Marrying the Two
Matrox has a long history in the sometimes-rocky marriage of computer and video technology. The Matrox MXO fills a gap between the prices of high-quality cameras and high-quality monitors. Pro monitors are incredibly expensive and have never benefited from the economies of scale that have brought the prices of camcorders and computers down so low. Essentially, the MXO endeavors to turn your plain old LCD screen into a professional broadcast monitor.
Installation and Configuration
The MXO is contained in a breakout box that’s styled in the same aluminum-cheese-grater style as the past few years of Power Macs, so it matches your computer and there’s no need to use up one of your precious PCI slots.
The MXO is connected between the DVI port on your Mac and your LCD monitor, using a small cable containing DVI, USB and analog audio connectors.
You then install the software. All settings are accessed via an icon in System Preferences. To download the software, you must register and sign in with name and password. It can take a few hours to get your registration info, an annoyance for those of us with a few thousand passwords to remember already.
Being able to monitor what you are editing with a high degree of confidence in the accuracy of the picture you’re seeing is not as easy as it sounds. There are all kinds of deinterlacing, scaling and color enhancements that can distort your image. The MXO strives to remove this uncertainty, giving you a true WYSIWYG representation of your video.
The MXO tools for adjusting your display properties are comparable to those of a high-end broadcast monitor: hue, chroma, contrast, brightness and blue-only controls. Along with a good source of color bars (provided), you can use these tools to accurately set up your LCD display for a perfect image. For a production graphics environment, the MXO also displays “super black” and “super white,” allowing you to generate extremely clean keys and mattes for your graphics.
The pixel-to-pixel remapping option lets you see your video in true native format, not scaled up or down, regardless of your monitor’s resolution. Viewing, say, a standard SD image on an HD monitor means there’s a lot of black around the edges, but you do get that accurate representation. This option can be turned off, if you want to scale your video to fit your screen for purely aesthetic purposes.
Monitoring the HDV forrmat is tricky. If all you have is a computer, a camcorder and an HDTV connected together, you will notice a lag between the actions you take on your computer and the HDTV display time. This second or so of lag quickly becomes a real pain when you’re making edit decisions based on what you see in the monitor. Setting your in and out points, for example, could be a second off. The MXO provides rock-solid sync between your computer and your LCD display, making audio and video synchronization a non-issue. It’s an extremely nice workflow feature, and once you have edited with perfect a/v sync, you’ll never go back.
As for compatibility: the Matrox MXO monitoring works with any QuickTime-based app that uses the Video-out QuickTime component.
The MXO has a plethora of output options. The back of the MXO bristles with BNC connectors for HD and SD video comprised of component, SDI, and even Y/C and composite outputs (SD only). The MXO contains simple stereo audio monitoring via a pair of RCA jacks. It is genlockable, meaning you can take house sync and lock the MXO video to it via the reference-in connector. This allows you to use the MXO output in a live production environment, using a video mixer.
Another interesting feature of the MXO is the ability to take the computer’s display and cleanly down-convert it to a video signal. This is the best way to record to video what you’re doing on the computer.
Standard or High Definition? In today’s production environment, the answer always seems to be both. The MXO has a real-time downscaling feature that lets you play your HD material in your computer, and it automatically outputs a standard-definition NTSC or PAL video signal based off the frame rate of your HD material.
This step saves a lot of time, using separate video compression software to create a standard-definition version of your program.
Irregularities and Annoyances
The MXO can get confused if you often switch back and forth between applications that use the MXO hardware, resulting in a frozen image. You can avoid this in most cases by toggling the MXO on and off by hitting Command-F12, but this can quickly become annoying if you switch apps frequently.
When you switch between apps that use the MXO and those that don’t, the second or two of black flicker as the MXO engages on your LCD monitor also quickly becomes annoying.
There are a few irregularities in connecting the MXO to external broadcast VTRs. To get deck control from the computer, you must install a separate RS-422 adapter. In addition, the analog audio support is stereo RCA only, so you most likely will need adaptors to connect to your XLR inputs. However, if you’re using SDI, the MXO does support embedded audio, allowing you the full 8 channels of 24-bit, 48kHz audio.
For high-definition editing on a Mac, take a serious look at the Matrox MXO. Coupled with a relatively inexpensive LCD monitor, it’s like getting the functionality of a full broadcast monitor at a fraction of the price, with useful output options not found on any display.
Matrox MXO requires a Mac system with the following configuration:
Mac OS X v10.4.7 or later.
DVD-ROM drive to install the MXO software.
Free USB port.
Display card with a secondary DVI-I connector.
Monitoprust display 19201200 @ 60Hz e.g., Apple Cinema Display
512MB RAM recommended for QuickTime-based editing; Apple recommends 2GB for HD editing.
- Broadcast monitor controls
- Pixel-perfect remapping
- Outputs a variety of formats
- Switching apps frequently can confuse it
- Analog audio support not as robust as SDI
Matrox’s Mac solution for video monitoring and output is very effective.
John Burkhart is Videomaker’s Editor-in-Chief.
Matrox Electronic Systems
1055 St. Regis Blvd.
Dorval, Quebec Canada H9P 2T4