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Matrox RTMac: 
    Real-Time Editing with Adobe Premiere

    by Douglas Dixon

RTMac Products
Installing and Setting Up the RTMac
    Multiple Monitors
    Analog Input and Output
Editing with Premiere
    Analog and Digital Video Capture
    Realtime Editing and Effects
    Video Exporting
Real-Time Editing

(See Adobe Premiere)

Video editors like Adobe Premiere offer the promise of infinite creativity, as you combine and design multi-layer productions with transitions, motion effects, and blended overlays. Yet, in reality your ability to experiment is limited when previewing the result requires that you first wait for it to be rendered. The Matrox RTMac and Adobe Premiere bundle breaks this barrier on the Power Mac G4 platform, by combining the professional video editing capabilities of Premiere with the RTMac card to provide real-time editing and effects (


Realtime editing with the Matrox RTMac means that you can preview your edits, and record them onto analog tape, without having to wait to render them. This gives you the creative freedom to experiment quickly with multiple layers, transitions, video effects, opacity, and alpha keying. Being able to display your edits in real time is also tremendously helpful when you are working with a client, or even a family member, and need to try out different ideas.

        Premiere with RTMac enhancements
        - Transitions in lower right are Real-Time optimized (RT)
        - Some effects and overlays are real-time (no red bar above in Timeline)

The RTMac also extends the FireWire support for DV digital video built into Power Mac computers by adding the ability to capture from analog sources, and record back to analog videotape. The RTMac includes a convenient breakout box with analog video (composite and S-Video) and audio inputs and outputs. For analog capture, the RTMac board converts the analog input to DV format in real time, so you can edit in native DV format whether you are capturing from (or recording to) digital or analog format.

The analog outputs also provide the ability to view your work in full resolution viewing on an NTSC or PAL video monitor while you are editing. As an added bonus, the RTMac card also includes the equivalent of a full graphics display card, so you can hook up a second computer monitor to your system for dual-screen editing.

RTMac Products

The RTMac Adobe Premiere bundle is available for $1,199 (list), including the RTMac board, break-out box, and a full version of Adobe Premiere 6, with manual. For users who already own Adobe Premiere, or for Apple Final Cut Pro 2 users who want real-time editing and effects, the RTMac board is available separately for $999. Matrox also provides the Pixelan OrganicFX Lite spices, non-realtime gradient wipes that can be used with Final Cut Pro.

The RTMac requires a Power Mac G4 system with AGP motherboard, 400 MHz or faster processor, 256 MB RAM, and a reasonably fast disk drive to support dual-stream real-time editing (at least 12 MB/sec). As of early 2002, it also requires Mac OS 9.1 or later, and is not yet compatible with Mac OS X.

While you can use an RTMac card with both Premiere and Final Cut Pro, you must install the two applications in separate disk partitions, and restart your computer to switch between them.

Installing and Setting Up the RTMac

I was able to install the RTMac without any problems. You just need to work methodically through all the steps. And remember to switch to Mac OS 9.1 before starting.

First, install the RTMac card, which involves opening your computer. The good news is that it is stunningly easy on the Power Mac G4 system: after powering off, you just lift the latch on the right side of the case, and the side panel swings down to provide access to the system. Then insert the RTMac card in a PCI slot, screw it tight, and close up the system. Plug in the breakout box, and a second monitor if you have one, and power on.

Next, install the software from the included Premiere CD and the additional RTMac software CD. First install Premiere 6.0, followed by the Premiere 6.1 upgrade, then the full QuickTime 5 (the RTMac uses QuickDraw 3D), and finally the Matrox RTMac software. After restarting again you are ready to go.

But not quite. When you restart, the RTMac extensions software displays a warning that the software cannot run because Virtual Memory is turned on. You need to use the Memory control panel to turn it off. To ensure that the RTMac system works correctly, you also need to use the Energy Saver control panel to disable the ability for your system to sleep after it has been inactive. So get used to hearing the fans blowing all the time.

After setting up your Mac, run the Matrox RTMac control panel to set up the video standard (NTSC or PAL) and analog capture settings (NTSC setup level and consumer or broadcast-quality source).

Multiple Monitors

The RTMac provides several interesting options for using multiple monitors, both for full-screen video out, and as a second computer display for your Mac.

Yes, the RTMac can serve as a second graphics card on your system. The RTMac PCI card includes a standard 15-pin VGA connector, so you can connect up a second monitor and have a dual-screen display. Use the Display control panel to set the color depth to Thousands or Millions of colors, and to select a maximum resolution of 1280 x 1024 or 1024 x 768, respectively. (If the RTMac software is not installed, and under Mac OS X, the maximum resolution is 640 x 480.)

You can then arrange your desktop to span both monitors, for example with the Premiere Monitor window on the first monitor, a long Timeline window spanning both monitors, and with the active Palette windows with transitions and effects arranged on the right side of the second monitor.

Analog Input and Output

The RTMac breakout box provides convenient access for both analog input and output. It includes inputs and outputs for composite and S-Video, and for stereo audio. Both video outputs are available simultaneously (you can hook them up to two separate devices at the same time), but only one video input can be selected at a time.

With these outputs, the RTMac provides full resolution viewing on an NTSC or PAL video monitor while editing in Premiere. In addition, the RTMac analog output is also available when using the Adobe After Effects 5 or Discreet Combustion 1.011 or later compositing applications. This lets you check for NTSC or PAL artifacts in your material, including color shifts, aspect ratio, safe area, and interlacing.

