Monday, December 14th, 2009
The task of selecting software for live audio-visual performances can become overwhelming, given the wide variety of solutions that are available. As is true of choosing anything, you need to understand what you need. You then take a look at what is available. Once again as with most other products, there are features offered that you may not comprehend completely. Your selection depends on your own skills and experience in the profession too. This can be especially tough for someone who is just starting out in this domain, or trying to get things done in such software for the first time, because you may not even be sure of what you need exactly. A good starting point is to take a look at what is available. And hence what are presented here are the best ones according to the professionals. So read on here to get the taste of some of the best VJ software that is available in the market today, including free ones right at the end.
VJamm made by Camart Ltd., described by the software publisher as a “piano for sound and vision.” It comes in two primary variants, VJamm (£50) and the VJamm Pro (£299). The professional version carry a number of advanced features, including support for higher resolution clips – 2048×2048, (while VJamm supports only up to 720×576), support for more file types (“.mov”, “.swf”, “.3ds”), better media import methods (Live Text creation and SMS to screen) and the ability to record a particular composition for later use. The Pro edition also allows the purchaser access to VJamm’s development program, which in turn is one of the reasons why the latest versions have a lot of intuitive features – driven by inputs from VJ’s who have used VJamm in the field.
Providing a comprehensive audio-visual solution, VJamm is reputed among VJ’s as having one of the most accurate time-bases which make it highly suitable for professional presentations – clip stretching and other clip calisthenics. Other attractive features include a responsive cross-fade module, a range of on-the-fly clip controls (like soft edge luma key, opacity, etc.), support for up to 16 layers of video with individual controls for each, and more.
There are add-ons that can be downloaded such as VJamm Blueprint which is an intuitive tool for creating attractive visual improvisations on-the-fly. The great thing about the add-ons is that you don’t have to purchase them – they are available for free to download, and will work as long as you use the registration key that is provided during purchase of VJamm/Pro – the publisher’s promise “you pay only once.”
But VJamm is for Windows PCs only. Minimum requirements: 1GHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, Windows XP with an Open GL graphics card. Free demo version is also available.
A good choice for starters, Neuromixer’s AVmixer Pro fits somewhere midway between VJamm and VJamm Pro. Although it does not have the support for as many live external video streams, it does come with a fairly complete set of features and so is an ideal solution for a beginning to intermediate level VJ. At $89, it is much cheaper than the VJamm Pro, and certainly a better buy than the VJamm. And unlike VJamm it is also available for Mac OS X.
The interface is attractive as well as intuitive. You can view the layers side by side for individual manipulation, and most of the functions, including a playback speed slider (range from 8% to 800%). With a little tinkering and some practice, you’ll very quickly find yourself sub-consciously rolling the mouse-over to the right place at the right time. It has a pretty standard list of advanced features including support for all major file types, MIDI support, support for FreeFrame effects and A/V mixing. The internal sequencer and the ability to assign specific audio channels to specific effects or to blends, makes it somewhat better VJamm.
As mentioned above, for Windows and Mac OSX users. Requires 512 MB RAM and QuickTime software installed prior to AVmixer Pro installation. Don’t forget to take advantage of the 30-day trial.
For Mac as well as PC users, Resolume Avenue 3 is a great software for VJ`s, supporting up to 3 video layers. If you know to use Adobe Flash or use Flash for creating visuals then Resolume’s is for you. It can play Flash animations including AS2 and AS3 scripting. And when it comes to scripting you know how powerful it can be. It is probably a bit over-priced (€ 299.00) when compared to the VJamm Pro. But has the support for over a many external video streams and has relatively simplest user interface – overall it has a less cluttered feel. If you like to work on fewer layers, but would like far more video streams then this can be a good choice. Another important feature of this software is video mapping. If you have worked with much code based real-time graphics processing application like VVVV then you will know how hard it is to map a video on any physical object. But when it comes to Resolume with few clicks you can map the video onto any object or surface. Not only that you can even project on multiple surfaces or objects.
Although it does not have an SMS-to-Screen feature or an internal sequencer, it still comes with the ability to assign Audio input channels to effects and blends, as well as advanced LFO features – in addition to the standard LFO syncs to Audio/BPM (which available with VJamm Pro and AVmixer Pro), there is the ability to manually adjust the LFO wave and LFO assignment to mixing channels/effects.
You can watch the Resolume introduction video from Bill Holland at Gearwire. This software is available as a trial download as well as a 50% discount for an educational license. It requires at least 1GB of RAM with ATI Radeon 9600 or better OR NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 or better.
