Monday, April 12, 2010

From NAB 2010: Adobe CS5 Mercury Playback and Matrox RT

NAB, something I have had a love-hate relationship with for many, many years.  This year promised to be the year of stereoscopic production, and so far it is! 

This post however is going to center around our every day production needs - and what has become one of the most anticipated software releases at this year's conference - Adobe CS5!  I have to say, thus far,  it looks fantastic!  I wanted to spend a few moments sharing some thoughts on one of the big features that many people have been waiting for: The Mercury Playback Engine, and what it really means, and what companies like Matrox are doing to work with Adobe.

If you don't already know, the Mercury playback engine is designed around technology that combines the power of the GPU, with the CPU.  In this case, an Nvidia based card with CUDA.  The demonstrations at Adobe's booth and others are all shown on top-of-the-line workstations (HPz800 and 8 or 12 core machines), with Nvidia 5800 graphics cards ($2000+) of course to put the Adobe Cs5 products in the best light possible.  Understandable, but not something many of you might have just sitting around at the moment!  I was privy to see a Mercury demo at a Matrox meeting though, when done on a quad core workstation, with an Nvidia 4800 card ($1500) to see why Matrox was still relevant.  Ok, I'm listening.



A simple timeline, two streams of AVCHD, two color corrects, a DVE, and a graphic. Open task manager to monitor performance. Hit play.

  • CPU only: CPUS at 100%, playback excruciating.  Pretty unusable.

  • Turn on Mercury Engine: CPUS at 100%, playback I would approximate at about 10-15fps.  Obviously a big performance increase, but seriously - is it usable day in and day out?

  • Turn on the Matrox RT feature: CPUS at about 50-60%, playback perfectly smooth.


Another important thing to note is that with the Mercury Engine, you are still  monitoring the record window monitor on a computer monitor, with strictly progressive/non-interlaced scanning.  The result if you are using interlaced footage - such as 1080i, are that edges of objects moving horizontally, will have artifacts that I am sure most of us are familiar with. It doesn't affect the final output of course, but is rather annoying.  Got a client watching?  If you were to use a Matrox device (or AJA, or Decklink) and monitor the output via a HDMI monitor, (or component, SDI etc) the interlaced playback is as it should be viewed, and how the end-user would ultimately see it since it is an interlaced capable, ‘real’, monitor.

That's why I was VERY happy to hear Matrox RT will now be a part of the entire MXO2 series!  (Thanks for that Adobe!) and at the same pricing.  While I'm still in favor of getting a nice GPU because  I still use a lot of apps that take advantage of it (Maya, 3ds Max, Fusion, and of course Adobe amongst others) - I also think the Mercury Playback engine alone is not enough. It's a great start, and can’t wait for CS5, but it’s just that, a start.

So - think about the value here - how much is that GPU, and how much is a Matrox card, or better yet, the MX02 series.  A MatroxMXO2 Mini is $449, and will give you HDMI output, and can even support the Max option (which has a host of new features as of NAB too) for $00 more.  The acceleration and QUALITY of the H264 output of this option is by far one of the best values out there in my opinion.

Other Matrox news: Exclusive relationship with AVID media composer – yep, you can use the MXO2 mini to monitor your software only Avid Media Composer! Matrox also has the only 4 channel 3G SDI card, and some interesting partners making software for it – want to ingest HD stereoscopic anyone?

That’s it for now, but I’ll get a pretty in depth demo of Davinci on a Mac next (for only $995 – wtf?!?)  BM had it running pretty nicely on a Macbook Pro, we’ll see…

of the H264 ouput of this option is by far one of the best values out there in my opinion.

That's why I was VERY happy to hear Matrox RT will now be a part of the entire MXO2 series!  (Thanks for that Adobe!)  Same pricing as before.  While I'm still in favor of getting a nice GPU - I still use a lot of apps that take advantage of it (Maya, 3ds Max, Fusion, and of course Adobe amongst others) - I do think the Mercury Playback engine alone is not enough, but it's a great start.