Test Bench:Matrox RT.X100 Turnkey (EVO W4000)

$1,499

Matrox Video Products Group

1055 St-Rgis Blvd

Dorval, QC H9P 2T4, Canada

(514) 822-6000

www.matrox.com

It’s a great time to be a video editor. Think of it: all of the major hardware manufacturers are racing to bring real-time, no-rendering-needed, professional-quality digital editing power to the desktop computer for less than what you’d have expected to pay for a decent S-VHS deck a few years ago. A case in point is the Matrox RT. X100 Xtreme Pro video capture card, which comes with an excellent suite of Adobe software and provides DV/FireWire and analog video capture as well as a number of real-time processing features for editing and DVD production. Though we did discover some potential issues in the installation and configuration of the card, the Matrox RT.X100 Xtreme Pro is a very impressive option for those who like to use Adobe software to create their videos.

Break it Out
The RT.X100 Xtreme Pro is available in 2 packages: the Suite ($1,099), which bundles the RT.X100 Xtreme hardware with Matrox X.tools software, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Encore DVD and Adobe Audition; and the Collection ($1,499), which adds Adobe After Effects to the mix. The Xtreme Pro card itself fits in a PCI slot and has a single 6-pin FireWire port as well as a small breakout box with S-video, stereo audio and composite video inputs and outputs. A pair of 1/8-inch stereo mini-plugs carry the audio signal into and out of your computer’s sound card, and a mini-jack on the card carries the audio on to your existing computer’s speakers. This could cause a host of potential issues, mainly with the kind of sound card your computer may have and whether or not it is capable of synchronizing audio with the RT.X100 Xtreme Pro; owners of name-brand sound cards, however, shouldn’t worry about this. Another potential problem with installation is the note in the manual that says users should not have the RT.X100 Xtreme Pro installed in the computer when you install Windows XP, as XP will attempt to install the wrong drivers and cause the card to malfunction. This means that if you ever need to re-install Windows XP on your computer, you’ll have to remove the RT.X100 Xtreme Pro card first.

Once it’s plugged in and you’ve installed the drivers, it’s time to install the bundled software and configure the system the way you plan to use it. If you find it at all intimidating to mess around with all of the myriad options and settings in Premiere, then you might want to get some help with this step. The manual is very clear and helpful, but this card does require a hands-on approach to installation.

Real-Time on Many Levels
First looks at the Matrox MediaTools application reveal a simple, straightforward approach to logging and capturing clips. The SinglePass DV scan and capture feature, which provides scene-change identification for one-step capturing and splitting of clips on an entire DV tape, introduces the RT.X100 Xtreme Pro’s approach, which is to provide time-saving “real-time” operation whenever possible. MediaTools also provides a way to split and trim clips before you bring them into Premiere for editing, if you wish.

To truly see the wonder of this card, however, you must open the bundled Matrox Flex 3D software, or one or more of the bundled Adobe applications, and sample its real-time offerings. A short list of the real-time features of the RT.X100 Xtreme Pro include: color corrections, Premiere transitions, chroma key, luma key, zoom and pan, multi-path 3D effects with spline-based animation, page curls, cubes, spheres, ripples, drop shadows, and filter-style effects. And that’s just the editing stuff. For DVD authors, the card will do real-time MPEG-2 or MPEG-1 capture and encoding. It’ll even de-interlace your stills as you capture them, saving you a step for creating graphics and the like. Sound impressive? It is.

Of course, there are limits to what the RT.X100 Xtreme Pro can do. Specifically, these are: 5 channels of transparency, 2 channels of smooth slow/fast motion, 2 channels of color correction, 2 channels of level control, 2 channels of proc amp, 2 channels of key-framable 3D transformation and 2 channels of cropping. All together, that’s 17 simultaneous real-time effects, as the company’s literature will tell you. In practice, you’ll probably never get 17 different effects in precisely this configuration, and you may find other limits as well, such as the card’s inability to work in real time with layered PSD still images, and the Adobe-specific approach.

A Bright Future
The earliest real-time editing solutions for desktop PCs were very limited in scope–products like the NewTek Video Toaster, which could only perform Toaster transitions and required hours of Amiga-powered rendering for everything else. As time goes on, more and more real-time capabilities are being added to the mix, so that now, with the Matrox RT.X100 Xtreme Pro, we can tap into a powerful open-ended editing program like Adobe Premiere Pro and provide real-time, no-render editing for an ever-widening range of features. Products like this one point to a bright future for video editors, and perhaps someday to the death of rendering once and for all as an element of video editing practice. Hats off to Matrox for taking us one step closer to making that dream come true.

Joe McCleskey is an instructional media specialist.

TECH SPECS

Platform: PC

Operating System: Windows XP

Processor: P4 2.4GHz or Athlon XP 2100+

RAM: 512MB

Additional Requirements: PCI slot, sound card, CD-ROM drive

Printed Manual: 300 pages (plus full Adobe manuals)

Software: Matrox X.tools, Adobe Video Collection Standard (Premiere Pro, Encore DVD, Audition, and After Effects), Pixelan SpiceRack

Demo Version: none

Inputs: analog (composite, S-video and RCA audio) and digital (FireWire)

Outputs: analog (composite, S-video and RCA audio) and digital (FireWire)

Features: Realtime effects,, MPEG-2 or DV capture, transparency, color correction, filter effects, Chroma or luma key, 3D spline-based effects, fast and slow motion, proc amp controls, titles, graphics, etc.

STRENGTHS

  • Amazing real-time power
  • Great software bundles

    WEAKNESSES

  • Windows XP only, install issues
  • No realtime support for PSD graphics

    SUMMARY

    A superb performer at a reasonable price.

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