Price: £799 plus VAT
Digital video not only killed the analog star; it stomped on the remains as well. Digital-video tools have been around for a while, but the next-generation are already here, delivering top-quality effects and editing prowess without the need to splash out a fortune. Matrox RT2000 is spearheading the move, delivering previously undreamed of DV power for a touch under £800. In a nutshell, the RT2000 is a complete, real-time 3D DVE video-editing powerhouse. It offers everything you need to create complex editing and effects-laden videos at broadcast quality, or you can spin off the project onto DVD with one of the many applications it ships with. Real-time application of effects, no rendering waits, organic effects and some of the hottest 3D hardware in the business make this one of the new wave of video tools with added wow factor. I find it likely that most users who purchase RT2000 are going to buy it as part of a complete solution. I recommend a high-spec system (at least a Pentium III 400 with 128MB of RAM) to make the extra power you get worthwhile – although it will happily run along on a lowly PII 300 with 128MB of RAM. As installation is a step-by-step process, anyone used to putting IKEA furniture together will be well prepared. However, everything is easy as long as you have a standard system with nothing to conflict with the RT2000 codec and Millennium G400 (Flex 3D edition) cards. If you do have anything that conflicts with these, then a clean install and system tweaking is needed. Also included in the RT2000 hardware is a styled breakout box and bunch of oddly shaped cables. Again step-by-step connection is a doddle – and the inclusion of a breakout box makes connection of analog equipment (through S-video or composite cables) easy on a routine basis. It’s a shame that the DV connection isn’t on here as well, but the fact that you can plug and unplug a 4-to-6 DV cable into the RT2000 card without fear of knocking the card out of its PCI slot is a bonus. To put it bluntly, for £800 RT2000 is a kick-arse hardware set-up. The codec card is extremely nippy, and capable of working with two video streams and a single 32-bit uncompressed graphics layer – which should keep most editors in this market happy. It works extremely well with the Millennium G400 graphics card, and has the added bonus of speeding up the rest of your graphically accelerated applications (and games, though I’m sure that didn’t cross your mind, even for a second). This card is the Flex 3D edition, which is designed to make 3D rendering, for example for 3D DVEs, fly across your screen. The two-card set-up also includes many other useful capabilities. Setting up an external monitor is as easy as just plugging one into the breakout box, and a dual-monitor system is created by plugging in the monitor to a slot on the back on the G400 card and tweaking the display properties. Of course, none of this is any good if you don’t have the software to fully utilize it or if the integration between the two isn’t up to scratch. Fortunately, RT2000 scores very high on this. Adobe Premiere is the mid-range editor’s standard, and Matrox hasn’t wimped out by providing the LE version as many manufacturers in this space seem to. However, don’t expect the RT bit of the title to mean 100 per cent real-time performance. It’s advertised as Premiere RT with real-time Matrox organic/3D transitions and 2D/3D DVEs, which is true apart from the RT bit. All of the Matrox bits work in real-time, and work very well, but traditional Premiere effects need to be rendered. The exception to this is Premiere’s standard cross-dissolve, something the RT2000 card can handle in real-time. You’re not missing much though, as the Matrox effects are generally better – or at least as good as – their Adobe equivalents. As you would expect in the Top Trumps world of the prosumer video market, there are more here than the average editor will ever need in their lifetime – but the traditional favourites are offered with a wide enough range of options and controls, and the end results are generally excellent. Even complicated 3D DVEs are thrashed through by the Flex 3D technology on the G400 card. The effects preview in real-time well, with appreciable clarity even on a low-spec’d machine. Give it more power, and the previewing engine will spew faster frame rates with less pixelation. The rest of the software provides some great extra resources. Matrox has included codecs for Premiere for RealVideo, NetShow ASF and MPEG-1, making the RT2000 ideal for a wide range of new media applications. Sonic Foundry’s ACID Music is good enough for the experienced audio editor, while still being easy for novices or video-specific editors to do simple edits and effects on. Ulead’s Cool 3D titling software is never going to compete with the likes of Inscriber, but is incredibly easy and setting it up to produce Targa images with alpha channels straight for import into RT2000 is a doddle. The templated results are wide in scope – and with a little work can be made to look professional. Sonic Solutions’ DVDit! LE interactive multimedia DVD-authoring application is also good enough for most, as long as the DVDs you’re creating are in the league of corporate video not Hollywood blockbusters. Photoshop LE is also included, and is useful for tidying up Cool 3D’s results and other still image work. The RT2000 includes a number of extra and unseen utilities. The software DVD player provided to playback DVDit! creations is only as good as the free utilities provided with most drives, but the Infinite Capture tool overcomes Windows 98’s 2GB AVI file size limit. This allows long pieces of video to be captured and played back seamlessly. A hard disk benchmark utility is also included to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. The combination of hardware (capture and video) and software (editing and new media) adds up to a mean bundle that knocks the socks off anything else in this price range. It’s complete – offering facilities for both new and old media, such as digital and analog video – and maybe there’s a little too much for most users. However, at £800 this completeness is not expensive and may even encourage expansion into new areas.