For years, Vegas Movie Studio has been our top pick for home video production, thanks to a streamlined interface that made light work of precise edits.
However, recent versions of Premiere Elements (‘Also consider…’, below) have eclipsed Sony’s editor’s capabilities and, in some respects, ease of use.
Vegas Movie Studio 9 comes in three guises. The basic version is £39 and supports standard-definition video only. The Platinum version, which costs £44, supports HD video and surround-sound audio, and includes extra effects such as advanced colour correction. A Pro Pack version, priced at £75, comes with Sony’s excellent Sound Forge Audio Studio 9, a sound effects library and a 2GB flash drive.
On launching the software, the user is greeted with a New Project wizard to help pick the best settings for a project. The screen layout has changed, with the timeline at the bottom and the preview and other tabbed panels at the top. This places the crucial preview window at eye level, where the colour accuracy of LCD screens is best. You can also switch to a full-screen preview with a single click; this was previously reserved for those with dual monitors. A new Cinescore feature generates copyright-free incidental music to a specified length. It’s not quite as approachable as the SmartSound technology included with Premiere Elements, but the supplied musical material is much better than most library music.
Sadly, that’s it for new editing features, with other improvements limited to improved import and export capabilities. AVCHD camera support was added in version 8, but version 9 extends this to cameras that record at the Full HD resolution of 1,920×1,080. We found preview performance of this format to be poor, though. Even playback of one video stream, with no added effects, was too much for our 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo PC, resulting in lots of dropped frames. Ulead VideoStudio X2, via its SmartProxy feature, and Adobe Premiere Elements 7 performed better on the same PC. Uploads to YouTube were more successful. Vegas Movie Studio has a Higher quality option that takes advantage of YouTube’s recent quality hike.
Export to Blu-ray is possible directly from the timeline, either to Blu-ray media or as Blu-ray data on DVD media. The latter is welcome considering the cost of blank Blu-ray discs, but it isn’t a universally supported format. Many Blu-ray players aren’t compatible, as Blu-ray and AVCHD use different folder structures. Worse, there’s no way to create Blu-ray discs with menus. The accompanying DVD Architect Studio is excellent, but is a DVD-only application.
Vegas Movie Studio Platinum’s sluggish handling of AVCHD footage and its inability to create menu-based Blu-ray discs make it feel behind the times. It’s still a great editor for standard-definition video, but Premiere Elements’ easy-to-use tools give it the edge there, too.