[This article was first published in the June, 2007, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
Updated July, and August, 2007; April 2008. ]
Wayne Andrews, the RT & MXO product manager for Matrox Video Products Group, saw me at the NAB SuperMeet and demanded that I take a look at what Matrox was doing.
Well, I will confess that Matrox has not been on my radar since RT-Mac did not make the transition from OS 9 to OS X. And, I had a number of client that had problems with the RT-Mac. Still, Wayne was insistent, and we were in the same room, so I headed over to take a look.
The Matrox MXO is a small silver box about the size of a paperback book that connects to the DVI monitor output on your computer. You then attach a second computer monitor which allows you to use the MXO for monitoring. While the MXO does not assist with capturing or digitizing, it solves two crucial problems faced by editors working with HD media: How do you monitor it and how do you output it?
One of the challenges in working with HD media is that many formats are interlaced. However, Final Cut Pro doesn’t display interlacing unless you set your Canvas or Viewer to display images at 100%. However, this is not practical for editing in HD.
One of the concerns I’ve heard expressed about Apple’s 23-inch Cinema Display is that it does a particularly poor job displaying black levels properly. I noticed this as well as I was calibrating the monitor because during the calibration, the black levels became unreasonably dark.
I asked Wayne Andrews about this and he wrote: “With the MXO, super whites and super blacks are now visible on a DVI monitor which overcomes this exact issue. We promote the Apple Cinema Display because of its popularity.”
He continues, “The MXO supports all QuickTime-based applications that support the V-out component, i.e. After Effects, Soundtrack Pro and Motion. When the app has the ability to select a “Video Out”, the MXO is in the mode we refer to as “Mastering Mode;” mastering to tape, if you will. It’s this mode that really rocks!. The MXO actually takes the YUV (Yp Pb Pr) data before the graphic card has a chance to convert it into RGB, so there is no YUV/RGB/YUV conversion done providing the editor a true video signal out of the MXO for printing to tape or broadcasting for example.
“For applications that do not support the QuickTime V-out component, i.e. Photoshop, DVD Studio pro, Livetype, the MXO can still be used to check for “title placement”, “DVD simulation” before burning, and even “ringing” within a graphic are examples. This mode we refer to as “Presentation mode”, that is, we are running it as an HD/SD Genlock-able scan converter.”
(Larry again.) By the way, while a 20″ monitor would be fine for 720p HD video, it is too small for 1080i. The Cinema Display is the smaller monitor that will allow you to see every pixel in your image. However, the MXO offers “Scale to fit” option in its control panel, The MXO will take any resolution, 1080 for example, and scale it to fit the 20″ monitor native resolution something like 1650×1200. You won’t see every pixel in the larger image, but if you don’t work with 1080i very often, this is a good workaround. However, leave “Scale to Fit” off, in general, to avoid blowing up SD or 720p media when displayed on a larger monitor.
I found installation and setup surprisingly difficult. A “Read Me First” manual would be really helpful. Also, the correct drivers were not included in the box (all these new features require version 2 which started shipping in May). Second, it took me two days to find the User Manual. The manual was only available on-line and Matrox requires that you to register as a user before you can download the manual. This is an unnecessarily awkward step, in my opinion. (Wayne tells me that after I spoke with them about this, they have made all their manuals available on their website without requiring registration.)
Properly calibrating the monitor can also be tricky, however, the good news is that the MXO provides all the necessary tools to calibrate the monitor – it just takes a while.
Another problem is that the MXO provides so many different monitoring options, it is very, very difficult to pick the right one from the dozens available. Matrox should look to make this selection process easier — either by limiting the number of different options during installation, or by finding a way to simplify the selection dialog (View > Video Playback).
Once I got everything working, using it was easy. I enjoyed the simplicity of pressing the space bar and watching my HD footage on a second monitor. I especially liked using it to verify interlace problems that my computer monitor did not show. And it’s ability to quickly downconvert HD footage into any SD format is a real plus!
