at a Glance

Maker: Matrox
Price: $999
Platforms: Macintosh
URL: http://www.matrox.com

Overall Impression: On the Mac platform, you can't beat the RTMac for $999.

Key Benefits: Provides real-time effects on DV format footage in Final Cut Pro, offers analog inputs and provides a signal for botha studio monitor and a second computer monitor.

Disappointments: A digital upgrade package would be nice, as would the ability to apply more than one real-time effect at a time.

Recommendation: Strong Buy


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REVIEW JUNE 20, 2001
Matrox RTMac
Capture and realtime editing board for Final Cut Pro 2.0

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

Stephen Schleicher
[email protected]

Last week we took a look at Final Cut Pro 2.0, the non-linear editing system from Apple. In it we reported that one of its most beneficial features over version 1.x was its real-time capabilities. Of course, you're not going to get real time out of the software alone; you need hardware to do that. So this week we're going to take a look at the card that brings realtime to Final Cut Pro 2.0—the Matrox RTMac.

Matrox has been making editing and capture boards for Windows systems for quite a while now, and this is the company's first foray into the Macintosh platform. The RTMac was announced with a lot of fanfare at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in 2000, though it failed to materialize until this year.

The pitch was this: Imagine the first real-time, dual-stream video editing and capture board for the Macintosh, including a breakout box and support for both a studio monitor and a second computer monitor, plus out of the box support for Final Cut Pro, all coming in at just under $1,000.

Not a bad pitch.

I think the whole Macintosh editing community has been holding its breath for the last year or so waiting to find out whether the RTMac would live up to expectations. So has it? Well, let's put it this way: After we received our review unit, we bought two.

What it does
We've been using the RTMac in the DMNTV studio here at Digital Media Net for about a month now. We produce a weekly series that, in its history, has been edited in a number of high-end systems. When Final Cut Pro 2.0 was released, we wanted to give it a shot; we also wanted to give the RTMac a shot, since our studio's Macs have fallen a bit behind the megaHertz curve, and render times can be a bit annoying.

Of course we fell in love with Final Cut Pro 2.0, as you can read in our review of it here. At the same time, we became dependent upon the RTMac. After all, who wants to give up real-time capabilities once he's gotten used to them?

The RTMac doesn't make everything in Final Cut Pro 2.0 run in real time. It's geared toward transitions and supports just a limited number of them, as well as some support for audio filters. These include:

  • Dissolve: Cross Dissolve
  • Iris: Cross Iris, Diamond Iris, Oval Iris, Point Iris, Rectangle Iris, Star Iris
  • Slide: Band Slide, Box Slide, Center Split Slide, Multi Spin Slide, Push Slide, Spin Slide, Split Slide, Swap Slide
  • Wipe: Center Wipe, Clock Wipe, Edge Wipe, Insert Wipe, V Wipe.

It also supports real-time motion effects for a video or graphics layer, including scaling, rotation, position, cropping, distortion, drop shadow and opacity. And it supports real-time display of single-layer Photoshop files, as well as JPEGs, PICTs, Targa files and TIFFs, as long as they're created at 720 x 480.

In general, the first audio filter you apply to a track does not need to be rendered, but subsequent filters do (such as combining 3-Band Parametric EQ and a Compressor Limiter, etc.).

But the RTMac isn't just about real-time. One of the great features of the RTMac system is support for both a studio monitor and a second computer monitor. With PCI real estate what it is today, it's nice to see all of this on a single PCI board. The computer monitor is powered by essentially the same chip you'd find in the Matrox G400 graphics board, though it's certainly not running as it does in stand-alone form. It's a bare-bones graphics processor, but it provides enough power to keep a second screen running at a decent refresh rate, high resolution and fine screen redraw times.

It also comes with a breakout box that includes inputs for composite video (CVBS), S-video (Y/C), mini-DIN and one pair of 48 kHz unbalanced stereo (RCA). Outputs include composite video (CVBS), S-video (Y/C), mini-DIN and one pair of 48 kHz unbalanced audio (RCA).

The card supports multi-format mini DV, DV, DVCAM and DVCPRO NTSC 4:1:1, PAL 4:1:1 and 4:2:0. Video formats include ITU-R 601 YUV 4:2:2, NTSC 720 x 486 at 29.97 frames per second and PAL 720 x 576 at 25 frames per second with 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios.

When we say real time, what do we mean? Well, unfortunately, the RTMac is not as real time as you might think. If you are working in DV format, all of your other video clips or imported layers are also in DV format, and you want to apply basic transitions, then yes, this card is real-time. However, the moment you move past two layers of video, or want to mix media (non-DV footage), then you run into trouble.

In our work, we have found that the RTMac doesn’t like it when you try to apply more than one audio filter or effect simultaneously. If you do, you have to render. Graphics created in Photoshop that include multiple layers need to be rendered. Even enhancing the video, such as increasing the brightness, gamma or chrominance requires you to render.

Don’t misunderstand, these render times do not prohibit you from completing your work; it just means you have to approach it differently. In our edit sessions, we often do a rough edit, fine tune it by adding all real time effects and transitions and then do a final tweak where we add all of the non-real-time stuff. Then it off to lunch or dinner or even that all-important carcinogen break. By the time you come back, everything is complete and ready for export back to tape, or as an uncompressed movie for compression in for use on the Web.

One of the other limitations to the RTMac is in the inputs. Currently, the RTMac breakout box has Y/C I/O for video and RCA analog audio and video I/O. While it would drive the cost of the card well beyond $1,000, it would be nice to have a BNC and XLR breakout box as an upgrade option. One nice thing is that you can capture audio/video via the FireWire port on the Mac and still make use of the real-time options of the RTMac.

The bottom line
You can't beat the RTMac for $999. If you use Final Cut Pro and want to add some real-time capabilities without spending a whole lot of money, you'll want to give the RTMac a chance. We give this a strong buy recommendation for Final Cut Pro 2.0 editors.

For more information on the RTMac, visit http://www.matrox.com.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.

Stephen Schleicher is the producer of DMNTV, Video Systems, Millimeter and Digital WebCast and is the host of the Video Systems, Millimeter and Digital WebCast forums at the World Wide User Groups. He has taught at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, and at the American InterContinental University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he also ran his own animation company, Thunderhead Productions. Stephen also freelanced in the Atlanta area as a producer/editor for five years working on everything from training videos to live shows.

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