Matrox MXO2 Mini with MAX Technology Review

Matrox has released its MXO2 Mini, a slick little box that captures HD and SD video, and outputs video in just as many formats. The MXO2 can also perform faster-than-real-time H.264 compression operations through hardware. Knowledge is power when selecting any kind of video capture device, and Matrox has a great amount of background in this field, dating back to their original RT.X family of capture devices.

Matrox has done a great job with the MXO2, other than a few minor software hiccups, we found it to be a very capable device that yields excellent results. Under any reasonably modern and powerful computer that could be had off the shelf today, you can capture broadcast-quality video, no fuss, no muss.

No Disc Means Latest Updates

When you open the clear plastic seals on the box, you are presented with a sensibly-packaged piece of hardware. There are no discs included in the box – to get drivers, you must launch the ol’ web browser. Obviously, the goal here is to distribute the most recent version of the drivers to give the user the best possible experience. This is a very noble goal, so you don’t get year-old drivers. It’s also beneficial for Matrox, in that they keep you from getting access to the drivers before you register your hardware – but that is also a benefit for the end user, who gets presented with community information immediately, and by extension, will get a bigger benefit out of their new hardware. (However, the driver download is 73.6MB, so you either need a broadband Internet connection, or more patience than anyone we’ve ever met before. Even downloading the software over a somewhat flaky Wi-Fi connection was a little nerve-wracking. Other downloads available include the instruction manual and a set of codecs for use with any Matrox-encoded video you want to edit on another system that doesn’t have hardware attached.

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Also in the box: international power adapters for Europe, two S-Video adapters (that’s a connection that is starting to fade away, eh?) and the card (either PCI Express or ExpressCard/34, depending on the version you get) and cable that connects the computer to the actual MXO2 Mini box. The box is yet another Mac Pro-reminiscent device, utilizing a handsome cheese-grater enclosure. When power is applied, a single red LED shines out. For many of us, we’d get more benefit turning the device around for quicker access to the ports; but it’s up to you, natch.

Testing Testing

We tested the ExpressCard/34 version on an MSI GT735 laptop. According to the manual, the device is not meant to be hot-plugged, unlike most ExpressCard peripherals we come across (granted, you do need to perform an “eject” of these types of devices before you remove them, or you risk data loss – or worse.) Oddly, inserting or removing this card caused our laptop to power on by itself. In the same vein, sleep mode is not supported in Windows Vista or Windows 7, and standby mode is not supported in Win XP. Hibernation mode is supported, but you must close programs that are using the device. Otherwise, expect some odd problems until the next time you reboot.

The 73.6MB Mtx.utils download package includes a lot of goodies, including an HDMI monitor calibration utility, a Premiere Pro CS4 (4.2+) plug-in that includes color correction, Matrox’ A/V Tools (provides capture, frame grab and playback capabilities), WYSIWYG plug-ins for After Effects, Photoshop, 3ds Max, Combustion, eyeon Fusion and LightWave 3D to allow you to see your work on the HD monitor that you used the calibration utility on, and H.264 output presets for Adobe Media Encoder.

Capturing

The MXO2 Mini can capture NTSC video, composite, component and S-Video. It captures those video types in either MPEG-2 (I-frame only) at 10-50Mbps, defaulting to 25Mbps, or as Matrox 8-bit uncompressed. The video quality of what we captured was excellent, getting every bit of quality from the source footage (and revealing the limitations of the source footage, by extension.)

If you are using Premiere Pro CS4 and Adobe Media Encoder, you can use the H.264 output presets provided with Mtx.utils to perform greater-than-realtime encodes of your video through hardware; however, we were unable to test this feature since our test machine does not have Premiere Pro installed.

Ultimately, the high-speed encoding capabilities of the device help make a case for it, primarily if you are an Adobe user. If you don’t use Adobe, or all you need is HD in/out capabilities, there are a few less-expensive solutions on the market, but this is definitely a great way to get both high-speed encoding and capture capabilities. We really like the device – and if it suits your needs, you will definitely not be disappointed.


Tech Specs

General: Weight: 9.9 ounces

Dimensions: 6 1/2″ x 4 5/16 x 1 1/2″

System Compatibility: Mac Pro and Intel-based MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.5.6 or higher. PC desktops and laptops running Windows 7 (64-bit), Windows Vista (32- and 64-bit), and Windows XP (32-bit)

Video Inputs: HDMI – HD – 10-bit, Component – HD/SD – 10-bit, Y/C (S-Video) – 10-bit, Composite – 10-bit

Audio Inputs: 2 RCA – stereo pair (unbalanced), HDMI embedded – up to 8 channels, 24-bit 48 kHz

Video Outputs: HDMI – HD/SD – 10-bit, Component – HD/SD – 12-bit, Y/C (S-Video) -12-bit, Composite – 12-bit, Simultaneous HD and SD output

Audio Outputs: 2 RCA – stereo pair (unbalanced), HDMI embedded – up to 8 channels

Supported Formats: 720p and 1080i @ 50, 59.94, 1080p @ 25, 29.97, NTSC, PAL

Codecs

Mac: Matrox MXO2 Mini lets you capture to HD and SD codecs supported by Final Cut Pro. On a Quad-Core MacPro, you can capture HD to ProRes 422 HQ, DVCPRO HD, DV, DVCPRO, and DVCPRO50. On a MacBook Pro Core2 Duo 2.4 GHz or faster, you can capture HD to ProRes 422 HQ (720p at 25 and 30 fps), ProRes 422 (LT), and DVCPRO HD. On systems equipped with proper storage you can capture uncompressed 8 – and 10-bit HD.

PC: Matrox MPEG-2 I-frame HD adjustable from 50 to 300 Mbps, (1920 x 1080, 1440 x 1080), Matrox MPEG-2 I-frame SD adjustable from 10 to 50 Mbps, Uncompressed 8- and 10-bit.

Strengths

  • Small size
  • Laptop and desktop versions available
  • Excellent video quality
  • Wide variety of capture options

Weaknesses

  • Software has a few rough edges
  • Rather large, mandatory software download
  • No print documentation

SUMMARY

A very versatile video capture device with the portability edge.

Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd.

1055 Saint-Régis Blvd.

Dorval, QC H9P 2T4, Canada

www.matrox.com

$849

Charlie Fulton is a consumer electronics enthusiast and computer guru.

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