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Review: Matrox RT.X2
Posted Jan 3, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

The Matrox RT.X2 is a long-awaited answer for wedding and event videographers looking for an HDV editing solution. With the flood of inexpensive HDV cameras on the market, current Matrox RT.X100 users have been looking for an HDV editing solution but haven't been willing to step up to the Matrox AXIO line due to its cost. Matrox has since released the Matrox AXIO LE, a lighter version of the AXIO at a lower cost than the original AXIO. The great thing about the RT.X2 is that Matrox used a lot of the core technologies that were created for the higher-end AXIO line and folded them into the RT.X2 product at a much lower cost ($1,995).


Real-time Preview
First, let's look at what the Matrox RT.X2 card does for video editing. Those who have edited in Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 or earlier versions know how valuable real-time preview is—when it works, anyway. Real-time preview allows you to see your video with effects as it would play back in real-time.

Unfortunately, you often have to render out these effects before you can export your video to DVD or other formats. And sometimes your system can only support real-time playback at a reduced frame rate (Premiere Pro scales playback quality based on what your system can handle).

With the RT.X2 card, you eliminate the need to render your video before exporting your project. Video playback is smooth with multiple effects applied, and scrubbing of the timeline is lightning-fast.

Working with Real-time Effects
But the RT.X2 does so much more than provide real-time playback of SD and HDV video. When Matrox created the AXIO line, they developed many hardware-accelerated effects that utilize the same Effect Controls as the effects that ship standard with Premiere Pro.

This will be familiar to those who use Premiere Pro as a standalone product but will be somewhat foreign to those used to using the RT.X100 system. With the RT.X100, all of the Matrox Realtime Effects had their own user interface. This interface came with many presets and gave the user the ability to save custom presets. Although the Effect Controls were basic in design, you still had plenty of ability to keyframe the effects.

With the RT.X2, you now use Premiere's Effect Controls window and After Effects-style keyframing. For those who were used to the old Matrox Effects Panel, this can be a bit frustrating until you get used to using the effects control window to manipulate all of your effects.

The RT.X2 does ship with many custom presets which are located in the Presets folder, but we do find that we miss some of the original presets that came with the RT.X100. On the plus side, having the Matrox Effects emulate the way Premiere Pro controls effects gives the user more professional results and streamlines the process.


figure 1Mixing SD and HDV
For those who are looking to start editing HDV footage, the RT.X2 allows you to mix SD and HDV footage on the same timeline in real time and output to SD DVDs. This is great for those who may have recently purchased an HDV camera but still have SD equipment that they use as a second or third camera. The Premiere 2.0 Multicam feature can also be utilized with mixed formats and output in real-time. This is a real time-saver and performs remarkably well with two or three cameras.

In order to edit HDV, Matrox recommends getting a Dual Core editing PC. We use the RT.X2 with a Dual Core ASUS A8NSLI Deluxe (left>. We have had success using ASUS motherboards in the past with Matrox products and chose this board based on the Matrox guidelines for using the NForce 4 Chipset. We also chose the AMD 4800+ X2 processor along with an Antec Titan Case with a 650 W power supply.

The RT.X2 card is a full-size PCI-E card and does require a larger case. For graphics, Matrox recommends the ATI X1800XT Dual Head card. This card has given the best performance when accelerating the Flex GPU effects such as the Adobe Motion Effect and Matrox Old Movie effect. The key point here is to be sure you double check the specifications and tested systems information on the Matrox website. If you go outside the range of tested products, you will most likely have issues. This is very important!


figure 1Accelerated Effects
The RT.X2 is packed with tons of great real-time effects (left). Effects that are accelerated by the CPU include Speed Changes, Color Correction, Chroma and Luma Keying, Matrox Transitions, and Realtime Upscaling and Downscaling of HD and SD footage. Graphics card-accelerated effects include the Premiere Motion Effect, Advanced 3D Digital Video Effect (DVE), Shadow, Soft Focus/Blur/Glow, Mask & Mask Blur, Shine, Lens Flare, Old Movie Effect, plus 10 others.

The performance of these effects improves with faster processors and better graphics cards. The advantage to Matrox's scalable design is that it allows you to easily improve performance as better-performing processors and graphics cards become available. For weddings, the slow motion is hard to beat, and the RT.X2 makes all speed changes in real-time. Frame-blending means your slow-motion video is fluid and smooth. There is also the option of selecting field-based slow motion, which is ideal for sports videos and other fast-moving footage which requires an edgier style.

The filters we use the most for our weddings are Soft Focus/Blur, Color Correction, and Old Movie. Each filter has loads of options for customizing your look and are all previewed in real time. However, when you use some of these filters together on the same clip, you may need to have the transitions rendered since one may be CPU-based and the other may be GPU-based. But that small amount of rendering is a small sacrifice when compared to the overall performance improvement you'll see with this card.

Accelerated Export
Another great feature of the RT.X2 card is accelerated export of your video to various formats, including DVD, and multimedia formats including Windows Media files, Flash, and Adobe Clip Notes. You will find the Matrox Media Encoder to be identical to the one that Adobe provides. A typical one-hour timeline can take as little as 30 minutes to export to MPEG-2 format, depending on the speed of your system and the amount of filters in the project. This time-saving feature alone is almost worth the cost of the upgrade. The RT.X2 allows full-resolution output for SD and HDV. We have a 42" LCD HDTV set up in our office and use it for viewing full-screen previews from Premiere Pro, After Effects, Encore, and Photoshop. In other words, we can watch the video full-screen—just as the client will see it—while we're still working on it. We can view DVD menus in Photoshop on the TV just as our client will see them on their set at home.

Matrox still has more product development for the RT.X2 in the works. They announced support for the JVC ProHD GY-HD100U at IBC in September with the availability of Release 2 of the RT.X2 driver software. This release will include four new effects: Cube, Impressionist, Ripple, and Twirl. This latest set of drivers will be available to all new and current RT.X2 users for free.

Conclusions
The Matrox RT.X2 is a stable real-time HDV editing solution that adds filters and time-saving features to Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0. Dynamic Link and WYSIWYG video output allow users to view their work just as the client would. Most editors will need to upgrade or build a new system to accommodate the card and its requirements, so it's not an inexpensive upgrade, but you will have a professional SD and HDV editing system that rivals much more expensive options.

Chris and Laura Randall (info@edit1media.com) are award-winning videographers based in Tacoma, Washington. Chris is president of the PEVAN regional videographers association. The Randalls are featured speakers at the 4EVER Group Conventions, and were selected to the 2006 EventDV 25 All-Star Team.



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