ACT ONE: THE RUSH JOB
An old and favored client called me on a Wednesday afternoon asking for a production of a short instructional video, and a 30-second spot. The scary thing was that I had to deliver a broadcast spot, a broadcast 6 minute instructional insert program, and in the end, a couple of web streams all by the following Monday morning. Yikes! It wasn't even written yet. Double yikes!
ACT TWO, THE SHOOT, Matrox MXO2 SAVES MONEY on set
Enter the Matrox MXO2, 17" MacBook Pro and CalDigit VR for the shoot. By the end of shoot, I was online and logged in FCP 7. We could check playback, audio levels and everything I intended to edit with. The wonderful DP I hired, Tom Miller of Big Pictures, had an HD video monitor with built in scopes and I could view externally with it during the shoot playing back files from the laptop. A thing of beauty.
I saved at least $400 and 2 hours in postproduction on the first day of use. I don't have a DVCPROHD deck and the DP I hired owns an HDX-900. Normally I would have needed to rent a deck, or go to someone else's editing system to use theirs. Capturing through the MXO2 with my laptop as we shot saved me that expenditure.
The time in a bay to capture from tape is real time. That means if you had to capture 3 hours of tape, it really takes well over 3 and approaching 4 hours to just capture the tape (plus travel time if you can't do it in your bay).
Many editors want to log things first (I really like short media files myself), so they spend even more time shuttling tape to log, and then capture the smaller files. Capturing a whole tape without logging individual shots takes about an extra 10-15 minutes per tape change to account for swapping the tapes, rewinding, and logging.
The fastest way to log individual clips is after you've captured it if it's from tape and you need most of the tape. Using the MXO2's capture, I already had each take logged during the shoot. The talent was so good; almost every take was a keeper. So I wanted them all to work with. I started and stopped the capturing process with each take. Just as you would with a tapeless camera; I got my small media files.
I recorded 1920x1080 4:2:2 ProRes 10-bit video from the uncompressed output of that very nice camcorder and my DP's fabulous lens. This is technically better video than this camera can actually record. (All DVCPROHD is 8-bit video) It was another beautiful thing.
Make no mistake; we recorded to tape as a "backup". I copied the shoot to another set of files on set as we broke down just to be sure I'd really saved that money and the time it would have taken me to capture the shoot from tape.
There was only one hitch in my get-along though. I used Final Cut Pro 7.0 for capture, and Final Cut doesn't support timecode via SDI. Not the end of the world in my case for this project, but if I were to do this all the time, I'd like to have software that takes care of that issue. Because of this situation, I double copied the files I captured during the shoot before I left the sound stage. In effect, I shot as if there was no tape involved. It really was tapeless workflow from a HDX-900 with wonderful glass on its front, with an actual tape as a final "back up".
The MXO2 taking the SDI out from the camera didn't miss a beat. I was all captured with individual takes logged complete with serious back up before I got into my car. Slick.
ACT THREE, THE EDIT: MXO2 with Matrox MAX Speeds up the Process
Next job was the edit of course. It started the evening of the shoot in fact. Having this splendid video to work from was a pleasure. We shot 1080p because of delivery destined for the web, and for US broadcast, and this format is great for that. You get the frame rate and you get progressive video the web is friendly with. During this phase, I used an MXO for color correction and monitoring on my Mac Pro. The MXO is a very useful and unique device from Matrox. It allows a computer display to become an HD monitor. A complete review is here.
I had to uninstall the MXO's drivers however for the final speed testing, because you cannot use the MXO and the MXO2 at the same time sadly. But Matrox supplies an uninstaller for both the MXO and the MXO2's drivers and so this bit of work was a piece of cake. Why don't ALL Mac programs come with an uninstaller?