ArkaOS Grand VJ
With an 8 Channel solution, ArkaOS Grand VJ (priced at €279) is comparable to the other heavyweights we have seen. So it is midway in terms of layering and video mixing capabilities. It does support most of the Automated Mixing and LFO capabilities, in a way similar to Resolume’s Avenue. Thus it clearly has the advantage over VJamm Pro in this regard, but falls behind in the numbers of layers (8 vs. 16). Whereas its advantage over Avenue is in these very layers (8 vs. 3) it does fall behind in the ability to support external video streams or clips (8 vs. over a hundred). So it really may boil down to your need for the additional layers at a slightly lower price.
Otherwise the feature-set is pretty standard and comparable to the other options: FreeFrame effects, MIDI support, and supports both Live Text Creation and SMS to Screen; like VJamm Pro you can save your compositions/performances.
Download and give it a try, but seriously consider paying the shipping for the boxed version because it comes with a 2.8GB DVD of clips from various VJ artists. 1 GB RAM recommended, XP/Mac OSX 10.4 or higher, NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200/ATI Radeon 9200/Intel GMA 950 or higher, and Quicktime+Flashplayer pre-installed.
One of the most popular VJ software for the Mac platform is VDMX. Able to any number of input clips and up to 4 external video input sources, the VDMX comes fully-loaded with all the bells and whistles that are customarily expected from a professional VJ package. What makes VDMX stand out though is its insistence on a real-time paradigm, that grants access at runtime to advanced video/graphics manipulation functions. This access is provided by the user interface that displays the relevant graphs on the main screen itself – changing parameters can be done quickly on-the-fly and it’s as easy as adjusting the graphs with the mouse (which in turn will affect the internal engine; the rendering engine runs at runtime). This allows you the flexibility of trying out things spontaneously and be brilliantly creative. As the publisher’s point out “VDMX’s workflow is designed to let you treat your studio like an instrument.”
Indeed the interface, with its signal processing/video manipulation functions does give it a studio feel. The right half of the interface is completely dedicate to such “studio” functions. VDMX replaces the basic timeline paradigm that is so standard in VJ software today with their innovative take on the real-time studio feel. However, and it must be said, for the non-professional the interface can be a little over-whelming; and even for the professional there is a little bit of a cluttered feel (make sure you have a fairly large screen to make it easier for yourself) and it can take a while to get used to the new paradigm.
Another important feature of VDMX and advantage being a Mac OS X application is that it can import Quartz Composer Composition and control it in real-time using VDMX controls. It also can use Quartz Composer Patches as plug-ins. And when it comes to Quartz Composer, you how innovative and creative it can be.
At $300 it is a better deal than some of the software we have already discussed, and it has a variety of add-ons for streamlining the interface and the rendering pipeline. You can save a particular setup (i.e. interface & rendering-pipeline combination) and load whichever setup is most desirable for your current activity.
The trial version only has saving disabled. Requires 1GHz or better CPU, Mac OSX 10.5.0/QuickTime 7.0.4 up, 512 MB RAM, and PCI Express or Intel Graphics Processor with at least 64 MB VRAM and OpenGL.
Another fairly popular Mac-only VJ solution is Modul8. Although priced in the same range as some of the software we have discussed here (@ €299; educational version @ €199), it does give you two licenses – possibly the freedom to maintain a Desktop and Laptop version at the same time. The interface does a lot by way of access to necessary functions and somehow feels a little bit better than a lot of competitors. This is partly because of the large preview screen as well as a fairly big (but not overwhelming) set of controls along the large left-pane.
Support for 10-layer video results in a rich composite output stream. Naturally each layer can be adjusted individually and in real-time, including the filters. And the rendering engine is optimized to run fairly fast – once again providing you with a flexibility that will enhance your creativity. Most features are pretty standard or are available as add-ons, such as sequencing and SMS-to-screen, the only thing that is lacking is the output options – For example there is no support DV/DMX output. Once you spend a little time bringing up the software up to your needs, you can be on your way. During that initial phase of discovery, another key thing is making the controls more flexible. Here, Modul8 easily outdoes everyone else, associating a keyboard stroke to a certain control is as easy as selecting the control (clicking) simultaneously with the desired key. In just a few minutes (or seconds, if you are one of those key-whizzes and know exactly what combinations will work for you) you can have an easy control set exactly customized to your needs.
The latest version if 2.6 and it comes with full FreeFrame and MIDI support (in fact MIDI signals can be configured to control the interface in a way similar to key-strokes) as well as for CoreImage filters; requires a 1GHz CPU, with Mac OSX 10.4.8/QuickTime 7.3.1 or higher, 1 GB RAM and AGP/PCI-Express Graphics with 64 MB VRAM; and the demo version is available here.
