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Editing power has never been in short supply with Vegas Movie Studio. Instead, usability has long been the main problem for this software, which appears more like a modified pro-level video
editing program
than a consumer one. The latest version includes interface
tweaks that help a little in this regard, and adds powerful color-grading, slow
motion, and a screen capture tool. The software now also gets points for
supporting 360-degree, HEVC H.265, and 4K content. Add to that hardware
acceleration for both Nvidia and AMD, black bar filling for vertical shots, and
very detailed keyframe editing, and you have a powerful—if still less than
intuitive—video editor. Even with this upgrade, however Vegas Movie Studio falls short
of the competition from Adobe, Corel, and CyberLink.

What’s New in Vegas Movie Studio

For those who are already familiar with Vegas Movie Studio,
here’s a cheat sheet of what’s new for the latest iteration, Version 17:

  • More Convenient Color Grading. The color
    wheel, HSL, and curves tools get a dedicated panel, letting you use them on multiple
    events.
  • Better Storyboard Function. You can use a
    clip in more than one storyboard entry and the thumbnail shows the In point.
  • Improved Search and Filter for Effects. View
    effects by category or favorite them for easy recall. Ditto for Transitions and
    Media Generators (shapes and text.)
  • Vertical Video Fill. A more elegant way
    to deal with those portrait mode shots from smartphones than black bars.
  • Warp Flow Transition. This smooths out
    jump cuts and a companion Smart Split tool lets you apply this smoothing.
  • Slow Motion. “Optical flow technology” creates smoother slow motion
    effects.
  • Kinetic Text. 25 templates for kinetic text let you dazzle viewers with bouncing, flying, and twisting titles.
  • GPU Acceleration. For editing operations like decoding AVC and HEVC; it works with AMD as well as Nvidia GPUs, which is rare.
  • Lens Correction. This fixes geometric distortion and is based on a database of lenses;
    it’s particularly applicable to wide-angle action cam lenses.
  • Screen Capture. Capture on-screen action as a video file.

The previous update, Version 16, added several capabilities,
too. Here’s a recap of those:

  • More Guidance. From the moment you start
    the program, you see a welcome screen that offers simple editing modes with
    simplified interfaces. The Guided video creator steps you through the process
    of building, enhancing, and sharing a movie.
  • Easy Editing Modes. These options pare
    the interface down to just the tools needed for a particular step in the
    process, such as adding and arranging media, text, graphics, transitions, and
    effects.
  • In and Out Points. In the Source panel,
    you now get lines to show In and Out points for each clip in the source panel;
    editing changes you make here show up in the live preview window. You can now
    resize the thumbs to make this trimming more convenient. The same lines appear
    in Storyboard mode, also live updating the timeline preview.
  • Autosave. This is a big one for any video
    editing software. It’s such a computing-intensive activity, that even software
    from the biggest names is subject to occasional crashes. Autosave for all your
    editing actions can provide some peace of mind, though it only saves your work
    every five minutes.
  • Hover Scrub. Apple popularized this
    capability in iMovie; simply passing the mouse cursor over a clip thumbnail in
    the source lets you scrub through the underlying video clip.
  • Motion Tracking. This tool goes against
    the move towards more-intuitive features. It’s limited to Bezier masks, it’s
    hard to find, it’s hard to use, and it’s unreliable.
  • 360 Video Support. The program can stitch
    and display 360 VR files, and it even boasts a stabilization tool for this
    content.

Pricing and Getting Started

Vegas Movie Studio comes in three editions. The base edition
lists for $49.99, limits you to ten video tracks, and doesn’t provide Blu-ray
burning, picture-in-picture, 3D editing, plug-ins, or 360-degree support, along
with various other tools. For a full-power option, I recommend the Platinum
Edition, which lists at $79.99; that’s the version this review is based on. Platinum
increases the track limit to 200 and adds back all those missing tools. The
top-shelf Vegas Movie Studio 16 Suite lists for $139.99. This edition adds six
NewBlue plug-in effects, including Titler Pro Express, Chroma Key Pro, and
Stylizers 5 Cartoonr Plus.

Those prices are at the low end of the range for
enthusiast-level video editing software: CyberLink PowerDirector Ultimate and
Pinnacle Studio Ultimate both list for $129 and change. Adobe Premiere
Elements
and Corel VideoStudio Ultimate both cost $99.99, and MAGIX Movie
Edit Pro Premium is $79.99.

