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Matrox RTMac

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Are you building an editing system around Apple's Final Cut Pro? Check out Matrox's RTMac, a $999 PCI expansion card that kills three video-editing birds with one stone: it allows real-time display of many common transitions and effects, digitizes analog video and audio, and lets you connect a second monitor to your Mac.

The RTMac card boasts two connectors. The first one accommodates a standard VGA monitor, for extending your desktop, and the second one attaches to a breakout box that provides inputs and outputs for S-Video, composite video, and analog audio. If you like, you can connect the video output to a TV monitor to preview your projects. You can also capture analog video and audio using the analog inputs.

The RTMac doesn't accelerate every Final Cut Pro transition, but it will handle cross dissolves, wipes, and slides, among others. The card also accelerates motion and distortion effects, as well as Final Cut Pro's text generators.

Stumbling Blocks

The card delivers immediate gratification when you need it most: during the editing and polishing phases. But when it's time to output a final project to a DV device, you must render all effects. (Alternatively, you can connect your deck to the breakout box and record from its analog outputs; however, this can compromise the video quality.)

And there are other limitations: Complex composites require rendering; the RTMac can't handle more than two video tracks and one title--or two titles and one video track--in real time. Clips with motion blur applied must also be rendered. And for now, the RTMac works only with Final Cut Pro; a software update that enables the card to work with Adobe Premiere should be available by the time you read this.

In addition, the RTMac card causes Mac OS X to be unstable and crash--this is a serious problem if you switch between OS 9 and OS X. As we went to press, Matrox was putting the final touches on a free software update designed to address the problem.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Although Matrox's RTMac won't turn your G4 machine into a real-time compositing powerhouse, it is a huge productivity booster. And its analog-capture features and ability to drive a second monitor are icing on the cake. Despite some flaws, the RTMac packs a lot of value for its price.

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