During the editorial process, the client couldn't be here because he's in Hawaii, I'm in Colorado, and the actual company the work is being done for is in Michigan. So my client approvals needed to be sent to my iDisk from here for download and review by the clients. Unfortunately, neither the Hawaii folks nor the company in Michigan have a Mac handy, so I couldn't use the snazzy new feature of streaming my sequence to them via iChat Theatre in FCP 7.
The MAX technology in the MXO2 sped this up immensely. See the encoding speed trials I ran in Act Four to give you an idea of just how fast this encoding happened. Using my Laptop for these compressions, I left my Mac Pro fully available for all things editorial. Speeding the process up was of the highest importance because that deadline was approaching faster than I wanted it to. The laptop also was used to upload to my iDisk.
Once finished, the client ordered up a Betacam SP tape for broadcast. No problem! The MXO2 will perform the down convert to SD from my HD ProRes sequence (it's in the hardware itself). The component analog and balanced audio outputs were used for the record. I viewed this conversion in real time on a broadcast NTSC monitor fed by the MXO2 as well. It looked great, and the RS-422 control on the MXO2 worked just peachy. Playback looked like high quality SD.
After the edit, the client was pleased with the program, and wanted to put the finished video on the web. So I thought I'd really check out the Matrox MAX technology with a real life job and a real life final delivery, and see just how much faster the encoding went. MXO2 did a fine job of that too.
So in practice, the MXO2 with Max Technology saved me from capturing from tape (time and extra cost in my case), sped up encoding for client approvals, down converted the HD to SD tape in real time, and allowed the "full" use of my Mac Pro during the entire editing/encoding/approval/delivery process. Because it works with a MacBook Pro as well, you really can get your money's worth here. Those shoot tapes are still sitting where I first put them.
ACT FOUR, THE SPEED TEST. MAX Technology is FAST
I first exported the 6-minute HD sequence as a self-contained movie. The following spreadsheet compares the times using Compressor on my Mac Pro. I used Qmaster with 4 instances for the Apple's Compressor preset encodings and matching presets using the MXO2's MAX tech to compare with them. Wow! even using a tower with a virtual cluster, the Matrox MXO2 with MAX sped things up considerably. I used 4 instances in my Quick Cluster setup.
But let's say, that you need all of those precious CPU cycles taken away when using a Quick Cluster. Here are the results of this speed test on my Mac Pro.
So obviously using your Mac Pro's CPU cycles for work other than soaking them up for Compressor slows down the encode times some, but using the Matrox's settings will also lift those cycles, and encode a lot faster at the same time.
Just to see how much more one could use a laptop in a daily workflow when one usually uses a Mac Pro and that laptop is idle (or used for playing games when the boss isn't looking), I set it up to do the exact same encodings from that same 6 minute program to see just to check out this possibility. Certainly on the road I'd be using it, but with these faster times I was seeing with the Mac Pro, it sure makes sense to free it's CPU cycles up to work other jobs with, and check out encoding times using a MacBook Pro for the task.
I can use my MXO for external monitoring; so the MXO2 could be utilized with the MacBook Pro for capturing from tape or camera, and for speeding up those compression times while leaving the tower totally free to work another job with. Yummy.
But there is one little caveat: In order to run any Final Cut Studio app legally (one on each machine), you must have two licenses for Final Cut Studio if you intend to run them at the same time. All users are licensed to install Final Cut Studio on a laptop and a second install of that license on a single desktop machine. You are not licensed to run them both at the same time. However, you certainly can run Photoshop or After Effects or any number of apps other than the studio apps with a single license of Final Cut Studio, and keep those precious resources free on the tower while compressing with Compressor on a laptop with the MXO2 with MAX technology, with speeds that are still faster than compressing on a Mac Pro using a virtual cluster!
Here are the results of compression times on a 17" 2.33GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM:
I fell off my chair here. If you have a MacBook Pro and you compress H.264 with it, you'll be extremely happy with MAX technology.