One thing I didn’t do was to test it on a variety of monitors. As I did my testing at an Apple Dealer, the only monitors we had to select from were Apple.
If you are looking for better ways to monitor your HD footage, and you can’t afford HD monitors that range in price from $4,000 to $24,000, the Matrox MXO should definitely be considered. There is no reason to use the MXO if you are working in SD, as a good SD monitor costs less than the MXO.
The MXO has a suggested retail price of $995. It runs on both laptops and towers, and provides real-time video monitoring and HD-to-SD down-conversion. These are all excellent things.
Find out more by visiting their website.
UPDATE – June, 2007
Joseph Potts adds the following comment:
I have a Matrox MXO and I like it a lot. I found it to be a good way to see color on a SD calibrated monitor when working with HD footage in FCP. Since the MXO will down-convert the HD output to SD, I can use my calibrated SD monitor to look at the colors on a CRT rather than and LCD monitor.
Now I know you are going to say that the colors will be modified when converted, but after asking any number of people, including someone from Matrox, and then testing it myself, I have found that the colors are as true with HD as with SD footage.
Of course, the scopes in FCP are critical to getting the color “right”, but when trying to get the color to be consistent between two different lighting conditions (I shoot docs, so I don’t always have perfect control over lighting) or two different cameras, the calibrated monitor show differences the scopes just don’t allow me to see.
So I like the MXO for a different reason
Larry replies: Joseph, thanks for writing and sharing your opinion.
UPDATE – July, 2007
There’s been a lot of interest in the Matrox MXO. Here are comments from the July newsletter.
After reading my review of the Matrox MXO, Stephen Gagné, of Ashland, Oregon, wrote:
I have two questions about things you raised in your Matrox review that I think will also interest other readers of your newsletter. Incidentally, I checked unsuccessfully on Matrox’s forum for answers first, and also noticed that a phone call is verboten unless one is already a registered customer:
1) You quoted Wayne saying, “The MXO supports all QuickTime-based applications that support the V-out component, i.e. After Effects, Soundtrack Pro and Motion.” What about Shake? It’s not listed in the “Not supported” list either…
2) Your review very helpfully reports an impressive list of “gotchas” regarding the install and calibration process. Great help for someone who’s mirroring your process to not feel like they’re going crazy.
Question is — have you had any response from Wayne or others at Matrox regarding these issues — which if any are they planning to address in the foreseeable? I’m sure this would be of great interest to your readers, and also a service to Matrox, assuming they’re working on at least some of them!
Larry replies: Stephen, I sent your questions to the product manager for the MXO, Wayne Andrews, who replied:
Larry, the unit you received was from our “review” stock, so it surprised me to learn a “read me” was not included in the box, which we do have with all official shipping units. When you received the unit, the 2.0 drivers were not shipping yet. All our current shipping units now include the 2.0 drivers in the box, with the manual on the CD, and a printed release notes. The installation manual outlines the installation procedure, and has diagrams on the connections, and also has a procedure for calibration your DVI monitor.
Shake is not an application that supports the V-out component of QuickTime, so it will work only in presentation mode.
Any app that the user can define a video output, is a supported app in MXO mastering mode.
Larry replies: Thanks, Wayne and Stephen, I appreciate all your comments.
By the way, I’ve found Matrox to be very responsive when I pointed out things they need to improve – such as posting manuals to their website without requiring registration. My hope is that this responsiveness to users will continue.
UPDATE – August, 2007
Randal Kazarian writes:
HD color correction seems to be an extremely important issue. I just read the Matrox MXO article on your site and am wondering was the version you tested pre version 2.0 (I’ve been reading of others having calibration problems)?
I’ve spent the last couple days reading all I can from Matrox’s site and dvxuser.com. Since Matrox just released v2.0, and since we all seem to be looking for just such a device, I wish you would delve into this matter a little deeper.