At installation, the program gives you a choice of modules,
which is helpful if you don’t need all the extra effects or the included system tune-up
utility
. Then you choose language (English, German, French, Spanish, or
Polish), accept the user license, and choose a folder location for the program.
On first run, a dialog asks for your license key and email address, or lets you
star the free trial.

The Movie Studio Interface

Though it has improved, Vegas Movie Studio’s interface still feels
somewhat pieced together, with some elements looking modern and some appearing
to be holdovers from the Windows XP era—for example, the Preferences menu. At
the outset, it’s modern looking and dark with a reasonable number of buttons.
There are small buttons below the timeline for editing options that most novice
users won’t care about, but none above, which most programs have for the major
trimming options, audio, effects, and so on. Even Final Cut Pro offers these.
The Dashboard panel is an attempt to make up for this, with its large buttons
for Add/Arrange Media, Text, Graphics, Transitions, and Effects.

By contrast, Adobe Premiere Elements and other programs have
entire modes (also called tabs or workspaces) that take you through the steps
of importing, editing, outputting. There’s an option to save custom Window
Layouts, and the same menu choice offers presets that duplicate the Dashboard’s
choices, such as Add Text and Titles, and Add Video Transitions.

A helpful feature in Movie Studio pops its head up as soon
as you start the app: It gives you choices for starting from a sample project
or opening an existing one. There you choose whether your video is widescreen
or tall, and you can access one of the easy editing tools or go straight to the
advanced editor.

There’s no touch-screen-friendly option, which used to be a
part of the program’s Simple mode. Even the pro-level Adobe Premiere Pro offers
a touch interface option. Another quibble is that you can’t run Vegas in a
full-screen mode without the standard window title bar showing, as you can in
Premiere Elements and CyberLink PowerDirector.
I am, however, happy to see that Vegas adapts to high-DPI displays, showing
appropriately sized controls rather than the tiny controls that unoptimized
programs such as VSDC Video Editor Pro display.

The Show Me How tutorials highlight how to import, trim,
edit video, edit audio, add text, and more. That’s useful, but there are still
menu options that will perplex novices, such as Quantize to Frames, Post-Edit
Ripple, and Build Dynamic RAM Preview. There are 31 entries in the context menu
that appears when you right-click an audio track, and 28 for video. The top
entry in the media Properties dialog is Tape Name! It’s easy enough to leave
these off-putting options alone, but the fact that they’re still included
hinders the program’s usability. I suppose it could be that Vegas has users
who would miss these if they were removed. You won’t find any of this in a
program that’s truly designed for hobbyists, such as Corel
VideoStudio
or Adobe Premiere Elements.

The interface uses a standard three-panel view with source
at top left, preview at top right, and timeline across the whole length of the
bottom of the window. It makes more use of three-line “hamburger”
menus to hide multiple options. The track headers have been cleaned up a bit
this way, no longer showing buttons for maximize, minimize, animate, and
compositing mode. A picture-in-picture track is included by default, which
might be helpful to some novices. The layout is among the most flexible in its
class: You can undock any panel and float it on the desktop, and you can save
multiple preset layouts. Master channel volume meters (or master bus) show you
the audio level at the right of the video preview.

Importing and Organizing in Vegas

You can import or capture DV, XDCAM, HDV, or AVCHD content,
as well as use AVI, BMP, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, or WMV files on your disk. I
had no trouble importing HEVC clips from an iPhone X, something that
inexplicably baffles Adobe Premiere Elements, even with the necessary Windows
codecs installed. The program can import or export 4K content, for which it
automatically creates proxy files for faster editing. One thing I like is that
when you add a clip to the timeline, its scale adjusts to fill all the clips to
the width of your view.

Story board in Vegas Movie Studio

Instead of explicitly importing media, you simply browse
your disk folder and choose content. Vegas intends you to arrange the media using the improved storyboard view, which lets you drag clips around and preview them, but not apply transitions the way PowerDirector lets you.

There is also a Capture tool that lets you grab media from a
FireWire device or DVD camcorder disc. The Search Media Bins tool listed
keywords among its search parameters, but there’s no way to add keywords to
clips; you can only add them to projects.

Screen capture with Vegas Movie Studio 17

A new import option is the Vegas Capture tool. Other
software like Corel VideoStudio and CyberLink PowerDirector include similar
tools. This one lets you capture both your webcam and computer desktop
simultaneously, which is helpful for when you’re creating tutorials.

