Sony Vegas Pro 11 Review: Now, With Graphics Acceleration
At a Glance
Vegas Pro 11
A powerful video editor takes great strides with GPU acceleration, but it needs to speed things up even more to compete with Adobe Premiere Pro.
If there's one thing that stifles creative energy with deadly effectiveness, it's having to wait. That's why the new GPU-accelerated features in Sony's Vegas Pro 11 video-editing application ($600 as of January 3, 2012) are more welcome than pretty much anything else Sony could have done for this application.
Speed Me Up, Scotty
Vegas Pro 11 can use your system's graphics card instead of its CPU to accelerate certain playback and rendering functions. Altogether, 36 video effects and 10 transitions, as well as output rendering, are GPU-accelerated; in contrast, Vegas Pro 10 accelerated a single function. Sony claims that Vegas's GPU acceleration can speed output rendering by as much as a factor of four, depending on the type of project involved, the effects and transitions you use, and your system and its graphics card. If your system has a puny CPU and a powerful graphics card, for example, you might see more improvement than if the quality of those two components were reversed.
Your graphics card must support OpenCL (Open Computer Language), but such cards are now pretty common, and you can buy them from either AMD or Nvidia (Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 supports GPU acceleration only with Nvidia cards). Your system must use a graphics driver that supports it, too. This requirement led to an odd glitch in my testing: I discovered that my graphics driver, even though it was only a few weeks old, caused Vegas not to offer GPU acceleration. I had to dig around on Nvidia's site to find an even newer driver; and though it wasn't listed as the recommended driver, it enabled the option for GPU acceleration once I installed it.
I set up a 15-minute timeline with several high-definition video clips, and then I added a ridiculous number of effects and transitions, but I made sure that they were all GPU-accelerated ones (Vegas groups them in folders, but they are otherwise unlabeled as such). My system--a three-year-old dual-Xeon workstation with 8GB of RAM and an Nvidia Quadro FX4800 graphics card--rendered the project to Sony's .MXF format in 1080i in 2 hours, 20 minutes, with GPU acceleration disabled. With GPU acceleration switched on, my system finished the job in 1 hour, 50 minutes--an improvement of half an hour, or about 21 percent.
I then tested a small project and some test files that Sony provided, and I saw speed improvements of 19 to 54 percent, depending on the output format I chose. Though none of these results approached the maximum 4X improvement that Sony claims, the speed gains were substantial and noticeable, and different projects may produce better results. Still, in my experience, Adobe Premiere Pro's GPU acceleration is more effective at this point.
Enabling GPU acceleration has some lesser but still useful additional benefits, including the ability to display high-definition clips in Vegas's monitor at higher resolutions and to scrub the timeline more smoothly.
Your Title Here
Other improvements in Vegas Pro 11 are relatively minor, but some new effects and a new titler mechanism are worth noting. Sony added a NewBlueFX "starter pack" of five transitions and eight video effects. They may not sound like much, but the new tools are noteworthy for offering a wider range of customizability that can produce some very complicated effects. They come with many named presets (for example, the NewBlue ST Video Tuneup effect has presets called "Dull," "Moody," "Pastels, "Psychedelic," and five more); but once you've selected a preset, you can tweak it considerably and then save it as your own customized preset for later use. Think of it--your own signature video look.
Vegas Pro 11 also adds a per-parameter keyframing capability for many more video effects, which means that you can add keyframes (to specify when an effect begins, how much effect it applies, and when it ends) for different elements of an effect. Not only can you control when the entire effect begins, but you can independently keyframe the size, the intensity, the perspective, and the tint, for example. This capability gives you much more creative control, though you may be at risk of losing track of time while playing with the many controls.
The NewBlue Titler Pro lets you manipulate text in four dimensions--the X, Y, and Z axes, plus (if you use keyframes) time. You can adjust the position of text on the three axes, rotate it around the three axes, and scale it around the three axes--all independently. Styles include gradients and textures, extrusions, 2D and 3D shapes, and some neat effects. Neither the NewBlue effects nor the NewBlue Titler Pro are GPU-accelerated, however.
More interested in removing camera jitter than in adding it? A new video stabilization plug-in is supposed to analyze motion on all three axes to make clips look less shakey. It has the usual presets--light, medium, and heavy stabilization--and it works adequately, as long as you're okay with having your video cropped. The more stabilization you implement, the more cropping you have to put up with; and if you crop too much, especially when working with a standard-definition clip, the result may look pretty fuzzy (though that's a normal trade-off). Furthermore, you can't simply drag and drop from the effects list onto a clip in the timeline; instead, you must select the clip, then use a Media FX menu command, and then select it from a list in a different window. Sony insists on this method of using the plug-in, it says, so that, if you extend a clip by trimming, the new portion of the clip will also be stabilized. Like the NewBlue features, the Stabilize plug-in isn't GPU-accelerated.
You can upload directly to YouTube from Vegas Pro 11, as you can from nearly every other modern video editor, including Sony's lower-priced Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11. Though it seems a little odd for a feature to trickle up to a premium product from a lower-priced counterpart, this feature is easy to use; and it works even with 3D compositions because the tool recognizes when you're working with 3D content and responds by uploading to YouTube's 3D format.
Other improvements: You can edit 3D footage and see the effects of your work on 3D-enabled laptops (Sony makes a couple of them, I hear); and a new feature called Sync Link lets you associate two more or elements in the timeline and control whether they move together or separately. It's similar to grouping except that one element is the "parent" and the others are "children"; if you move the parent, they all move; but if you move a child, it moves alone.
GPU Acceleration: A Big Step
Though Vegas Pro 11's GPU acceleration isn't as wowing as Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5's, it's still a major achievement; and I have to think that it's only a first step. And if you've cast your lot with AMD's graphics cards rather than Nvidia's, you'll welcome the changes even more.