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For More Information

Digital Voodoo
Jamesburg, N.J.

Pinnacle Systems
Mountain View, Calif.

Dorval, Canada


REVIEW MAY 9 , 2001

Trailblazing Cards for Mac Video
[Page 2 of 2]

Matrox RTMac bundle

Like all current videocards, the RTMac is PCI bus and allows realtime processing of incoming video, compressing it to disk. Its claim is that it can accept composite or S-Video and compress it in realtime to DV, which minimizes the disk array requirements. Surprisingly, the card is available for $999—about as close to a grand as you can get, yet still a hair under that magic number.

Matrox realizes that a lot of video pros are using Macs and have been for many years. Also, it has worked directly with Apple to make the RTMac as seamless as possible with Final Cut Pro. Matrox is writing drivers for Final Cut Pro that it says will allow the RTMac to handle up to three layers of realtime video. These three layers have to be a combination of video and graphics, not all motion video. However, you’ll be able to do a number of useful two-layer transitions in realtime, such as dissolves, push wipes, rotation, and cropping —the usual things that you could do in Final Cut Pro, but would have to render. Dropshadow and opacity adjustments also will be available in realtime. (As you read on, Pinnacle’s board will have similar realtime capabilities as far as Final Cut Pro’s realtime effects). Realtime effects will be viewable as you create your effect, but may still need to be rendered at the time of output. So the benefit may not be as great as we had hoped for, but may still help give Final Cut Pro the additional horsepower it needs to keep up with the professional crowd on tight deadlines.

Matrox RTMac offers realtime editing and effects exclusively for Final Cut Pro.

The new version of Final Cut Pro, version 2.0, will be compatible with Matrox’s and Pinnacle’s new drivers. When asked how users will know which combination of effects are realtime and which ones aren’t, the Final Cut Pro 2.0 program will have a render bar that will turn green for realtime effects, instead of just red and blue as it currently does in version 1.2. Various combinations of effects may or may not be realtime and that combination is something that users will have to learn by doing.

The RTMac is a good solution for users with semi-pro equipment. The connections are RCA, not BNC, and, likewise, audio is brought in unbalanced on RCA connectors and not XLRs. Fortunately, there is a breakout box to help with the wiring. It will be designed to sit on or under the desk.

The RTMac also includes the ability to simultaneously display signals on a VGA computer monitor, plus an NTSC or PAL monitor at full res. Matrox wasn’t planning to include a driver for Premiere 6.0 with the initial ship. I think Matrox should consider writing a piece of software just for digitizing for people who simply need to bring video into their Macs, in case they aren’t planning on using Final Cut Pro but are planning on compositing sources in After Effects 4.1 or for rotoscoping.

Matrox released the RTMac on March 14. “We have begun shipping Matrox RTMac cards to fulfill the backlog of orders and to stock the distribution channel,” says Spiro Plagakis, Matrox vice president of sales and marketing. “The product is also available for purchase from authorized dealers and distributors worldwide.”

Pinnacle has had the DC30plus for the Mac for some time. However, it’s a decent low-priced board (street price is around $600) that would be good for hobbyists and industrial video editors. Unlike Matrox’s RTMac, which is exclusively designed for Final Cut Pro, Pinnacle’s DC30plus currently is compatible with Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. The DC30plus also has audio capability, 44.1kHz in 16-bit, and is captured in sync along with the video. Unlike the Matrox board, the DC30plus is a motion JPEG board, so it’s more conventional in design. However, it’s capable of almost 2:1 compress in NTSC and also has PAL capability. Compression also can be increased up to 32:1 for draft mode.

Pinnacle Targa 3000 (T3K) system

Another interesting point, while most contemporary cards use the D1 resolutions of 720x486 with rectangular pixels, Pinnacle’s card uses the more traditional 640x480 square-pixel format. However, this is a very inexpensive card and does a lot for the money. Video and audio ins and outs terminate in RCA-type connectors and an S-Video port also is part of the package.

What Pinnacle would rather talk about is the new Targa 3000 (T3K for short), which is offered as the Targa Cine package. This package includes the board, a copy of Commotion, and Knoll Light Factory. The bundle will cost $6,000, which isn’t bad if you consider that Commotion is a valuable piece of software on its own, and you’re getting a D1 card and FX software to boot. If the T3K lives up to its specs, it will be an impressive piece of hardware.