I’m about to buy a field editing system – a Macbook Pro Core 2 Duo and 23″ ACD to run FCP 5.1.2, and am calling Matrox again today with more questions.
Like HOW does it REALLY work, i.e, what will I see on my 23″ ACD. Since I do a lot of scene to scene continuity color correction, I like having 3 or 4 windows across the top of my screen with my TL across the bottom – can I switch back and forth from one canvas view to 4 up or do I need a 3rd monitor? Can the Matrox be switched on and off or would I have to unplug it the DVI cables, etc.?
Larry replies: Randal, I was working with the Matrox MXO just yesterday, discovering more about the system. Here’s what I’ve found out.
First, you can read my original article here.
Second, the MXO I worked with was using the MXO 188.8.131.52 drivers with Final Cut Studio 2. (As you are currently running FCP 5.1.2, I would suggest upgrading to 5.1.4, unless you have a specific technical reason to avoid doing so.)
What you see on your 23″ Cinema Display (anything smaller won’t display properly) is one of two things:
The image is displayed with interlacing and in the correct color space – what Apple calls YUV.
When running in Mastering mode, that is, when you are looking at video output with interlacing and the correct color space, you can only see one image at a time — it mirrors the Canvas monitor.
In other words, it turns the Cinema Display into a reasonably accurate video monitor.
When running in Presentation mode, it will act as a mirror of your desktop, but does not show accurate color or interlacing or pixels.
If all you need is more monitor space, for instance to display more frame viewers, or larger scopes, or multiple Browsers, you don’t need the MXO. You buy the MXO because you can’t afford to purchase an HD video monitor for $5,000 or more.
Calibration is a two-step process. First, you use Apple’s Display system preference to get things roughed in. Then, you use Matrox’s calibration routines to adjust black, white, and chroma levels.
I was very impressed with the image quality and color of this system when the calibrations were complete. (In fact, during this process, I discovered that I had completely messed up the calibration of my laptop monitor.)
It’s ability to display interlace flicker really impresses me, since half the HD formats use interlacing, as do all SD formats. So, seeing problems with slow-motion or still frames is important.
Plus, the MXO allows real-time down-conversion of HD into a variety of SD outputs: SDI, component, S-video and composite.
In the interests of full disclosure, Matrox is a sponsor of my 2007 PowerUP Seminar tour. However, the reason I asked them to become a sponsor was that I was really impressed with what the MXO could do.
If you are interested in less expensive ways to monitor HD video, the MXO is worth checking out. I’ll be bringing one on my tour, so you can see it there. I’ll let you know how it holds up.
UPDATE – April, 2008
Recently, Matrox updated their MXO monitoring box to support Color and Premiere Pro. At that time, I had a conversation with Wayne Andrews, RT and MXO Product Manager for Matrox about whether we could use the Matrox MXO for HD video monitoring in a three monitor setup.
Wayne sent me the following response:
If you already have the two graphic cards and are thinking of using the Matrox MXO with Color, and three monitors, this should work just like it does with FCP.
You would take you primary graphic card second head and attach the MXO to it, this will be your Video out/preview monitor, the primary head, and the second graphics card primary head will be Color interface. You will need to set up the monitors “layout” in the display control panel from the preference pane.
Now if you have not acquired a second graphic card as of yet, you can look into a “cheaper” option by looking at the Matrox Triple Head to Go –
The triple head will allow you a larger desktop resolution. There are both digital and analog editions.
I personally use this setup at trade shows, NAB and IBC for example, where I have three monitors running off of one graphic card, I use the digital one. I take the primary head and send that to the TripleHeadToGo, and attach my two FCP UI monitors; the second head is for the MXO and the preview monitor of FCP.
Larry replies: Thanks, Wayne. While the MXO doesn’t make a lot of sense in an SD production environment, it is definitely on my short-list of key products for accurately monitoring HD video.
NEW & Updated!
Edit smarter with Larry’s latest training, all available in our store.