Does Video Editing Right
realtime editing PCI Card for Final Cut Pro
or multi-processor Power Mac G4 with AGP motherboard.
400-MHz or faster PowerPC G4 processor
256 MB RAM
One free PCI slot.
CD-ROM drive for software installation.
Mac OS version 9.1 Final Cut Pro 2.0
EIDE/Ultra ATA or SCSI disk drive
Cost - $999.00
Available - Many places
Review by Mark H. Anbinder
On the plane to
California for the Macworld Expo in January 2001, I ended up
sitting with a nice couple from Hollywood who were considering
a new computer that would let them do casual video editing alongside
the typical Internet and word processing tasks that their outdated
Windows system was doing. They'd been planning on a Sony system,
but ten minutes watching me play with iMovie on my PowerBook
G3 convinced them they needed to take a closer look at the Macintosh.
-- Macs are certainly the way to go for casual video editing,
especially now that iDVD makes it easy for amateurs to burn their
own video discs that anyone can view in a home DVD player. On
the high end, Macs also still reign supreme, and have for a decade.
Avid Technology made a name for itself bundling excellent software
and custom NuBus and then PCI cards with high-end Quadras and
then Power Macs, offering complete, turn-key video editing workstations
with the performance of dedicated hardware costing tens or even
hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Today, for professional video editing,
Apple's popular and powerful Final Cut Pro software competes
with Avid's solutions and costs a mere $1,000. Anyone with a
Power Mac G4 (or, for that matter, a recent iMac, PowerBook,
or even iBook) can now do professional video editing with Final
Editing Real-Time -- What sets Final Cut Pro apart from other
professional video editing solutions is its price: $1,000 may
seem expensive for software, but compared to hardware costing
as much as $25,000, it's nothing. However, because Final Cut
Pro works entirely in software, it's performance can't compete
with hardware-based solutions. Or rather, it couldn't compete
on performance until now, with the addition of real-time editing
capabilities thanks to Matrox's $1,000 RTMac PCI card. This card
stopped me dead in my tracks at Macworld, just a couple of days
after I'd told my new friends on the plane all about video editing.
It shipped in March and should be considered absolutely mandatory
for anyone serious about video editing.
At first, I worried that this review
would be all too brief: "If you use Final Cut Pro, you need
the RTMac PCI card. If you have it, you can edit in real-time.
If you don't have it, you'll have to wait for Final Cut Pro to
render every little change while you watch the progress bar inch
across the window."
The overall package provides quite a
bit of functionality. Along with adding real-time editing capability
within Final Cut Pro, the RTMac card provides a VGA-style video
connector that lets you connect a secondary display.
Matrox also includes an elegant breakout
box with S-Video and composite (NTSC or PAL) video in and out,
plus stereo audio in and out. The breakout box is a sleek clear-and-grey
unit that connects to the card via a nice, long six-foot custom
cable, enabling you to put these connectors someplace convenient
(like on your desk) rather than behind your computer. You'll
want to connect a digital video camera to the Mac via FireWire,
but for working with analog video, the breakout box offers everything
The RTMac card also includes OrganicFX
Lite, a generous sampling of excellent transition effect plug-ins
from Pixelan. (The full OrganicFX package costs $200, but RTMac
owners can upgrade for $130 before 15-Jul-01.)
What's Real-Time? Basically, for the Final Cut Pro functions supported
by the RTMac card, you no longer need to wait while the software
renders your work. Typical functions that require long rendering
waits include fades, wipes, and other transitions; combining
video with graphics; and adding titles or other text. Editing
with Final Cut Pro in software alone is often a matter of adding
an effect, waiting while it renders to see if it looks the way
you want it to, then changing it slightly and waiting while it
renders again. Simple effects may take only seconds to render,
but hundreds of waits of several seconds each over the course
of the day adds up to a lot of wasted time.
RTMac lets you work in real-time with
two video layers and one graphics layer, or two graphics layers
and one video layer. More complex sequences in your video will
still require some rendering, or "proxy real-time"
display that approximates the final effect. Reasonably enough,
if you use too many real-time effects simultaneously, Final Cut
Pro will need to render those portions of your video project.
The RTMac manual lists several scenarios that will require you
to render your effects rather than see them in real-time, such
as simultaneously using a motion effect and an iris transition,
or more than one video transition and one motion effect.
Without the RTMac installed, the demo
movie file Matrox provided takes just over nine minutes for Final
Cut Pro to render on a 450 MHz Power Mac G4. The movie is perfect
to show off the RTMac: just under two minutes of footage replete
with wipes, fades, text effects, and enough silliness to remind
us of the early days of desktop publishing when amateurs used
every font and style available. Without the card installed, minor
changes require re-rendering, taking anywhere from seconds to
minutes depending on what changed. With the card installed, Final
Cut Pro simply shows the video in real-time, generating the effects
as it goes.
Before exporting your final product to
digital video tape via FireWire, you'll need to let Final Cut
Pro do one rendering pass. This drives home the fact that the
RTMac is for real-time editing; being able to do most of the
editing without waiting for rendering along the way, and then
needing to render the final product once before output to a DV
device, seems reasonable.
-- Knowing that many reviewers won't flex Final Cut Pro's muscles
quite enough to get beyond the real-time capability of the RTMac,
Matrox noted the situations where the RTMac can't keep up in
real-time. Good examples are sequences involving three or more
video layers, or two video layers and two graphics layers, at
the same time. In fact, most serious Final Cut Pro users will
run into these situations, but I feel the product is still a
clear win, since it will eliminate the need to wait for so much
of the otherwise time-consuming rendering.
I was more concerned to note that the
RTMac card, which I knew doesn't work with Mac OS X, can't even
be present in a computer running Mac OS X. Users who switch back
and forth between Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS X won't be able to leave
the card in place; simply having the RTMac card installed while
Mac OS X is running makes the system extremely unstable. I'd
expect the card to sit quietly inside the computer, unused, without
making the machine crash. This limitation probably won't affect
heavy Final Cut Pro users, who most likely spend all day running
Final Cut Pro in Mac OS 9.1 (since Final Cut Pro itself isn't
yet compatible with Mac OS X). Matrox has a firmware patch in
the works to fix this problem but doesn't yet know when it will
be released. Of course, the product will also eventually support
Mac OS X directly, after Final Cut Pro does.
Gotta Get Me Some of That -- The RTMac is readily available from the usual
retailers for $1,000, and the Apple Store is bundling it along
with a Final Cut Pro 2.0 Upgrade, and the clever Contour Design
ShuttlePRO controller for providing familiar analog video editing
controls, for $1,350.
It turns out that my original short review
still applies: If you use Final Cut Pro, you need the RTMac PCI
card. If you have it, you can generally edit in real-time. If
you don't have it, you'll have to wait for Final Cut Pro to render
every little change while you watch the red progress bar inch
across the window.
Reprinted with permission from TidBITS#587/09-Jul-01. TidBITS has offered more
ten years of thoughtful commentary on Macintosh and Internet
topics. For free email subscriptions and access to the entire
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About Mark H.
editor Mark H. Anbinder has been a Mac user since 1985
and a writer for that premier online Macintosh publication since
is also a senior technical consultant at Cornell University and
involved in broadcasting since 1992. He doesn't usually accost
travelers with an iMovie demo.