THIS POWERFUL I/O DEVICE CAN MAKE YOUR WORK FLOW
I love portability. Everything I do is focused on creating the highest quality product with the smallest kit possible. I always want flexibility and portability when integrating new products into my production to post workflow.
When I first heard about the MXO2 I was unsure of how the product would fit into my predominantly tapeless world. I was familiar with the Matrox MXO, which is used as an output/monitoring device (essentially turning your DVI monitor into a proper HD/SD video monitor), but couldn’t really understand why I would want to use the MXO2. Well, now that I’ve had some face time with this little box, I can safely say I get it.
So, what is the MXO2?
The MXO2 is a portable and completely codec-agnostic input/output (I/O), device that’s designed for a number of workflows. It’s processor dependent, which means that the faster your system is, the better performance you’ll get out of the box (especially when working with HD source material). It can do 10-bit up/down and cross conversions when capturing and outputting projects and is designed to work with Final Cut Pro, Color, After Effects and other QuickTime apps that support the V-out component, like Motion and Soundtrack Pro.
The device works with Intel-based Mac Pros, MacBook Pros and Apple Xserve systems and comes with input cards for both the Mac Pro (PCI Express card), and the MacBook Pro (ExpressCard/34 card). It can run off of the supplied AC adapter or off of a field battery (with the optional battery power cable).
For video, the MXO2 has HD/SD SDI, HD/SD analog component, composite, Y/C and HDMI inputs and outputs. The HDMI output can be used for video monitoring (which is recommended), and the MXO2 software gives you professional-level monitor calibration for accurate HD & SD video monitoring.
The device also has embedded audio over SDI and HDMI, as well as balanced and unbalanced audio inputs, AES/EBU input/outputs and both balanced and unbalanced outputs (with the ability for 5.1 surround sound monitoring). RS422 machine control, for capture, print-to-tape workflows and genlock support, round out the features.
While it was impossible to test every I/O on the MXO2 and every software feature (including the new Varicam workflow and HD closed captioning support that’s in the just released Version 1.4 software), I did want to put the box to work in the real world.
Setup and Calibration
The first thing I did after unpacking the MXO2 was to install the appropriate card into my MacBook Pro and hook up the device to my computer using the PCIe cable. Once everything was on, I installed the latest version of the MXO2 software (version 1.4 at the time of this writing). I advise doing it in this order to ensure that on install the device will check and make sure any firmware updates get installed before you use the MXO2 for the first time.
Once everything is installed, it’s time to run an HDMI cable from your monitor (a 37-inch LCD television in my case), to the HDMI output of the MXO2. You should then fire up your host application (I used Final Cut Pro), and choose an MXO2-based Easy Setup that matches the project you’ll be working on. You’ll then want to add appropriate bars and tone to your sequence and set your Playback Out to match your sequence settings. You should now see your timeline’s output as long as your playhead is parked over your bars.
Now take a trip over to your System Preferences to open the Matrox MXO2 software. (See "Set Video Outputs" on p. 9) Here you’ll make changes to the way it handles stuff coming into and going out of the box.
Capturing from Tape
To capture from tape I hooked up an RS-22 cable to the MXO2 and ran balanced audio and component video from the deck to the inputs of the box. I then changed the deck from local to remote and created a new sequence with the settings I wanted. I also went to the MXO2 software and under the A/V Input window changed my input source to match the inputs I was using.
My first test was to create an SD sequence using ProRes as the capture codec. It worked great. I also created another sequence, and after changing the Scaling options in the MXO2 software, I did an SD-to-HD up conversion on capture. I had to make sure that I chose an interlaced preset for this, since choosing a progressive preset when doing an up convert from an NTSC SD deck didn’t produce a clean image. The MXO2 may not even be designed to do that, but I tried.
The SD-to-HD up conversion looked clean overall. I did notice a few scanlines of black on top and bottom on the up conversion, but I suspect Final Cut was doing a 480/486 interpretation of some sort.
Print to Tape
I tried a few workflows for output. One of the most impressive was taking an HD sequence (1080p 23.98) and doing a real-time HD- to-SD down conversion to tape. The MXO2 not only handled pulldown, but it also allowed me to choose and lay down the SD version as either letterboxed, center cut or anamorphic — very cool.
I also was able to play back all of the various different timelines I was working with. The MXO2 even handled the HD-to-SD down conversion for monitoring on the standard, tube-based NTSC monitor I was using at the time (as opposed to the HDMI monitoring mentioned earlier).
Live Capture and Tapeless Workflows
HD-SDI output ports are becoming commonplace on new camcorders. The advantage of using them is that you can bypass your camera’s internal compression scheme and do live captures of a 4:2:2 uncompressed signal. If you are shooting greenscreen or footage that is going to be heavily color corrected, you may want to capture from the HD-SDI output so you have more information to work with in post.
The Sony PMW-EX1 outputs a 10-bit 4:2:2 uncompressed signal. As you can imagine, that’s a lot for a Mac Pro, let alone a MacBook Pro, to handle and requires a lot of storage space. As a result, many Final Cut Pro editors have adopted ProRes as their codec of choice. It’s a relatively lightweight codec that works with SD and HD content and is, short of HDCAM SR, one of the best multi-generational codecs out there.
If you find that an uncompressed signal is coming out of the camera, but ProRes is what you want to capture into Final Cut Pro — and you want to be able to do this on set using a MacBook Pro — can the MXO2 handle it? The short answer is Yes! (For a longer one, see "Capture into FCP" on p. 9.)
After it was set up, I didn’t have any issues capturing a live feed from my camera and recording to ProRes, ready to edit. While ProRes (HQ) was a hit or miss on the MacBook Pro, regular ProRes worked flawlessly. I would imagine that on a new MacPro that ProRes (HQ), capture wouldn’t be a problem.
Help with HD
Things were supposed to get easier with HD. They didn’t. That’s where products like the MXO2 come in. They provide tremendous flexibility when dealing with all of the formats, both HD and SD, that we work with now. Until we settle on one format (ha!), we will need our hardware and software to help us along.
What’s nice is that the engineering team behind the MXO2 is constantly adding functionality with each new version of the software that’s released. It appears that Matrox is listening to its customers and wants to make sure you can use the device as workflows change and evolve.
For me, live capture, monitoring and HD-to-SD output are the three things I will use this box for the most. For people in broadcast-based environments, there will be different reasons to use the MXO2. The same goes for independent filmmakers or editors at a post house. It’s a great all-around I/O device. And, it’s really affordable.