by Randall Simpson
Issue: September 1, 2005



PRODUCT: Matrox Axio
PRICING: SD: $7,495; HD: $11,495
- Advanced realtime NLE in a variety of compressed and uncompressed HD & SD formats
- Affordably priced
- Easily upgradeable from SD to HD



One of the most over-used terms in the nonlinear editing marketplace is probably "realtime." Nearly every manufacturer uses "realtime" somewhere in hyping their NLE, and it means something a bit different for every product. For some, realtime means it renders in realtime, or that a limited number of effects or transitions at a narrow range of resolutions are realtime.

For many editors, this narrow definition of "realtime" is good enough. The editors likely work solo and seldom, if ever, have a client in the edit suite. Rendering is simply part of their workflow. For other editors, having a client sitting in the edit suite, molding each edit, is the standard workflow. In their case, they and their client know exactly what is meant by "realtime." Time is money and renders happen few and far between. These "higher end" editing systems are expected to offer a wide variety of customizable realtime 2D and 3D effects, color corrections, keying, mattes, and more - all at a wide range of codecs and resolutions. With so many products claiming "realtime" status, all you can do is sit down and demo each of them and experience what each means by "realtime." I did this with the new Axio realtime HD editing system from Matrox. I discovered that the Axio's realtime capabilities were the kind that will keep me productive and my clients happy.


Before I get into some technical details of the Matrox Axio, it might be helpful to briefly mention what I think distinguishes a "higher end" realtime system from other realtime systems. Some NLEs that offer a limited number of realtime effects and transitions are creating that realtime functionality completely on the power of the workstation's CPU. In these systems you might have an I/O device or simple FireWire input, but there is no other hardware except for the CPU that can create any realtime capabilities. As CPUs increase in speed, they are able to deliver more and more realtime functionalilty. Now this is not a bad strategy, and I'll come back to it in just a moment.

When you get to higher-end systems that offer a wide range of customizable realtime 2D and 3D effects, primary and secondary color correction, keying, matting, realtime speed changes, all in multiple SD and HD resolutions, you simply have to use hardware processing that is separate from the CPU. No matter what hype you might be told, current CPUs alone (even new dual-core processors) are simply not capable of all these higher-level realtime functions. They take customized hardware to accomplish. The best approach is to use the power of both the CPU and specialized hardware to give you the maximum realtime capabilities. This is exactly what Matrox's strategy has been with the Axio. Some realtime capabilities are handled by the CPU, and some are handled by the Axio hardware. As CPUs advance in speed and power, the Axio's capabilities will also increase.


Though the Axio hardware and Adobe software bundle retails for about $11,495 for HD and $7,495 for SD, it's only available from authorized dealers as a complete, turnkey editing system integrated into a validated workstation. Matrox wants to make sure that dealers build these systems to their specifications with components they've certified. In case you're one of those people who might be stuck in the past when Adobe Premiere was not a robust, full-featured, professional HD editing solution - well, you most definitely owe it to yourself to give it a serious look in combination with Axio as the engine.

The system I tested was being driven by an HP xw9300 workstation with dual-core AMD processors. To test the realtime HD performance of the system, we loaded up the Premiere Pro timeline with five layers of full resolution, uncompressed 1080 24p footage (each layer was running at about 100 MBytes/sec.). Two of the layers had color correction going on, three had transparency, and to one we added a 3D effect. In addition to these video layers we added two 32-bit graphics layers. Axio played the timeline back flawlessly with no frames dropped or any resolution lost. We chose to output 2:3 pull down to display at 1080i 30fps. You could have recorded the timeline directly to HD tape at 24 or 30 frames per second.

As impressive as this display of raw uncompressed HD power was, it's important to note that the Axio can also work in finishing-quality compressed HD, as well as mix and match uncompressed 8- and 10-bit video and compressed HD formats on the timeline in true realtime. Multiformat SD projects can be built with DV, DVCPRO, DV50, MPEG-2 i-frame and uncompressed 8- and 10-bit video on the same timeline in realtime.


The Axio comes in two different flavors - SD and HD. The only difference is the breakout box you purchase. The SD Axio is capable of handling HD material, so if you begin with SD and want to switch to HD, all you have to purchase is the HD breakout box. This approach gives your Axio system a future and maximizes your investment. I was won over by the Axio. If you need true, realtime HD or SD in your post suite, with no compromises, at a very reasonable price, this is a product you need to take a serious look at.