Basic Editing

As with most current video editing software, you drag and
drop clips from the source onto the timeline, where you have access to a choice
of trimming tools, including shuffle, slip, slide, time-stretch, and split. The
Trimmer lets you select a region of a source clip for insertion into the
project, which is how pro-level software works. It doesn’t, however, let you
use two video preview windows for source content and project view, which pros
insist on. The timeline allows just 20 tracks—most other products let you add
as many as you want. Corel VideoStudio is another exception, also allowing a
maximum of 20 overlay tracks.

The timeline is easily navigable. Spinning the mouse wheel
expands and contracts the timeline scale. There are two ways to move back and
forth through your movie: Dragging the play head simply changes its position,
and dragging it with Ctrl held down scrubs (or “shuttles”) through
the video, with the sound playing at the speed at which you scrub. There’s also
a separate Shuttle control at bottom left that you can speed up with a pointer
indicator.

Each clip entry includes icons for cropping, FX, and an
overflow menu. When you click the FX button another window opens for adjusting
pan/crop and effects. To get to transitions, FX, and the Trimmer, you click on
tabs below the source panel. This is not visually intuitive; every other
consumer editor, and even the pro-level Apple Final Cut Pro X, has icons that
indicate their purposes.

Effects in Vegas Movie Studio

Scores of keyboard shortcuts let you perform operations
quickly. The left side of each clip has helpful solo, mute, and FX buttons.
Within each clip display on the timeline is a Pan-and-Crop icon, with more
choices available from a right-click context menu.

Other outdated or pro-level aspects of Vegas Movie Studio
are that it uses the terms bins and envelopes, and effects are shown in
folders, though you do see preview thumbnails for those. You can also get to
effects from the tab below the source panel, which reveals preview thumbnails
for the effects the way most software in this category does. The Search
function helps mitigate this, however, making it easier to find media and
effects. The search also works for non-transition effects. You can now star
favorite effects and media generators.

Trimmer in Vegas Movie Studio

The Trimmer tool’s hover scrub helps you find the point in
the clip where you want to make a cut or set an in or out point. But the
Trimmer window has been oversimplified to the point of being useless—most of its
options are now in a dropdown menu, and it only shows one clip, so you can’t
adjust splices. The Insert Region control is helpful because it lets you name a
section of a clip, but in practice it’s cumbersome to use.

One tool I miss is a right-click option to remove empty
track space, which most competing tools offer. Another is the ability to set
the default time for still images to run on the timeline—5 seconds is too long
for many photos. There’s no easy way to select a bunch of them and set the
duration to something shorter.

Guided mode is a wizard that takes novices through the steps
of adding clips, applying transitions, inserting titles, and adding a
background music soundtrack. The last step is to output the project, either by
rendering a video file or uploading to social media. It’s certainly a quick way
from clips to presentation, but most users will want more customization.

Getting Fancy With Digital Movie Effects

Vegas Movie Studio now offers 257 transitions and over 70 customizable
effects, and these can be bolstered by third-party plugins. The transition
previews show standard A>B demos, rather than with your own content, which
would be more helpful. And the effects all show the same eye image, which
doesn’t demonstrate them well. The program has improved in making transitions
easier to use. But it lacks the popular seamless transitions that CyberLink and
Pinnacle
Studio
have recently added.

There is, however, a new Warp Flow
transition option, similar to Final Cut’s Flow transition. These let you smooth
out jump cuts and multiple takes in similar shots.  The tool was effective in smoothing out a test
talking head video I made, but there was a problem with the audio, which the
transition didn’t affect—the images matched up well, but the sound was off sync
momentarily. (For a fun effect, try this transition on dissimilar
adjacent clips.)

Vertical Movie borders in Vegas Movie Studio

Also new for version 17 is an automatic side-filler feature
for vertical videos like those you take with your smartphone. The tool is
called Black Bar Fill, and has six variations, depending on how much you want
to blur the background, zoom, and shadow the original.

Effect plug-ins from the respected NewBlue come along with
the Platinum level of Vegas Movie Studio, and you can install OpenFX effect
plug-ins, including professional ones like those from Red Giant.

Time stretching is possible in Vegas Movie Studio—speeding
footage up or putting it into or slow motion—but, again, there’s no button or
icon to click on to show you the feature exists. You simply have to know that
you can either drag the left or right edge of a whole clip, hold Ctrl, and drag
to enlarge or shrink the timeline entry. Alternatively, you can enter a
playback rate factor in the clip’s Properties dialog. But you can’t just speed
up or slow down part of a clip.

