Test Bench:Matrox RT.X100

$1,099

Matrox Electronic Systems

1055 St-Regis

Dorval, QC, Canada H9P 2T4

(514) 822-6000
www.matrox.com

For some time now, almost all "real-time" hardware solutions for Adobe Premiere have provided real-time previews only. When you were ready to send DV back to your camcorder, you still needed to render the project. The Matrox RT.X100 is different, allowing Premiere users to send a timeline directly out to DV without any rendering delays. At an extremely competitive price, this card is for any Premiere user who longs for real real time.

Real Time DV

We suppose we should wait until the end of the review for a big and satisfying conclusion, but we just have to cut to the good stuff right away. First, we captured some video using the Matrox capture utility, which had a great scene detection feature. Then we ran Premiere and threw together a timeline with transitions, added fade-ins and outs, tossed in some opening and closing credits, overlayed a lower-third graphic and then clicked File: Export Timeline > Export to Tape to send our project back to DV tape. All this happened without a single red render bar or even a nanosecond spent watching a render progress bar fill up. What more could you want? The End.

At this point, we were very pleased, as the above editing represents about 95 percent of the work that we do every day. We also wanted to stress the card a bit and see what its limits were. Here’s what we were able to do at the same time without any rendering: A-roll with a slow-motion effect, a Chromakey in V2 (with A showing through) and a 3D rotating title over the top of that in V3. We were definitely impressed.

Our project did require some experimentation, however, and it took a while to figure out what effects and combinations would work together. For example, by removing the motion from the title in V3, we could add motion to a picture-in-picture in V2, but we couldn’t put motion in both without rendering. There are a host of beautiful Matrox animated effects with extensive keyframable attributes and characteristics, but even regular Premiere transitions will work in real time with the RT.X100. We found the various Matrox effects dialogs fun to work with and could drag video around in the preview windows for WYSIWYG positioning.

Beyond Real Time

When we did have to render, we didn’t wait very long. Our RT.X100 was installed on a fast, new Compaq Evo 4000 with a 2.2GHz P4 CPU, undoubtedly an optimal configuration for the card and certainly responsible for much of the system’s overall speed.

We exported a project out to DVD-spec MPEG-2 in real time, meaning that a 20-minute project took 20 minutes to render to an M2V file and an uncompressed WAV for audio. The MPEG export utility was simple, but offered VBR (variable bit rate) encoding and let us specify the GOP if we so desired. Beyond simple performance times, the Matrox MediaExport utility (on Premiere’s File menu) has a simple batch-encoding feature for streaming media that we found especially useful for testing various compression settings overnight. In the morning, we could then compare our renders and select the one that yielded the best balance between quality and file size. Without a batch utility, this crucial, but tedious process for creating quality Web-ready media is unpleasant. Another little extra: for RT.X100 customers, Matrox also offers free Web hosting on its streaming server.

Responsiveness

One problematic aspect of many real-time cards is the responsiveness of Premiere, specifically the delay between when the spacebar is pressed and when a preview begins. We can’t assign blame to anyone in this incredibly complex interaction between capture hardware, Adobe software and an infinite variety of possible hardware and software configurations, but the issue cannot be ignored. Again, we are happy to report that Matrox has come through. The pause between a press of the spacebar and timeline playback was acceptably small, although still noticeable. This was the only hesitation we noticed anywhere in Premiere at all. Timeline navigation (e.g. zooming, scrolling), source previews and the application of effects were all instantaneous. It should go without saying, but we also found the card and Premiere to be rock stable and experienced no crashes during our tests. [NOTE: At the time of this writing, we do not know if there will be upgrade options for RT.X100 customers to any newer versions of Premiere, but we would expect the card to be compatible.]

First and Next Generation

The RT.X100 is a first generation product. Let’s be clear: from our tests, we have no evidence to suggest that there ever will be any problems. The complexity of hardware and software configurations has meant that previous first-generation cards (from all manufacturers) have sometimes had minor compatibility issues that affected a tiny (but vocal) fraction of users. These completely unpredictable issues are typically resolved by prompt driver updates. As with any card, make sure your computer comfortably meets Matrox’s minimum requirements and give them a call if you have any doubts whatsoever. Another option is to find a trusted vendor to build an RT.X100-based turnkey system for you.

That little caution aside, let’s be even clearer: the RT.X100 rocked our real-time world. Considering that for about a thousand dollars you get the card and Premiere 6.0, the RT.X100 is competitive not just with other hardware cards, but also with some software solutions that promise real-time previews only. Greater responsiveness in editing and real-time DV out mean that you may never wait for a render ever again, and this makes the Matrox RT.X100 a real real-time card.

TECH SPECS

Platform: PC

Operating System: Windows XP Home or Professional

Processor: PIII @ 1.1GHz/ P4 @ 1.7GHz/ Athlon XP 1500+

Recommended Processor: P4 @ 2.2GHz/ Athlon XP 2000+

RAM: 512MB

Hard Disk: 500MB, separate AV hard disk

Other Hardware: Display card, 16-bit sound card, CD-ROM drive

Included Software:

Matrox DVTools, Premiere 6.0 (free upgrade to 6.5), Sonic DVDit! LE, Pixelan Video SpiceRack

STRENGTHS

  • Real-time DV out
  • Beautiful effects
  • RT Premiere native transitions

    WEAKNESSES

  • Adobe Premiere only

    SUMMARY

  • Real-time DV out without rendering.
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