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Virtual DJ 2018 Software Review

Last updated 21 June, 2018

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The Lowdown

Virtual DJ 2018 is a big update that adds features have less to do with mixing and beatmatching and more to do with putting on an engaging visual performance: The Videoskins would work well when spinning in a venue with lots of screens (sports bars, pubs and so on) and the ability to use shaders means you’ve got access to tons of visuals. Scratch DNA is a cool, if cheeky nod to Serato and Pioneer DJ’s “Jazzy Jeff” button that may be useful for DJs who don’t scratch, and the live streaming integration means you don’t have to mess with pesky third-party software anymore. Overall a solid update for Virtual DJ 8 – just don’t expect an overhaul.

Video Review

First Impressions / Setting up

Virtual DJ surprised everyone with the announcement of an upcoming update dubbed Virtual DJ 2018. It’s currently in public beta (you can download it here) with a final release imminent, and while it looks similar to Virtual DJ 8, there are a lot of new digital DJ features that have been added to the already impressive feature set of Virtual DJ: it’s one of the first DJ apps to include cloud streaming libraries and track recommendation features which have since made appearances on other DJ apps.

Virtual DJ has always been a trailblazer when it comes to adding new features (for better or worse), and Virtual DJ 2018 continues in that direction. The first new feature are Videoskins and shaders, which are new visual options for VJs. Live streaming has also been integrated into Virtual DJ 2018, allowing you to broadcast your DJ sets via Facebook, YouTube and others. Automated lighting also comes to Virtual DJ 2018 thanks to the new OS2L protocol that lets you take command of DMX lights within the software.

Finally, Virtual DJ takes a stab at its own version of Serato and Pioneer DJ’s “Jazzy Jeff button” with Scratch DNA, which lets you program scratches and routines using your keyboard.

In Use

Videoskins and shaders

DJing with video has been around for a while now, and while a lot of VJs spin with video files (as in, they spin with music videos of the songs they play) getting into VJing can be a bit daunting: where will I get the videos for the songs I like? What happens when someone requests a song for me to play but I don’t have a video for it? What if I don’t like the available music vidoes for the tracks that I want to spin?

Here’s where Virtual DJ 2018’s two new video features can help out. The first one is called Videoskins, and it’s basically a full-screen interface for Virtual DJ’s video mode that reacts to the music you’re playing. You can choose to have the album art, camera, picture slideshow, or a shader (more on that later) show up in the centre of the screen, and virtual decks appear on either side of it. When you mix in another track in another deck, a crossfade animation takes place. Animations also pop up when you trigger hot cues, manipulate effects, add loops and so on. The idea is that it lets your audience see what you’re doing behind the decks (assuming you want them to know what you’re doing). It’s a clever idea, and is potentially more interesting than a bar or restaurant’s repetitive slideshow.

There are currently two Videoskins available: Live shows you your decks plus a full screen graphic (whether album art, a camera feed, slideshow or shader), and Broadcast shows you more DJ controls and even waveforms, which could be more interesting for DJ live streams.

The second video feature is called shaders, and these are computer generated visuals that also react to your music – nice if you don’t want to display album art and you want something more dynamic onscreen for your guests. There are eight built-in shaders and you can download more online via Shadertoy.com.

Scratch DNA

Scratch DNA is a feature in Virtual DJ 2018 that lets you trigger scratches at the touch of a button. Yes, you read that right: the eight performance pads in a virtual deck turn into scratch movements, allowing you to do scratch drops and combos or even a short routine by stringing pad presses together. It’s similar to what you’d find on the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 and Serato DJ – pressing a pad in that controller executes a scratch sequence. Virtual DJ 2018 lets you do that, even without a DJ controller connected.

In true Virtual DJ nature, you can dig deeper and edit these scratches by using keyboard commands via the Scratch DNA editor: You’re shown an XY grid where the X axis is for “time” and the Y axis is for the scratch distance from the playhead. The letters on your keyboard are for drawing scratch distance, while a period on your keyboard denotes the end of a beat.

Here’s an example: There are four beats shown onscreen (a full measure or bar), so if I type “CA.CA.CA.CA” I get four full baby scratches, one for each beat (the first “C” is for the forwards scratch, the “A” is for the backwards scratch, and the “.” tells Virtual DJ that this is all the scratching that happens in one beat). If I double that and do something like “CACA.CACA.CACA.CACA” I get eight full baby scratches, two for each beat (the first “C” is for the forwards scratch, the “A” is for the backwards scratch, the second “C” is for the forwards scratch, the “A” is for the backwards scratch, and the “.” tells Virtual DJ that this is all the scratching that happens in one beat).

It’s not as intuitive as clicking on the line graph and drawing envelopes (like automation in a DAW) but it’s pretty easy to do some basic scratches once you wrap your head around it, and you can even make some complex and rather quick scratches.

Live streaming integration

Virtual DJ has always allowed you to broadcast your DJ sets whether via the Virtual DJ page or on other protocols like ShoutCast and IceCast. If you wanted to stream via Facebook Live or YouTube or Twitch, though, you needed to set up a third-party app like OBS (Open Broadcast Server) to serve as a bridge between Virtual DJ and your social media profile. It works, but it’s fiddly.

That’s gone now thanks to built-in video streaming integration in Virtual DJ 2018: Stream to sites like Facebook, YouTube, Periscope and Twitch all from within the Virtual DJ 2018 software. Of course if you want a more elaborate set-up (say two or more cameras and multiple angles) you’ll still have to use OBS or similar, but for most DJs who just want to DJ in front of their friends and followers online, Virtual DJ 2018 makes it easy.

Lighting mode

Finally, Virtual DJ 2018 also comes with the ability to send lighting commands to DMX fixtures via the OS2L lighting protocol. The performance pads in a deck turn into light commands that are received by lighting and effects that you’ve got connected: commands like blackout, strobe, fog and “next” are already part of basic commands, and you can program your own via Virtual DJ 2018’s pad editor.

Conclusion

Virtual DJ 2018 is a big update that adds features that are at the cutting edge of digital DJing today which, unsurprisingly, have less to do with mixing and beatmatching and more to do with putting on an engaging visual performance: The videoskins would work well when spinning in a bar or venue with lots of screens (sports bars, pubs and so on) and the ability to use shaders means you’ve got access to tons of visuals made by other motion graphic artists, so you’ve got a huge amount to work with when you’re spinning at your next gig. The new lighting mode could be of interest to mobile DJs who want software access to their lights.

Scratch DNA is also a cool, if cheeky nod to Serato’s “Jazzy Jeff” button that may be useful for DJs who don’t scratch, and the live streaming integration means you don’t have to mess with pesky third-party software anymore.

Overall a solid update for Virtual DJ 8 – just don’t expect an all out overhaul.

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