BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests

What kind of speed does the Matrox RTMac "realtime preview" card add to Final Cut Pro editing? And is it worth the $999

Original Posting Date: 11/9/01
UPDATED 3/2/02
rob ART morgan, Mad Scientist


Let's say I have two video clips, each on a separate Video channel. I want to overlap them so that they dissolve from one to the other. I want a 1 second Fade-in at the beginning of the sequence. And I want an Iris Dissolve at the end of the sequence.

Editing in Final Cut Pro 2.0, I use the Motion parameters to adjust Opacity in the first clip. I use a 0 to 100 Opacity in the first second of the first clip to create the Fade-in. I use a 100 to 0 Opacity in the two second overlap between the two clips to produce a simple dissolve. And then I drop in the Iris Dissolve at the end of the second clip.

Now I want to preview what I've done. Without the RTMac, I must first render the 12 second sequence, which takes about 30 seconds the first time (including video and audio). With the RTMac, the render time required before preview is ZERO seconds.

ZERO? Yes. There's no need to for your Macintosh to render the effects because the RTMac acts as a "DV coprocessor" and does it on the fly. That's what's referred to in the biz as "realtime."

Next, I decide to lengthen the initial Fade-in to two seconds and change the Iris Dissolve at the end to a Cross Dissolve. Without the RTMac, it must re-render the video channels before preview. That takes 23 seconds. With the RTMac, the re-render time is ZERO. Realtime, baby.



Now 23 seconds doesn't sound like a much but if you are editing a sequence longer than my 12 second sample or doing a lot of "what ifs," that re-render time before previewing could take many minutes or even hours. Sure, you can take a coffee break every time you need to render a preview but "Mr. Coffee Nerves" will soon have you climbing the walls and screaming at your Mac.

With the RTMac card, it doesn't matter whether your sequence is 12 seconds or 12 minutes or 12 hours long. The render time before preview remains ZERO. That's the big story here: ZERO rendering during editing. A DV creator's dream.



Realtime broadcast-quality effects and transitions powered by Matrox Flex 3D

Three-layers if realtime previews

Analog Y/C and composite input/output to complement FireWire support

Digital video on console display and simultaneous full-resolution viewing on your NTSC/PAL monitor

VGA display output to drive a second computer monitor for dual-screen editing



Actually there are SEVEN "catches":

1. Although the RTMac provides instant preview of 20 Transition Effects, there are 59 total Transition Effects in Final Cut Pro 2.0. In other words, it may not support your favorite transitions in realtime.

2. None of the following are supported in realtime: Video Effects, Video Filters, Video Generators, Audio Transitions, and Audio Filters.

3. Although all Motion parameters (except Motion Blur) are realtime, if more than one overlapping video clip has Motion applied, you lose realtime preview.

4. It allows up to three video tracks (including stills) to be previewed in realtime. Any more tracks than that and you loose realtime preview.

5. If you are going to output to VHS, Super VHS, BetaSP or some other analog output device, no rendering is required of supported realtime effects. You just PLAY the PREVIEW and RECORD. But if you plan to output the final cut via FireWire to a digital video tape deck, everything must be rendered.

6. The RTMac only does realtime preview in Final Cut Pro 2.0. It will NOT do realtime previews for Final Cut Pro 1.0 or Adobe Premiere or Adobe After Effects or any other DV software.

7. If you plan to use the spare VGA display output to drive a second or third display, keep in mind that the maximum resolution supported is 1024 x 768 (millions) or 1280 x 1024 (thousands).

These 7 caveats are not meant to pour cold water on your enthusiasm for the RTMac but to give you a reality check. If you are like me, you want to know what a product does NOT do before you buy it. Fair enough?



I've read comments and reviews by DV creators who say that the RTMac saves them tons of time during the editing process. They say it does more than similar video hardware costing 6 to 10 times as much.

Others take one look at the restrictions and say, "Everything I do in the editing process nullifies the effect of the RTMac. That would be $999 down the toilet."

Do I think it is worth it? That depends on you and how you work. If you don't feel constrained by the "ifs," "ands," and "buts," it can be a very useful addition to your editing station, especially if you have a slower Power Mac.

To learn more about the product, a good starting place is the Matrox web page on the RTMac and Final Cut Pro.



Final Cut Pro 3.0 has been shipping since November. It has stolen much of the RTMac's thunder since it now doesn't require many of filters or effects to be rendered before preview or re-rendered after changes. For example, in version 2.0, if you made an opacity change in a key frame, the whole clip had to be rerendered. With 3.0, only the key frame has to be re-rendered.

Meanwhile, Matrox has dropped the price of the RTMac to $599 and added a special web page to their site called, "RTMac -- the perfect complement to Final Cut Pro 3.0." It's analog capture and dubbing is almost worth the price of admission. But there are complex real-time DV effects and combinations that it supports that FCP 3.0 does not. I say it's worth the money. I'm going to order one.




You can also buy direct from Matrox at or check out their list of resellers, dealers and VAR's.

ProMAX not only sells the RTMac but also sells a similar product called the RT-Lite which goes in your AGP slot and supports dual displays. However, it does not include a break out box. It sells for $499.

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The test "mule" was an Apple Power Mac G4/800MP.

The RTMac card was provided courtesy of Matrox. It includes a breakout box for analog input/output and a spare VGA port for driving an extra editing display. You must have Final Cut Pro version 2.0+ (or 3.0) for the RTMac to function.

Apple's Final Cut Pro 2.02 was used for the test example.