A PC-based tool, VVVV is described by publisher as a “toolkit for real time video synthesis.” One of its most important features is its ability to simultaneously handle/manipulate a large number of objects. They call this feature spreading, i.e. spreading different parameter values across the large set of objects. This makes it easy for someone looking to use a large number of objects at the same time, and make behave in a certain way in real-time. VJs will appreciate the feeling of power that will inevitably strike them when they use “spreading.”
However, if you are a not so techie person, at first glance at the sheer number of options can overwhelm you. This is not to say that this is a big negative – the available functionality is certainly one of the things going for VVVV; but because of this large set of functions some time should have been spent improving interface design.
Professional VJs who like to tinker with every aspect of their A/V presentation will of course get over the interface hitches, and will love the Visual Programming Interface offered by VVVV, and the best thing is that prototyping and development takes place at runtime/real-time unlike other software that may implement these as separate modes or cycles. It is a great tool for 2D & 3D modeling and much more than VJ software, it is actually even a shoo-in for scientific applications. This makes it well-worth the €500 price tag, and best of all, VVVV is free for non-commercial use.
VVVV will handle as many as channels, layers and effects as your hardware can support, thus not applying any limitation of its own. While there is standard MIDI & FreeFrame support, VVVV does not have support for automated mixing.
Device+Context, the publishers, intend to offer MXWendler as a comprehensive solution for anyone looking for powerful A/V rendering and manipulation services. This naturally includes corporations in addition to artists. Apart from Stage Designer which is MXWendler’s software piece, the publishers also offer FXServer which is optimized to work well with the software. The hardware and software are pricey (hardware available at a €350 rental basis and an unquoted buying price; software is in excess of €850) and obviously the complete solution is not meant for a normal VJ. For the VJ there is the option of licensing the software on a monthly basis (@ 10% of list price) or take advantage of a 20% discount (only if you make less than 25000 €/year) to buy a Stage Designer Entropy Pack (3 options included; €850) or Stage Designer Eventdriver Pack (all options included; €2450). Go here for more pricing information.
MXWendler supports 10 layer video editing, 4 external video streams, with a maximum of 24 clips loadable simultaneously: each individually controllable. Its sleek interface makes it a joy to work with, and there is never any sense of clutter or incomprehension while working with it. Most features that come in other packages are standard on MXWendler and this is not surprising given how expensive it is (exceptions: no automated mixing, no SMS-to-Screen, no DV output, and most importantly NO FREEFRAME SUPPORT). The design philosophy is similar to VVVV, with a single real-time system and an output correction engine ensures that real-time multi-screen output is seamlessly achieved. You can view “555 KUBIK” installation to get a glimpse of its power.
The software is optimized for NVIDIA graphics cards (ATI is also supported). It works with 1 GB RAM (4GB recommended), 512 MB VRAM, and Mac OS X 10.4/Windows XP or later. There is no trial version.
Harrison Digital Media’s Salvation is a Mac and PC based video processing and visual programming tool. It allows you to mix and manipulate as many video layers and effect as your hardware will allow. It comes with a GLSL pixel programming interface that can be used to create a host of unique effects – along with the multiple layers and individual manipulation of each, this promises practically limitless creativity on the part of the VJ. However, strangely, the output capabilities of that VJ will be somewhat limited because Salvation neither comes with DV output nor DMX. This is a severe limitation for software priced at $500.
The multiple windowing approach to the user interface, in turn, makes the software little confusing and cumbersome to use. But simplicity lies in its visual programming environment. Everything else is what you would expect from a professional software in this price bracket – FreeFrame & MIDI support, full LFO and automated mixing options, and SMS-to-Screen+Live-Text-Creation, among others.
They also have a video mixer called Salvation MX and it has 2 video channels (A and B; each can be manipulated) with the output being a composite. Salvation MX is available for an additional $49.99.
Salvation requires a 1GHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, OpenGL 2.0 Graphics card, and at least Windows XP. Trial version is available for 60 days.
The above mentioned options are great, but there are those of us out there who would just like to be able to do things for fun, as an enthusiast, without shelling out $ (or €). For their consideration there is the free Aestesis Electronika (for PC only) – although not in the big league by any means, it still offers a pretty decent set of features, including FreeFrame & MIDI support, the ability to select from up to 30 clips at a time, along with customization options. A rear view offers up the reverse side of your console/deck and there you can connect a number of A/V virtual wires to get the effects that you desire. If you’re a beginner, start here and work your way up. Check out the basic documentation and tips on the wiki.