DVFilm Raylight in Sony Vegas
Sony Vegas Pro 8.0 offers a number of major new features, including support for Microsoft Vista and XP SP2, multicamera editing, 32-bit floating point video processing, and a new titler. (See Ed Troxel's review, "Sony Vegas 8: What's New, What's Required & More" for more on Vegas Pro 8.) One of the things Vegas Pro 8 doesn't have built in, however, is support for Panasonic's flavor of MXF files, used by camcorders such as Panasonic's AG-HVX200. Out of the box, Sony Vegas Pro 8.0, like previous versions of Vegas, cannot handle MXF files created by Panasonic camcorders.
However, Raylight, a $195 piece of software from DVFilm, elegantly and reliably marries Vegas and Panasonic MXF. As far as I know, Raylight is the preferred way, and perhaps the only direct way, to get Panasonic MXF files onto the Vegas timeline. That seems likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. Sony supports its own version of MXF in Vegas, but not Panasonic's. Rather than offering Panasonic MXF support in Vegas, Sony has chosen to cooperate with DVFilm in producing Raylight.
Material eXchange Format (MXF) was designed with the idea of transparent exchange of audio, video, data and metadata among different manufacturers' equipment. It is an open standard, which anyone can use. Sony XDCAM and Panasonic P2 camera acquisition file formats both fit within the MXF standard. However, there are significant differences, both in the "essence" and the "wrapper" used by the two flavors of MXF.
MXF itself defines only the wrapper. What is contained in the wrapper (the essence) is left up to the manufacturer, and has to do with the codec that is used to encode the content. Sony XDCAM, for instance, uses IMX encoding for its content, while Panasonic P2 uses DVCPRO. Another difference is found in the "Operating Patterns" (OPs) used by the two manufacturers. Sonyâs flavor of MXF uses OP-1A. Panasonic P2 uses OP-ATOM (which is also used by Avid, Thomson Grass Valley, Leitch, and most other vendors that support MXF). Out of the box, Vegas supports OP-1A but not OP-ATOM.
Raylight solves both the wrapper and the essence problems: It provides a high-quality DVCPRO-HD codec and an OP-ATOM wrapper as a plug-in for Vegas. (A versions for Adobe Premiere Pro is also available.)
I first tested Raylight in 2006 and have been using it steadily since early 2007. When I first looked at Raylight, it worked by creating proxy AVI files which you could drag onto the Vegas timeline -- full-resolution proxies for native DVCPRO-HD quality or lower res proxies for more responsive editing performance. However, creating the proxies can take a significant amount of time, and they also take up disk space (generally, about a third as much space as the original MXF files). In early 2007, Raylight introduced native support for MXF, which allows you to drag MXF files right onto the Vegas timeline without having to create proxies first. This was a huge step forward. (Raylight still supports the proxy approach, which should work with any program that can handle AVI files, and may be handy for programs like Adobe After Effects, for which there is no Raylight plug-in.)
My experiences with Raylight have been generally good. Most of the time, it has simply worked, and I didn't have to think about it. I did have problems with Vegas 7 crashing when I used Raylight version 2 in native mode under Windows Professional 2000. I ended up reverting to the proxy approach for a while. Now, however, Raylight version 3 (3.01-5 to be precise) is working well for me in native mode both under Windows Professional 2000 (with Vegas 7, since Vegas 8 is not supported under Windows 2000) and under Vista with Vegas Pro 8.I did run into one issue running Raylight 3 under Vista. The issue revolves around using Matrox codecs with Raylight. The codec that comes with Raylight supports only HD resolutions. For lower resolutions (720 x 480 NTSC DV, for instance), Raylight requires that you download free codecs from Matrox. If you don't have those codecs installed, Raylight gives you a warning (like the one shown below) when you start Vegas and try to open a non-HD project in Vegas. In addition, the preview window and the timeline video track are empty in Vegas, since there is no codec to decode the video. (The audio still works.)
Unfortunately, as of December 2007, Matrox has not yet released codecs for Vista and hasn't said when they will. This sounds like a show-stopper, but it actually it doesn't seem to be. First, Marcus van Bavel, owner and chief engineer of DVFilm, tells me that in their testing, they found that the current Matrox codecs run normally under Vista, even though the installer gives four error messages during the install. I actually haven't tried that myself, because Matrox shared beta versions of their VFW Software codecs with me, and they installed without any problem and seem to be working flawlessly, as well.
Even though Matrox couldn't give me a release date for the VFW codecs for Vista, the fact that they have beta software that they're sharing is a good sign. The fact that I have had no problems with it is even better.
The figure below is the same project shown above, after the Matrox beta codecs were installed.
There's really no way you can tell this from any other Vegas project unless you open up the Properties dialog and look in the Media tab. There, you'll see that the format is DVFilm Raylight.
too, is unchanged when you use the Raylight plug-in with Vegas. You can
even drag MXF files directly from the P2 card onto the timeline and
start editing immediately. I've only been using Raylight 3 for a few days as I write this, but based on my experience so far, as well as experience with previous versions of Raylight, I feel confident in recommending it and giving it the full honors five-cow rating.