Matrox Axio LE

Matrox’s Axio line of Premiere Pro based hardware solutions rewrite the application’s features much more so than most of the competing products.  With a focus on broadcast television output, as opposed to feature films or other less standardized workflows, Axio is highly optimized and accelerated for SD and HD, but supports no other frame sizes.  Axio LE is their newest  product, positioned at the mid level between the Axio SD and Axio HD.  The Axio LE also has a recent firmware upgrade that allows 10 bit capture and processing of SD and HD uncompressed footage.

The one Axio feature that I use the most, is Matrox’s somewhat proprietary HD compression format, MPEG I-Frame HD.  It supports full size and frame rate HD files at a constant bitrate, between 50 and 300Mb/s, depending on your needs.  I use 100 or 150Mb/s for projects going directly to broadcast video, and 50Mb/s is useful for offline edits that will be reconformed uncompressed.

Matrox also allows native editing of many different formats that Premiere does not otherwise support, including DVCProHD, P2 MXFs, XDCam MXFs, and HDV including 24fps.  In theory these all play in real time on the same timeline.  Real world results are a bit different, and I have experienced many performance problems when mixing these formats, but individually they all play back great.  My usually solution to this mirrors the Cineform workflow, to convert everything into one high performance codec, specifically Matrox’s MPEG I-Frame HD codec.  Matrox’s wide file support allows me to make all of these conversions without leaving Premiere, although using a separate project for asset preparation is highly recommended.  This conversion process is also accelerated by Matrox’s faster than realtime exports of all supported formats.

Matrox has done extensive work to allow their video effects to be accelerated by the system’s video card GPU, on Axio LE systems.  There are a limited number of supported GPUs, but they are budget friendly consumer gaming cards, as opposed to expensive workstation OpenGL certified cards.  This allows motion, opacity, advanced color correction, and many other effects to be processed in real time.  This realtime performance is their primary selling point, and allows for a lot of creative freedom.  Combined with native imports and realtime exports, this makes Axio a very efficient editing system as long as you aren’t trying to work too far outside the box.

The MPEG I-Frame HD codec is hardware accelerated in all applications, but has very poor performance in systems without an Axio installed.  Matrox sell the M.key, a USB dongle to unlock that codec on systems without Axio Hardware, but using it for anything besides rendering to or from MPEG I-Frame HD will result in poor performance.  On the other hand, MPEG I-Frame HD is the only COMPRESSED codec I have ever gotten to playback in realtime with Iridas’ SpeedGradeDI software, but only with the Axio card installed of course.  Matrox uncompressed files can be read on any PC using their free VFW codecs.  The fact that all supported compressed formats are limited to 8bit color is a significant limiting factor, as well as memory issues in larger projects. Timelines with more than about 10 minutes of edited material begin to exhibit performance problems, and until native 64bit processing allows for addressing greater than 4GB of Ram, that will continue to be an issue.

Axio is a highly accelerated editing platform for HD 422 work, but is not well suited for long form projects.  It is not going to help you online your film at 2k or 4k, or even process RGB data at 444 at all.  It does however support 24fps footage and editing, so it could work well as an offline editor. Offlining your short film on Axio at 24fps offers some interesting advantages when onlining in Premiere Pro with a different solution, like Cineform 2K or Blackmagic RGB.  All titles, motion effects, and other Premiere specific edits should pass through automatically to the conform.  Axio will also probably be the fastest way to edit your 30 second spot, or 10 minute corporate training video, after shooting on HDCam or HDV.

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