By Neil Bennett | on September 23, 2002
Price When Reviewed: £765 plus VAT
Matrox pioneered the sub-£1,000 real-time editing system with the RT2000 back in May 2000 (reviewed in Digit 23), but since then, the RT2000 – and its successor, the RT2500 – have been under fire from more powerful competitors – most notably Canopus’ DVStorm. This hasn’t stopped Matrox shipping systems by the bucket-load, however – and the company is now attempting to take back the high-ground with the release of the RT.X100. Like its predecessors, the RT.X100 bundle comprises the combination capture/effects PCI card; Adobe Premiere and software drivers to make it run in real-time; and the Matrox MediaTools logging/capture tool. The Adobe After Effects plug-in that shipped with the RT2500 to allow output to a PAL monitor now works with NewTek LightWave and Discreet 3DS Max, which is great for users of those packages. Our RT.X100 system included Premiere 6.0, but we also tested it with a beta of Premiere 6.5. The card was quite happy with this, being no less stable than the beta itself. Matrox has offered a free upgrade to Premiere 6.5 for users who bought any of the company’s Premiere-based products after June 22, 2002 – which gives users access to version 6.5’s new titling and audio tools, and extra After Effects filters. Real-time effects and output Much of Premiere 6.5 runs in real-time without the need for a hardware board, which could lead a user to ask why the RT.X100 is necessary at all. On a basic level, the card provides analog input and output for capture, and is the best way to connect a PAL monitor (allowing users to operate a dual-display set-up at the same time). The RT2000 and RT2500 had a fixed level of real-time power, as everything was board-based, but with the RT.X100, Matrox has followed the lead of the DVStorm, in combining software and hardware power. This makes it far more powerful than its older cousins or Premiere 6.5 alone, as users get the best of both approaches: two layers of video, and two of graphics. This is especially true for 3D transitions or filters – rendered by the board’s Flex3D chip with sub- pixel-accurate geometry, and excellent anti-aliasing. The hardware at the centre of the RT.X100 also allows certain features that just aren’t possible using software-only tools. Primary among these is real-time DV output from the timeline to tape. This not only saves time, as there’s no wait for the entire project to render, but also means that the media drive can be checked to see if it has enough space for the render – which can be more than a few gigabytes. It also offers real-time MPEG capture and encoding, which, again, should save time. Matrox has upgraded the MediaTools capture tool from that included with the RT2000/2500 with an excellent addition – single-pass capture. Most DV editing systems, including the software-only version of Premiere, currently offer automatic scan/capture tools. These scan the DV tape, spot the breaks between shots, and then capture each scene to an individual file, ready for editing. Single-pass capture speeds-up this process, scanning while it captures. It also reduces wear-&-tear on tapes. Users can still scan first should they wish. Filters and colour tools Matrox’s own filters and transitions have been bolstered in the RT.X100, with three new real-time effects: colour-correction, speed controls, and a keyer. Like all Matrox effects, the colour-corrector includes both basic and advanced settings. The basic controls are a set of templates, either artistic (B&W, sepia, and ‘under the sea’, for example), or overall settings for a project – but it’s worth noting that the RT.X100’s advanced settings are more powerful. Matrox claims that the RT.X100’s colour-correction tool is as good as that within Apple’s Final Cut Pro, but the lack of a vectorscope or waveform monitor belies that. What is excellent, though, is the auto white-balance button that gives a users an eyedropper to pick the white-point, and calculates the rest from there. This is great for quick edits or as a starting point for more in-depth work. The RT.X100’s speed controls are remarkably smooth. It isn’t going to compete with something like RealViz’s ReTimer, but it does use a field-based algorithm for calculating the time changes. This is much better than the frame-based system used by most competitors. The chroma and luma keyers are equally impressive, and feature an Auto Key button that automatically gives users a good key from even poorly lit blue- and green-screen footage. The quality of the key is noticeable especially with hair and shadows, and the RT.X100 coped admirably with footage we normally use for testing keying on products such as Discreet’s Combustion. There’s also a full set of controls with plots and maps. Much of what makes the RT.X100 better than the RT2500 or Premiere alone are the timesaving tools, which nicely continues the whole reason for wanting real-time editing in the first place. From single-pass capture to real-time MPEG output, the time you’d save on average is measurable. However, the RT.X100 faces strong competition from the RT2500’s old nemesis, the DVStorm. The version most comparable to the RT.X100, the DVStorm SE Plus, is more expensive than Matrox’s new system – £995 plus VAT. You can pick it up for £790 plus VAT without the drive-bay breakout box and Premiere, but Canopus’ StormEdit isn’t as good as Adobe’s editor. For the extra money, though, you get a much more powerful real-time engine for standard editing. Recent updates have given the DVStorm up to five layers of real-time, and you can add as many graphics layers as your CPU can handle – we managed over 30 on a 1.7GHz P4 system when we first tested the system in 2001. The DVStorm also includes impressive colour-correction and keying tools. It has the edge with the extent of tools on offer – a vectorscope and waveform monitor in the colour corrector, for example – but few of the automated tools that work so well on the RT.X100. But then the DVStorm can apply filters and keys to areas of clips – unique in this price range. The RT.X100 has an effects engine that produces cleaner keys and sharper transitions – especially 3D ones. It also has the better capture controls. The RT.X100 is less expensive and better for less experienced editors, while the DVStorm offers more power and control for more money.