Next I wanted to see just how much or if program length matters with this speedy encoding tool. Here are the results using my MacBook Pro on a broadcast length "hour long" program. It's a 42-minute ProRes sequence, roughly the length of a broadcast deliverable for a "one" hour show. Here are the results:
There are two categories of Matrox's presets that will show up in Compressor: the "Fast Encode" presets, and the "High Quality" presets. The manual describes them like this:
- Fast Encode Use these settings for fast encoding of QuickTime files. These settings leverage your system's resources with the MXO2 hardware, resulting in faster than real-time encoding.
- High-Quality Use these settings for high-quality encoding of QuickTime files. With these settings, the encoding is performed entirely by the MXO2 hardware, which frees your system's resources for other tasks.
Basically, Matrox MAX uses CPU and the hardware inside the MXO2 with MAX when you select a Fast Encode. This gives the fastest possible encoding times. Your Mac's CPU is also used to decompress the frame.
High Quality presets use only the CPU to decode the frame, after that everything is handled by the MAX hardware. While these presets may be a bit slower, they allow you to continue editing with more of your own computer's resources while the encoding is going on more or less in the "background". It is an extreme time saver! Cool.
In conclusion, I can't say enough good things about the MXO2 with Matrox MAX technology. It rocks. It's a great value, and can be used not only on shoots; it can be used in editorial as well as compressing for H.264 delivery. I'd call that versatile and a true value.
Matrox has produced some very unique products over the years that have worked well with features that you can get nowhere else. Witness the MXO. I rest my case. You connect it to a DVI port on your display card (or laptop) and use a computer display to monitor your video externally. Through some very clever design ideas they make the first level of calibrate-able external monitoring affordable. I have used this product myself, and find it works as advertised. It's by far the least expensive way to properly view external HD. You can calibrate your computer display with color bars with their supplied software from the control panel found in your Apple System Preferences. The MXO2 uses its control panel to adjust its settings much in the same way.
The MXO2 with MAX technology shares this same unique quality. The product works as advertised, serving as an affordable I/O for video signals to your Final Cut Pro system, and includes a one and only feature: MAX technology. MAX technology from Matrox makes for extremely fast H.264 encoding. Yep, H.264 hardware acceleration for any Mac with a PCI express card slot or any Intel powered Mac Pro. Did I mention the MXO 2 comes with an HDMI in and out and you can calibrate any HDMI Monitor with Color bars too? This could save you thousands of dollars on an external monitoring system all by itself. How? Have you checked the prices of a consumer LCD or Plasma compared to a "professional" LCD? Take a look and you'll get the idea.
The production and testing was done using a Duo core dual 2 running at 2.33GHz 17" MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM. Connected to it was a CalDigit VR unit in RAID 0 connected via FireWire 800. The MXO2 uses that Express card slot that is available on Apple's current 17" MacBook Pro, and earlier 15 and 17" MacBook Pros.
The Mac Pro used for this article is a first generation 8 core Intel machine running at 3GHz (MacPro2,1), with 9 gigs of RAM.
The testing was done in Snow Leopard and both computers were running Compressor 3.5.1 and the rest of the latest professional apps included with the 3rd generation Final Cut Studio 2009.
The kit comes with an adapter for a Mac Pro as well as an adapter for a laptop with an express34 card slot. So it works right out of the box with either Mac. List price for the MXO2 is $1595 with the optional Matrox MAX technology is a $400 option. In my book it isn't an option, it's a must have.
Check it all out here: http://www.matrox.com/video/en/products/mxo2/
Download the complete specs are here.
If Compressor isn't your cup of tea, never fear, the MXO2 with MAX also works with Episode, Episode Pro, and Adobe Media Encoder on the PC.
Also, if you already have an I/O device and don't need another, take a very close look at Matrox's CompressHD. It's a PCI card that has the same H.264 accelerating chipset found in the MXO2! The COW's complete review of it can be found here.
This is definitely a Five COW rating.
-- Jerry Hofmann