EX format used on its professional and prosumer camcorders. The package now includes both 32- and 64-bit versions of the program; the 64-bit version's support for more than 4GB of memory will help boost performance for those editing very large projects.

Of more interest to consumers: Vegas Pro 9 features improved support for importing AVCHD files from consumer camcorders. In our tests, we were able to import certain Panasonic AVCHD files directly into Vegas Pro 9 that required conversion before they could be brought into Vegas Pro 8.

Version 9 offers new user-interface layouts designed to optimize the audio-editing and color-correction processes. You can tweak the positions and presence of various editing tools, and save your own custom layouts, as well. You’ll also find six useful new professional lighting effects added to the program's already beefy suite of effects and transitions. Among the new effects are Rays, which simulates the effect of light streaming from behind your source (handy if you want to try to top J.J. Abrams' use of lens flare in Star Trek); Fill Light, which can lighten dark regions without blowing out bright areas; and Starburst, which simulates using a star filter on your lens, making dark cityscape shots more interesting.

Vegas Pro 9 also integrates sophisticated audio editing, as you’d expect from the company that makes Sound Forge. You can encode full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, complete with 3D panning. One welcome new feature is the ability to align audio without the sound snapping to a frame boundary, making it easy to sync up audio exactly to an event in your project.

The program’s scripting feature lets programming-savvy users add new functionality to Vegas and create programs that automate common procedures. The scripting language is sophisticated, though, and nonprogrammers will have to negotiate a tight learning curve before they can take advantage of it.