Matrox has been one of the most important names in desktop video editing for more than a decade, but it hasn’t released anything new at the semi-professional end of the market since the RT.X100 in 2002. Although the Xtreme update in 2003 and Xtreme Pro in 2004 kept the RT.X100 current, a lot of the effects processing is performed on the hardware card itself, so it couldn’t keep pace with the competition forever. Both Canopus and Avid are now performing most editing duties in software, allowing them to take advantage of ever-increasing PC performance.
So, at last, Matrox has released a successor: the RT.X2. The design sports a PCI Express 1x interface, and utilises both CPU and GPU for effects processing. Even the hardware is upgradeable. Its Xilinx Virtex-II Pro FPGA chip is a reprogrammable DSP, the functions of which can be enhanced with firmware.
We tested the RT.X2 in a number of PCs, and therein lay our first surprise. Matrox’s hardware recommendation list is short, and unquestionably high end. The drivers wouldn’t even allow us to install the card in an Athlon FX-55 system, as the bare minimum is a dual-core CPU. Matrox recommends top-end options like an Athlon FX-60, Pentium D 9-series Extreme Edition or even twin dual-core Opterons. You also need a high-end graphics card, with 256MB acceptable but 512MB recommended. In the end, we tested the RT.X2 in two Opteron workstations, one with dual 270s, one with dual 285s, and both with high-end ATI graphics.
As with most previous Matrox editing products, the RT.X2 is aimed at Adobe Premiere, in this case the latest Premiere Pro 2. But it isn’t an evolution of the RT.X100, instead being a cut-down version of the professional Axio range. So many features of the RT.X100 aren’t here. In particular, the handy MediaTools standalone capture utility isn’t included, with Premiere Pro’s built-in scene detection and scan/capture used instead. The effects controls are also embedded into the Premiere Pro interface, rather than using their own proprietary applets. Quite a few of the RT.X100 effects are missing too, including 3D tiles, particles and twirls.
But what you do get will be much more useful to professionals than a few wacky effects. The RT.X2 can capture from a huge range of sources, although to capture DV or HDV you need to supply your own FireWire (the FireWire port in the middle of the breakout box is just a passthrough). Analogue options range from the usual composite and S-Video to component, alongside RCA audio connections. Standard definition (SD) can be captured as DV, DVCAM, DVCPRO, or Matrox’s proprietary MPEG2 I-frame, with data rates up to 25Mb/s and 4:2:2 colour sampling. High-definition (HD) sources can only be acquired with MPEG2 I-frame, but at up to 100Mb/s. This makes the RT.X2 the only product in its price range to offer HD component analogue capture to MPEG2.
But the RT.X2 really shines once you move over to editing, as long as your hardware’s up to it. On either of our Opteron workstations, we found the system could mix six DV files together, each with a filter or two, without dropping a frame. On the Opteron 270, two streams of MPEG2 I-frame HD were the limit, but the 285 could handle three of HDV, and even four with a jerky but usable playback. You’re also spoilt for choice when it comes to previewing the output. As well as the analogue outputs, there’s a DVI connection as well, allowing you to hook up an LCD TV or PC monitor. The RT.X2 can downscale HD output to SD, so if you don’t have a compatible LCD you can still preview HD.
Despite the loss of a few RT.X100 effects, the RT.X2 is still replete with real-time filters. The range of transitions is pedestrian compared to its predecessor. Instead, you get quite a bit of Premiere Pro’s effects arsenal in real-time with SD, and accelerated with HD, plus a host of extra filters including chroma and luma keying, blur and soft focus. One of the most elaborate effects is Surface Finish, which embosses your video with various materials such as bricks. Old Movie does what the name suggests, but with a very comprehensive range of parameters to get precisely the look you want.
There’s so much to say about the RT.X2 that we’ve only been able to focus on the important points here. But although this is an awesome editing system with a strong future, it comes with a few caveats. The hardware is pricey, considering Premiere Pro 2 is the only bundled software. But what will push it out of many people’s league is how much extra you’ll have to pay for a PC capable of doing it justice. If price is the issue, Canopus or Avid alternatives will get most of the job done for much less.