A new (for version 17) Slow Motion effect uses frame
interpolation rather than just repeating frames as the Time Stretching tool
does. You first have to analyze the clip, choosing among Course, Medium, and
Fine quality settings for that process. Once analysis is done, you can choose
Optical Flow or Morph; the latter looked smoother in my test on a geyser
eruption. As with the Warp Flow transition, the audio in my test wasn’t
affected; there’s no option to create the familiar deep-monster-sounding voice
slo-mo effect.

The new lens profile correction lets you manually fix barrel
and pincushion geometric distortion, or automatically correct it using a
database of lenses. This is something I’ve only seen in photo software, and
unfortunately the database mostly includes SLR and action cam lenses—no smart
phones.

The freeze-frame tool is similar to that in Adobe Premiere
Elements, though I had a heck of a time finding the feature. It doesn’t show up
in any of the top menus, for example in the Edit or Insert menus. To use it,
you place the insertion point where you want the effect, and then tap the
hamburger menu and choose Freeze Frame at Cursor. This simply inserts a
5-second still at the insertion point. That’s usually too long, but you can
trim the clip on the timeline with the standard tools.

A bigger problem is that the clip’s audio track is not
adjusted, so when you use this Freeze Frame tool, everything after the effect
will have out-of-sync audio, making the feature pretty much broken for most
common uses. The freeze frame tool in other software like Premiere Elements and
Final Cut Pro X wisely leave a gap in the audio track so it stays in sync for
the rest of the movie.

In my chroma-key test using a green screen to fake a
background for my subject, I could either choose a green or blue screen or choose
the dropper to set my background color to transparent. The initial result
wasn’t as simple and correct as with Premiere Elements and PowerDirector, but
Vegas Movie Studio gives you high and low threshold sliders that let you clear
the background nearly as effectively as those competing apps.

Rotation in Vegas Movie Studio

Forget picture-in-picture presets like those offered by
PowerDirector and VideoStudio. You can, however, resize video within the
preview window. This involves going to the Video Event FX window, with its host
of adjustments, to do either of these things. Finally, there is a stabilization
tool buried in the Media FX options (I’d love more of these video effects to be
available from a right-click), and it did a decent job smoothing out test
footage—once I found it.

The app’s motion tracking lets you follow an on-screen
object, but the tool is limited to following motion with a mask. I was even
hard-pressed to find it: It’s hidden deep inside the Bezier Masking tool, which
you find after opening the Tools > Video > Video Event FX. (Don’t expect
motion tracking from the Track Motion option—that’s just moving the whole video
po sition around.) The competition, including Corel VideoStudio, Premiere
Elements, and CyberLink PowerDirector, have much clearer and more capable
motion tracking tools.

Audio Effects in Vegas Movie Studio

Audio

As mentioned, the Vegas interface shows audio level sliders
in a panel on the right and waveforms in the timeline. It also includes affects
you can use, such as reverb, noise gate, and flange. These effects appear in a
file-folder-like view, just like the video fx. Unfortunately, no canned stock
background tracks are included, as they are with many competitors. Some of
those even automatically fit background music to match your video content.

Kinetic Text in Vegas Movie Studio

Text Tools in Vegas Movie Studio

There’s no tab or toolbar button to take you to the
program’s text tool: Text is just another choice under Media Generators tab.
You can also get to this plug-in from the Insert menu. Your text can use any
system font, and you can adjust the size and color to taste. You can’t type
directly on your preview window. You do so rather in the separate FX window—no
WYSIWYG functionality here. You can also animate the text’s position, scale,
and pretty much every other property from clock icons next to each. The Media
Generators tab offers presets for these text animations.

New for text in version 17 are 25 Kinetic text templates,
which let you do things like apply Action Flip, Bounce, Fly In, Drop, and Twist
In motion to your titles.

The redesigned Color Grading tool in version 17 offers color
wheels and a curve graph control. You no longer need to open the tool
separately for every clip, but you still have to apply color grading to each
clip separately. The new tool includes wheels and sliders for Lift, Gamma,
Gain, Offset. There’s no help in the program to fill you in on what these all
do, but I found a decent tutorial on
them online. As with many Vegas tools, it’s fairly pro-level, and even Final
Cut Pro’s color wheels are more intuitive. Another color limitation is that
there are no presets in this tool for certain effects, like you find in
PowerDirector. Further, there’s no support for LUT files, which is one pro
feature that most competitors have added in recent version.  

