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Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor

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Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
A Creative COW Review


Matrox MXO Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor

Shane Ross Creative Cow

Shane Ross
Los Angeles, CA US
©Shane Ross and CreativeCOW.net

Article Focus:
Creative Cow Leader Shane Ross wasn't convinced that the Matrox MXO could really provide the CRT-accurate monitoring through an Apple Cinema Display he demands for his HD broadcast workflows. After working with it for nearly a year, through multiple upgrades and in a variety of configurations, he tells you here why he's convinced now.

I met Matrox's Wayne Andrews in San Francisco at MacWorld 2007.  I was working at the CalDigit booth, which Matrox was sharing as a sort of cross promotion thing.  Wayne was showing off the Matrox MXO, the handy little output box that allows you to see a true broadcast HD image on an Apple Cinema Display (ACD). 

Now, I had heard of this box. Many people in the Final Cut Pro forum posted that it was the solution for viewing your HD footage on an external monitor.  A few of those people were people whose opinions I value...yet...for some reason, I didn't quite believe it. 

I'm one of those guys that has to see it for myself, if it's something that seems too good to be true.  And that's what this seems like.  It seems too good to be true that you can monitor broadcast quality HD on a computer monitor. 

I and others have always said that a computer monitor is NOT acceptable for critically judging the quality of your image.  I even have a Stock Answer (Shane's Stock Answers) for this...#2 on my list...USE AN EXTERNAL BROADCAST QUALITY MONITOR TO PROPERLY JUDGE YOUR FOOTAGE.  Or something to that effect.

Now, I knew that this was possible at one point. eCinema Systems had a converter box that converted an HD SDI signal to a DVI signal and then connected to the first generation aluminum Apple Cinema Display for a broadcast quality image.  This box was primarily used in the field by camera operators.  In fact, a guy that shot the last 4 shows I worked on has one.  But the converter box went for $4000, and ONLY worked with the first generation  Cinema Displays  And it was HD-SDI only, so you needed to come out of the camera, or have a capture card with HD SDI out. Not an inexpensive solution.  

I had my doubts that the MXO would really be that good when compared to my HD CRT monitor.  So Wayne told me that he'd send me a unit to test and see for myself.  Now, at the time I didn't have a Cinema Display to test this with, just had my Dell monitor.  And the signal sent to that was nice, but too saturated and red. 

So I decided to first compare the output of the MXO to the output of my Kona LH connected to the HD CRT. This was the only way to be sure that the signal coming from the MXO was good...and it was identical.  That was a good thing to know, because how the MXO gets this signal is rather unique.

The MXO connects to your computer via the DVI port. 

Yes, the DVI port, the one you use to connect your computer monitor to. 

Because of this, it not only works with a Mac Pro or Power Mac G5, it also is the ideal HD monitoring solution for the Powerbook G4 or Mac Book Pro, because they lack any ability to connect a capture card. 

From this DVI port, the MXO extracts the video and embedded audio.

Yes, the DVI port sends out an audio signal.

Then the MXO can take this video signal, and send it out either Component or Composite, or combine it with audio and send out an embedded HD SDI signal. 

Matrox MXO

This is how I connected the MXO to my HD CRT.  I sent the same video image from my laptop via the MXO and from my G5 via the Kona LH to my Sony PVM-14L5 HD CRT and saw the same image on the monitor.  Nice.

Okay...but what about the MXO and Cinema Display combination?  I was finally able to borrow an ACD from my boss, and then I did a proper test. I hooked up the Matrox to my Powerbook G4 1.67Ghz and to the Cinema Display. Then I exported a video clip from my current project: the trailer I edited for The History Channel, all nice and color corrected and with a variety of footage from the Panasonic Varicam and HVX-200.

I copied this clip over to the Powerbook, and loaded the same clip up on my G5. Then I put the images up on the PVM and the Cinema Display side by side.

Matrox MXO Creative Cow

This picture does NOT do this justice, but one thing it shows is that the image on both monitors is identical. 

Well, close to identical.

When my initial shock wore off and I looked more critically, I noticed that the image on the Cinema Display was slightly greenish. I had to look close to see it, but it was there. I could see it in the white collar of the actor, and in the green of the plants – they were even greener. So I loaded color bars in both and looked again. Yep...slightly greenish. 

Now, because of the HD CRT test I did earlier, I knew the signal from the MXO is a true signal. So I knew this had to be the fault of the Cinema Display.

I found a friend who had a monitor calibration device and software, ColorVision's Spyder 2 Pro.  He came over and calibrated my monitor, then I tried again. I looked at the bars first. I didn't see the green. Then I loaded the clip again and looked at the same spot. Finally the image on both was nearly identical. Still just a hair greenish, but very negligible. And I was scrutinizing carefully.

So, it was close.  Close enough for many purposes, and close enough that I could recommend it as a low cost solution.

Then came the spring.  And a new update from Matrox that solved this issue....

....and added this handy new feature:

Matrox MXO Proc Amps

 

A control surface, one that gives you all the adjustment controls that you would find on a professional monitor: brightness, contrast, hue, saturation. 

Matrox MXO Mastering Mode Settings

 

And not only that, but this control surface lets you load color bars (by clicking LOAD CLIP) so that you can tweak these controls just right. 

 

Matrox MXO Calibration Color

 

This is what I needed to get the green out and make it match my HD CRT. 

