A Creative COW "Real World" Product Review
Bob Bonniol takes a good look at the new RTX line of cards for the video editor from Matrox in this article about the Matrox RT.X 100.
|In announcing its new RTX line of cards for the video editor, Matrox makes a concession of sorts. Increasingly we hear many DV users chanting the mantra that third party cards are unnecessary, and that the performance of modern platforms coupled with the flexibility and economy of DV spells the imminent demise of this hardware. The RT.X100 has arrived to both lend support to this theory, while simultaneously debunking it.
The key to the new RT line from Matrox revolves around the power of X, a new architecture that leverages the scalable power of your CPU with the added performance of dedicated hardware acceleration. Matrox has embraced the benefits of incorporating accelerating buss, memory, and processing speeds to distribute the work required to make the editing experience nimble and truly real time. While it is true that the possibility exists to edit DV in real time based on platform specs alone, the advantages of the RT.X card in the formula were clear to me while I put the product through its paces.
One of the first arguments in support of any third party solution is the addition of analog I/O that you generally get. The RT.X100 covers this base neatly with a simple I/O hub that ships with the card. The I/O hub is attached to a pleasantly lengthy cable that plugs direct to the card. The Hub includes composite RCA plugged video and audio inputs, as well as Component S-Video in and out. Inexplicably Matrox elected to not also include the DV-1394 I/O on the hub necessitating a second firewire cable to be plugged to the card. Integrating the DV I/O into the hub would have made cabling more efficient in my opinion.
The install is simple, with the medium sized card sliding into the first available PCI slot on my computer. Matrox offered to send a complete turnkey solution for the review, but I thought it might add to the reality of my experience if I actually went ahead and installed the card in one of the compositing machines at our studio (Matrox does have a published set of supported machine specs on their website which this particular platform adhered to completely). After running the install utility, the machine rebooted once, and then everything was functional and ready for me. This represents somewhat of an evolution for Matrox, whose cards are very well regarded, but are acknowledged to be potentially complex to install.
Matrox had sent a project CD that demod all of the capabilities, but again I chose to go my own way, editing a political commercial our studio was producing. The spot had been shot in DV, and would require some titling, graphic overlays, and a couple of snappy edits and effects, so I thought it represented a typical real-life challenge for the hardware.
Batch capture of the DV footage was achieved simply and painlessly utilizing the Matrox MediaTool that comes with the card. I was able to use the onscreen deck controls to scrub around on my Sony DHR-1000 and locate the choice clips. MediaTools also features the ability to automatically scan and capture individual scenes shot on DV by locating the spots where the camera begins and ends recording. Since many of the takes for our candidates commercial had happened consecutively, without stopping the record, I went ahead and contructed a capture list myself. Setting in and out points was simple and standard. I could name my clip, include comments, and then commit it to the clip list. When I was done logging, I selected all the clips, hit capture, and the utility took control, cueing up the Sony deck and capturing all the clips to folders that were named identically to the reel names. MediaTools then allows for direct import of the clip list into appropriate bins in Premiere.
Working in Premiere, I was immediately struck by how spry everything seemed to be working. The experience was quite pleasurable. RT.X100 allows the user to work with up to 4 layers (or tracks) in real time. Two video clips and two graphics layers in DV format can be simultaneously processed and played. The graphics layers could be repositioned at any level in the four layer stack, meaning that I was not restricted to keeping the graphics tracks on top. You can add realtime 2D and 3D effects, including page curls, organic wipes, picture in picture effects, colorization effects, warps, ripples, blurs, particles, etc. The user can also apply realtime keyframeable transformations to video layers. The RT.X supports real time use of over 60 of Premieres native transitions and FX in real time, not limiting the user to only the Matrox transitions and FX. Transitions, 2D and 3D DVE, and transformations are handled onboard the RT.X card. The card relies on the host CPU to provide realtime responsiveness for color correction, chroma and luma keying, and adjustable field based motion/time controls. These motion and time controls revealed the marriage of technologies Matrox has developed on the costlier Digisuite MAX platforms to the RT.X line. The field based time adjustments were super smooth and fluid, yielding terrific slo-mo. Another significant upgrade from the RT2500 that seemed to benefit from development on the Digisuite line was the inclusion of robust real-time color correction tools. I was able to quickly and easily match sets of footage shot in different lighting conditions and time of day.
A huge bonus for me was being able to view changes I made to effects and color correction in realtime over the DV connection to an NTSC monitor. While this seems like a case of duh, oh course, its a feature thats sorely lacking in many other editing environments and third party DV card solutions. It seems common to run into the ability to be either realtime or to have the ability for NTSC viewing. RT.X100 gave me both.
The typical user is able to output to DV with absolutely no rendering when the edit is done. Once I was done with my project, I was able to export it to DV tape for final approval by the client. I could just as easily have burned the client a DVD, as the Matrox card is quite capable of real-time MPEG2 encoding as well. In this case, once the client approves our edit, we will transfer the finished project file over to our Matrox Digisuite MAX for output via SDI to Beta-SP.
The RT.X100 also supports WYSIWYG plug-ins for third party apps like After Effects, 3D Studio Max, and Lightwave. Id like to see Matrox expand to include some other applications like Softimage XSI, Cinema 4D, and Maya. Also, while its easy to see that the tight integration with Adobe Premiere has utilized the cards power to good effect, Id be interested in seeing Matrox align their cards capabilities with a wider range of editing applications. Premiere is sturdy and venerable, but newcomers like Incite and Vegas Video would make powerful alternatives to users committed to the PC platform for editing. Matrox told me that while the Power of X could certainly be applied to Mac platforms and FCP, they were unwilling to commit to any product announcements at the moment.
Bob Bonniol is the Creative Director at Mode Studios in Seattle. Mode Studios concentrates on the live production market, providing content for projection at events such as concerts, award shows, broadway shows, etc. For more information about Bob, or Mode Studios, check out www.monarchdesigns.com
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