Analog and Digital Video Capture

The RTMac is designed to assist and accelerate video editing in Premiere in the DV format. You can capture native DV format from a DV camera directly into Premiere, whether or not the RTMac is installed, by connecting the camera to a FireWire port on the Power Mac G4. With the RTMac, you also can capture from analog video sources, and the RTMac will convert it to DV format. As a result, with the RTMac you are always editing in Premiere with the native DV format.

Matrox provides a set of Project presets for working in Premiere, for NTSC and PAL formats, and Composite, S-Video, and FireWire video.

To set up for capture, use the Capture section of the Project Settings dialog to specify QuickTime Capture, but with the Matrox RTMac DV compressor. Then select the input video (and audio) sources, i.e., DV Video or the Matrox RTMac Video Digitizer for capturing analog video using the RTMac breakout box.

Realtime Editing and Effects

The key feature of the RTMac, however, is the ability to view your editing production in real time, without rendering, including up to three layers, transitions, transparency, titles and graphics, and even keyframeable motion effects.

As you look though the Premiere Palette windows to choose from the available transitions and effects, those that can be accelerated by the RTMac are identified by "(RT)." These are not new, different effects; they are the standard Premiere effects, but accelerated with the RTMac to play in real time.

        Premiere project with RTMac - Effects, transitions, wipes, overlays

In the Timeline window, the RTMac lets you work with up to three layers in real time, two video and one graphics, or vice versa. The graphics layers also can be alpha keyed.

Premiere Titles can also be played in real time, with text and graphics, rolls and crawls, and motion, transform, and drop-shadow effects in the Video Effects palette.

The RTMac real-time transitions are listed in the Transitions palette. These include cross-dissolve, and various irises, slides, and wipes.

You can apply real-time video effects in any one layer on the timeline (video or graphics), including video effects and a keyframable motion effect from the Motion Settings palette. The available real-time effects in the Video Effects palette include transform, clip, drop shadow, and edge feather.

Finally, you can apply real-time keyfame opacity on at least one layer, and also on a second layer, depending on the other real-time operations that you have included.

        Premiere project with RTMac - Graphics overlay and video insert, Effect Controls palette

In general, you can any real-time effect and one real-time transition simultaneously, but the Matrox documentation has a more complete discussion of under what circumstances rendering is required.

Instead of having to guess which edits are real-time, RTMac support is integrated directly into Premiere. If an edit has too many layers or simultaneous effects, or if you use non-realtime effects, then Premiere will display the usual red bar above the time ruler to indicate that the timeline needs to be rendered for that section.

As you work with the RTMac, you can become familiar with its capabilities. For example, when working with graphics clips, you must place them at least 8 frames apart in order to allow time for them to be preloaded. You also need to arrange the tracks appropriately (avoid graphics files and Clip effects in the Video 1 track), and apply certain effects in a specific order. Also, use the same fill color when you combine a Clip and Motion effect.

Video Exporting

When you complete your production, the RTMac can output it to analog in real time without rendering when you print to video. You can also output to DV without rendering if your production consists only of cuts.

To record your project on analog tape through the RTMac breakout box, use the Premiere export option to Print to Video. Since the RTMac can preview the production in real time, to the screen and also to an analog display, you can also record the playback to analog tape without any need to ever render the project.

To export to DV over the FireWire interface on your Power Mac G4, however, you must first render the timeline. The RTMac also does not support the Premiere Color Bars and Play Black options, but you can work around this by inserting image files of color bars ion the timeline, and extending the work area in insert empty black regions.

To export to a QuickTime DV file, select the Matrox RTMac DV compressor in the Export Movie Settings dialog. Also make sure Recompress is not selected, so that video that does not have any effects can be transferred directly to disk.

Of course, you can also export to any of the other formats that Premiere supports, including other QuickTime formats. Premiere also includes Cleaner EZ to export to QuickTime, Real Media, and Windows Media Web video formats.

Real-Time Editing

Matrox has does a nice job of integrating the RTMac functionality in with Adobe Premiere. Instead of acting as a separate add-on with a different set of features, RTMac works with the existing Premiere features that you are familiar with. It's just that some transitions and effects are marked "RT" for real-time, so that when you build edits in the Timeline window you no longer see the red bar above the time ruler. No more stopping and waiting to render sections of your timeline in order to preview it!

Some odd restrictions do pop up when using a hardware / software system like this, so be sure to pay attention to the issues in the manual, and check the Troubleshooting section for specific problems. For example, Matrox warns that your system can become unstable when exporting a long project to DV, and recommends that you increase the Preferred Size in the Premiere Get Info dialog to at least 120 MB. Similarly, you may need to tweak with Premiere's settings to get the best performance depending on whether you are using an external analog monitor.

In my testing, I also was bothered by some drop-out lines that first appeared in the Premiere Monitor window after switching to another application, but these went away when I switched back to Premiere. Later, the lines appeared even within Premiere, but once I checked the manual and paid attention to the warning not to have other windows overlapping the Monitor window, these glitches went away.

The Matrox RTMac is a well-designed system for turning Adobe Premiere on the Power Mac into a real-time editing tool, making you more productive, allowing more creativity, and reducing your aggravation level. You just install it, and suddenly Premiere is super-charged. Once you learn to take advantage of what it does well, and tweak the settings to match your working environment, live is definitely better.


Matrox - RTMac with Adobe Premiere