Matrox MXO Calibration Colors

 

But still, something was missing.  Back to Wayne, this time at NAB. As we're looking at the MXO together, Wayne holds up a finger as if to say "hold on a moment," and he leans over the laptop, clicks the mouse a couple times and shows off this:

Matrox MXO Calibration bars

Blue Only bars!

While they look black and white to the eye, blue-only bars are critical for accurate (and fast) calibration. They're indispensable for setting up hue and chroma in particular.

Matrox MXO Mastering Mode Settings

Adding this feature to the MXO made a big difference in its usefulness.

Another handy feature of the MXO is the ability to display interlaced footage.  That is, to see the individual fields on screen when paused. That's a big plus, and something you don’t normally see on an LCD.

So now, the combination of the Matrox MXO, the Apple Cinema Display, and the adjustment controls with the BLUE ONLY option, you can really balance your display to give you color accurate, broadcast quality HD monitoring.  And you can adjust the monitor settings with a probe like the Spyder 2 or EyeOne2 to get it to the D65 color setting. 

For under $2000. 

The feature set doesn’t stop there.  You can also downconvert HD to SD:

Matrox MXO downconvert HD Video to SD

And send out a letterboxed signal, or anamorphic or pillarboxed...VERY handy, because not everyone has a monitor with at 16:9 button to unsqueeze anamporphic footage.

Matrox MXO Video Output

Now, just a word of warning...

...because there are a couple drawbacks to this solution. 

First being that the MXO doesn't yet work with the newer MacBook Pros.  This is because Apple replaced the ATI graphics cards with Nvidia graphics cards, and the Nvidia cards on the laptops and MXO don't communicate well at the moment.  That issue is being worked on. 

And then I was going to say that the other drawback was that the MXO wasn't compatible with Color, Apple's new color grading application, because when I started writing this article in late November '07, that was one of the issues. But I noticed that as of the most recent update, Color 1.0.2, the MXO was in the list of monitoring devices for Color.  And in playing with it, I can get it to work on my system. So that's one hurdle cleared.

This solution does still suffer what all HD LCD solutions suffer...black levels are more gray than black.  But the fact is that it can compete with the $4000-$5000 range HD LCDs, something almost unheard of.  Almost unheard of because I'm telling you about it now.

So, with the new options released in the 2.0 drivers, I can say that the Matrox MXO and the Apple Cinema Display is a perfect low cost, broadcast HD, color correction combination.

--Shane Ross
Little Frog in HD

 

Apple Final Cut Pro Creative Cow Master Series DVD

 

 


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Comments

Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by glenn chan
One of the shortcomings for the MXO is that you're at the mercy of whatever Apple decides to do with its cinema displays, e.g. it may have color inconsistencies depending on the model. see
http://www.dreamlight.com/insights/bugs/hd23.html

For what it is, it's a cost-effective solution but you do get what you pay for. There's a reason why the broadcast monitor manufacturers have abandoned this approach (e.g. eCinema / EDP100, Teranex Clearvue).

Glenn Chan
http://www.glennchan.info/broadcast-monitors/buying-guide/buying-guide.htm
Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Shane Ross
Matrox offers enough tools for that. Before calibration I suggested people use the Spyder or similar tool. Now there is no need.
Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Ronnie James
One more thing I forgot to ask. Since Matrox added all those new calibration tools, do you still recommend using a Spyder? Or does the Matrox offer enough tools to get the monitor calibrated?

Thanks for all your help!
Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Shane Ross
I haven't tested it on a smaller monitor...I only have the 23" ACD and a Dell 24". I theory it should work on a 20" if you are using 720p footage. But that is not supported by Matrox, AFAIK.

Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Ronnie James
Shane, thanks for this excellent review. One question for you and sorry if I missed a reference to this (but I don't think so)...

Do you need at least a 24" monitor to properly view an HD signal from the Matrox? If not, any idea the quality of the scaling when going to a smaller monitor?
Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Shane Ross
The MXO has only one DVI connection, so you can only use it with one ACD. BUT, if your graphics card has two DVI ports, then you can use one monitor for the computer, and one for the MXO.

As for PAL compatibility, I don't know. I don't work in PAL land. You'll have to pose the questions on the Matrox forums. I recall there were issues with PAL compatibility, but I am not sure if they hve been resolved.
Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Mark Huckle
Will MXO work with two 23" Apple Display screens, old G5, PAL and filming in 1080p 25 fps? Do you have a wiring diagram for one who is a technophobe and any other advice? I only want to use the Matrox box to colour correct in HD.

Mark
Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Shane Ross
Well, I used it when displaying battle scenes from my last show. Worked fine...no blurriness.
Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Andra

Nice review! It seems like an interesting solution.

But what about speed? Are the newer Apple Cinema Displays fast enough to display sports-events and fast animations without the image getting blurry?

Cheers,
Andra

Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Emiliano Cerrutti Costa
Hi, first of all, sorry for my english. I
Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by Shane Ross
Well, with the MXO and that monitor, you would be able to at least SEE it and it look decent, but it wouldn't be broadcast quality. The LCD in there isn't the same as the one in the newer ACDs...the MXO is designed for them. BUT, with the new BARS and BLUE ONLY option, you could get it looking pretty good.

Matrox MXO: Broadcast Monitoring on a Desktop Monitor
by stevesteve
Excellent article...I'm still not sure of the direction I should take. I have a 3GHz Mac Pro and a new MacBook Pro. My current monitor is a 23"Cinema display but with the old acrylic case. It looks good but I obviously need an external monitor that won't break the bank to see my HDV footage on.-Steve
steve-sharksdelight@cox.net


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