Color Wheels in Vegas Movie Studio

Vegas Movie Studio’s Color Match tool is another somewhat pro-level
feature, but it can make any video movie look better. This is good if you’re
shooting different angles with different light sources. The tool also has a
Match Brightness option with an obvious and helpful function. Color Match opens
a very tall window in which you can choose the source and target color match
image or clip from the clipboard, a file, the screen, or preview. I’d prefer
simply being able to select video thumbnails or timeline clips for matching. In
my testing, it was a subtle effect for most content, but the tool did improve
clip uniformity.

3D and 360-Degree Video Editing

Vegas Movie Studio supports AVCHD 3D and multi-stream 3D
formats. It also lets you pair 3D subclips. Templates for 3D projects let you
build for both the Internet and Blu-ray output. The program doesn’t make
editing and viewing 3D content as easy as Magix Movie Edit Pro ($79.99 at
MAGIX) or PowerDirector does, but the help shows you how to set up 3D editing
and viewing. Movie Studio supports the popular Nvidia 3D Vision system as well
as anaglyphic (red/blue) 3D glasses.

You get more and better tools for editing 360-degree VR
content in PowerDirector, Corel VideoStudio, Pinnacle Studio, and Premiere Pro.
In Vegas, you need to check the 360 Output box in Project Properties, and then
use the Dual-Fish-Eye-Stitching plug-in. The program successfully stitched my
360 video (though a seam was very apparent) and let me preview with
omnidirectional panning. It even offers effective 360-degree stabilization, and
the fun Tiny Planet effect. The latter offers adjustment sliders for Latitude,
Longitude, and Z axis, but I couldn’t get a very good result in my testing.

Multicam Editing in Vegas

Adding multicam support to Movie Studio is a nice boasting
point, but the software doesn’t perform the first step—syncing
clips—automatically, as all other editors I’ve tested do. Instead, you must
eyeball the audio waveforms and line them up manually.

The program supports up to four angles, which is probably
enough for most amateurs, but competitors allow more. All competing products
I’ve tested show you the angle sources and the results of the edit; with Movie
Studio, you can only see the resulting movie with an external monitor or after
turning off multicam editing mode. As with all these tools, you click on the
preview of the angle you want to have it appear in the final video. You can
slide the cuts after for fine-tuning, but I found that this occasionally messed
up my video alignment. Needless to say, the program’s multicam editing tools
could use some polish.

Sharing and Output

Vimeo is a recent direct upload option, joining Facebook and
YouTube. The Make Movie button still lets you easily output your creation to a
multitude of video formats, including 4K in XAVC S, DVD, and Blu-ray. Exporting
to H.265 requires Vegas Movie Studio Platinum. To add DVD and Blu-ray menus and
chapters, you need the companion DVD Architect Studio, which doesn’t cost
extra. I tried uploading to Vimeo, and the program simply went through the same
rendering process and then popped up a browser window with my Vimeo login,
after which I could authorize the app. You can also include a title and
description, tags, and privacy level.

Performance

Vegas felt snappy on my home PC with a 3.4GHz Core i7 6700,
16GB RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 745—hardly the ultimate rig, but no slouch.
For version 17 the company announced support for AMD as well as Nvidia graphics
acceleration, which is uncommon among video editing software. I can’t provide
comparative rendering speed tests as in the past, due to COVID-19 restrictions that
prevent me from accessing my test PC at PCMag Labs. I’ll update this with those
when it becomes possible.

I will note that performance in my test rendering seemed good on the system detailed above. I rendered a movie consisting of four clips of mixed types (some 1080p, some SD, some 4K) with a standard set of transitions to MPEG-4 full HD at 15Mbps, 30fps, using H.264 High Profile. Audio was MPEG AAC Audio: 192 Kbps. For the project, Vegas turned in a time of 3:41 (min:sec). The rendering dialog does a good job of showing how long the operation will take. But Corel VideoStudio accomplished the same task in a much brisker 1:08. Stay tuned for more comparatives as we update our video editing software reviews.

Is Vegas Worth the Gamble?

Vegas Movie Studio Platinum, under Magix’s auspices, has
made some moves in the right direction, but it’s still got a long way to go to
catch up with its more up-to-date competition, especially in usability and rendering speed. Most
tools you need for editing are there, but finding and figuring out how to
use them is more of a challenge than in competing software. Too much of the
program still feels like software designed for professionals rather than enthusiasts.

Vegas offers strong color grading features, slow-motion, decent
help, deep effect and editing tools, and a slightly improved interface. It’s
still missing some new effects and ease-of-use tools the competition has been
adding all along. Longtime Movie Studio users might be pleased by the
familiarity, but the program still falls far short of our consumer PC video
editing software Editors’ Choice, Cyberlink PowerDirector.

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Further Reading

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