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In the IT industry, it's practically unheard of for hardware to get better with age. More often than not, it's simply replaced with something faster, or more cost-effective. But the Matrox RT.X100 Xtreme goes against this grain, delivering on the promises of scalability that were made at the launch of the original RT.X100 last year.
What's in the box?
Unlike the Pinnacle Edition Pro 5 with its all-in-one capture and graphics adapter, the RT.X100 Xtreme is a dedicated piece of video hardware. Ironically, Matrox was among the first to use a GPU for video effects when it released the RT2000 with its dedicated G400-based graphics adapter. These days, the Flex3D chipset that performs all the real-time 3D video effects can be found on the capture card, leaving you free to use whatever graphics card you want.
The breakout box is more of a cable extender than a box, and it's irritating that there's only one FireWire port on the back plate of the card rather than next to the analogue ports. You get the obligatory 4-6pin FireWire cable, the software CDs and user manuals for both the hardware and the non-linear editing NLE software, Premiere 6.5. These aren't as comprehensive as Edition Pro 5's, so you'll be reliant on online help a lot of the time.
I should point out at this stage that the RT.X100 Xtreme will support Premiere Pro when the drivers are released, and if you buy one now, you'll get a free upgrade from the copy of Premiere 6.5 that comes in the box. I'm not making any conclusive statements about Premiere Pro, or how well it will work with the RT.X100 Xtreme until I get retail build and a set of drivers to play with, but if the Beta is anything to go by, a free upgrade from 6.5 would be a good thing.
However, the accompanying software has been seriously re-jigged, including an entirely new set of drivers and tools (available for download from www.matrox.com if you have an existing RT.X100), as well as various options that let you choose what applications you spend your cash on. We're reviewing the Premiere-only package here, but other options, including hardware-only, or Premiere + Sonic ReelDVD 3.0 LE, or ReelDVD-only are also available.
Although we understand why Edition uses a grey front-end (it's supposed to be easier on the eyes and let's you focus on your video), newcomers to editing will feel more at home with Premiere 6.5's Windows-style interface. It's true that Edition will spread across multiple monitor setups, but Premiere's draggable windows are easier to arrange the way you want them, as well as sharing your desktop colour scheme.
The interface is split into six elements; the project pane, the timeline, the source/preview window, the timeline navigator, the effect control pane and the effect library, so you'll find everything pretty close to hand. That's not to say it doesn't have its faults - selecting the correct timeline tool often involves a pop-up selection from the mini-toolbar, which assumes you know where the one you want is hiding.
Because Premiere 6.5's capture tool lacks automated scan and capture (it provides manual logging to automated capture), Matrox has included MediaTools, a separate capture utility that fills this gap. Of course, this means that you'll capture the entire tape, so it's likely that you may waste disk space on footage that you'll never use, but there's also the option to capture straight to MPEG2 (IBP) if you want reduced file sizes - though this makes it unsuitable for real-time editing due to the compression used. MediaTools also comes in handy for capturing de-interlaced TGA single-frame or field stills from your footage, as well as letting you export basic clip assembly edits to a Premiere .PPJ project file. Unfortunately, both MediaTools and Premiere require sole access to the Xtreme's DLLs, so it's impossible to run both at the same time. This can be frustrating, as you need to close one down in order to use the other.
The RT.X100 Xtreme shares a similar improvement to Edition Pro 5 in the form of real-time previews. Previously, the RT.X100 would only show what it could render in real-time. Now it lets you see edits that exceed the real-time rendering capabilities in the same way as Edition, only it uses the on-board hardware in conjunction with the CPU(s) instead of Edition's radical GPU/CPU combination.
All of Premiere's native effects are hardware-accelerated, and you get a similar number of Matrox's own fully-customisable effects to the 1000+ offered by Pinnacle. The keyframe controls are still there, but the interface has been improved, making them far easier to adjust. Another handy applet is the WYSIWYG control panel, which provides TV output from any file played back in Windows Media player via the RT.X100's analogue output. Colour purists will also appreciate the one-touch white balance tool and professional waveform and vector analysis displays for advanced colour calibrations, while the real-time rate adjustment is a feature that will benefit all editors.
With the Premiere-only package, DVD authoring is left to Sonic's woefully inadequate DVDit! LE, which lacks much of the key functionality of Edtion's integrated authoring tool. Motion menus, AVI import, DVD navigation programming, overlay control and timeline scrubbing are all absent, so you might feel it's worth spending the extra Â£100 on the Premiere+ReelDVD if these features are important to you