The T3K can handle up to uncompressed resolutions, has RGB support, and includes a much more professional breakout box equipped with BNC video and XLR audio connectors. This is more what video pros would need to interface with pro VCRs. Additionally, the T3K will have realtime effects, with the same type of effects mentioned with the RTMac. Pinnacle also says that Apple is developing QuickTime 5.0, which will allow new possibilities with realtime effects. It also is going to include Premiere 6.0 in its plans to write the appropriate drivers, along with full support for Final Cut Pro. Of all of the cards I’ve mentioned, this is the one to watch.

Digital Voodoo
Digital Voodoo is an Australian company that is making small, D1 uncompressed PCI cards that can fit into the palm of your hand. The company actually makes four models, but we’ll concentrate on the D1 Desktop 64AV. Because of its Australian heritage, there is some concern over support of the product. It’s just too soon to tell if there will be difficulties.

Digital Voodoo D1 Desktop Mac Systems

However, this little board really does have some amazing features, but none of the realtime effects we’ve been talking about from Matrox and Pinnacle. It’s just a different kind of board for serious video designers who work with digital recorders and are looking for the best video quality at a reasonable price.

On the connector panel of the D1 Desktop, there are three BNCs and one DB-15 D-sub connector (the same type of connector used for Mac RGB monitors) that is used for the audio. This tiny connector allows as many as six channels of balanced AES/EBU digital audio. While this capability is wonderful, its execution leaves much to the imagination. If you want to bring in regular analog sound and digitize it, it requires the user to purchase an outboard analog-to-digital audio converter. This will, no doubt, alienate some users. The D1 Desktop does provide a genlock port and word clock for this, and the company says this allows its owners to use low-cost, off-the-shelf converters. But for folks working with digital DAT machines, disk players, or DigiBeta decks, you have a system that is totally digital. You also have to wire this connector yourself if you want more than the two channels of audio that it comes wired with. This is a lot of wiring to cram into such a small connector, so on with the more impressive stuff.

The other two BNC ports are SDI in and out. There are no composite, S-Video, or component ports on this card. It’s strictly a no-frills digital card and the price is right at $3,999.

It is possible to work with 16:9 images with the D1 Desktop 64AV, (720x576 or 720x486). You can use this board to generate a Mac desktop on another monitor so you can draw or paint in Photoshop or another application and monitor your results digitally in NTSC. Mac software for the control strip is included and it brings up a selectable safe title and safe “picture” grid —what most of us call “safe action.” There also is a letterbox generator mode. The D1 Desktop 64 has a full 10-bit output and 64-bit PCI bus connection.

A simple piece of software called Media Transfer is included with the board so that you can capture video from a digital deck and control its transport. The controls mimic normal deck functions. This is thoughtful considering that owners of a D1 card might also be graphic designers who need to bring video into After Effects or other Mac compositing programs. Currently, Digital Voodoo only supplies a traditional round (mini-octal) serial connector, and not the current USB Mac port on the later G3s and G4s. Perhaps a USB-to-serial adapter will do the trick.

Because the D1 Desktop 64AV can capture uncompressed media, the company recommends a minimum of two fast 9GB drives, striped together in pairs, running on an accelerated SCSI bus. This is nothing new to Avid users, but it means that a SCSI card will need to be purchased for owners of newer Macs, and probably even older Macs. Final Cut Pro is, of course, supported and a special QuickTime codec for selecting the ability to render to the Voodoo card is offered. This card would be useful for Photoshop artists wanting to work digitally in NTSC. There is a way for After Effects users to see their motion video fullscreen in PAL or NTSC while they work with this card and even Painter is supported.

More for the Money
It seems as though the new generation of Mac videocards offers a lot of bang for the buck. It wasn’t long ago when I remember testing an Intelligent Resources Video Explorer card, a D1 board back in 1992, in the digital edit suite at Turner Productions in Atlanta. When held up on the switcher in a split-screen comparison to a $100,000-plus Quantel Paintbox system, no one could tell the difference between the two.

That was nine years ago, the boards were $12,000, huge, and filled with LSIs. Nobody expected to actually digitize uncompressed media, just work with it. Now things are vastly different. Macs are still on the edge of technology, and prices are a fraction of what they once were. All of these cards will need to be proven in actual production to really test them, but for now the competition is heating up and I’m curious to see who will eventually win. I’m sure that Avid, Media 100, and Àccom won’t be sitting idly by.

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Contributing editor Rick Shaw is managing director of Z Post, a post house in Atlanta that specializes in nonlinear editing and digital media production for a variety of broadcast and corporate clients. He can be reached at [email protected].

2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved.

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