Matrox MXO2-Mini review for VJs. Uncompressed HD mixing laptop to laptop. from vade on Vimeo.

Enough of low-resolution hardware mixing. Our friend Anton aka vade has dreamed for some time of doing full, uncompressed HD mixing of two laptops. And he means laptops — not luggable towers or anything like that.

It’s a common enough scenario. These days, most visualists practice their art on computers. To collaborate, that means mixing those visuals together. But by the time you plug in an Edirol V-4 or even our beloved Vixid – love that hardware as we do – you lose a significant amount of resolution. For some material, that’s fine, and we’re all for limitations. But depending on the source, it can be disastrous.

Enter the Matrox MXO2-Mini. It works on Windows and Mac. (No Linux as near as I can tell.) It plugs into laptops with ExpressCard. It doesn’t cost a fortune. If you’ve already got two laptops, it can bring them together affordably and effectively.

So… does it actually work? Here are Anton’s thoughts so far:

In April, we reported on the MXO2 Mini, one of the new products announced at NAB. The MXO2 Mini is essentially a laptop-friendly HD digitizer. It lets you ingest uncompressed HD video formats (1080i, 720p) and standard-def (NTSC, PAL) via common interfaces like composite, S-Video, and HDMI via a standard ExpressCard34 breakout cable. The Mini box costs US$450.

Matrox confirmed that the Mini supports HDMI 1.3, which gives it the capability of digitizing from RGB sources. Why is this significant? It means we can digitize the DVI output of another computer into our laptop – at full HD resolution, uncompressed, no compromises. It works, albeit with a few gotchas.

I recently picked up a Matrox MXO2 Mini and did some testing with my trusty 2.33GHz MacBook Pro. Bear with me; it’s a touch long, but I’ll summarize for those who don’t want to watch me nerd out and generally make a fool of myself. (Alternatively, skip to the 10 minute mark to see the hot laptop-on-laptop action.)

The Mini works as advertised, but has some touchiness that make it a bit hard to trust in run and gun, ‘guerrilla’ situations.

You can capture in 8-bit 1080i, 720p, or NTSC/PAL from an RGB DVI Source (and of course your traditional analog sources, as well). It gives you 5-frame latency. It works with QuickTime capture, which all major apps support. (I’ve tested VDMX, Modul8, Resolume Avenue, Quartz Composer, and Max/MSP/Jitter-based apps, etc. All just work.)

The issues with the MXO2 Mini are twofold – at least on OS X. The current drivers (1.5.1 as of the video) seem to require that the card be plugged in when the machine is powered up. The ExpressCard adapter also does not like to be powered off, ejected, and re-connected on an running system. The Mini remains an available input source, but you can’t get any video in unless you reboot. This is a huge issue: anytime you need to unplug the Express 34 adapter, or if it becomes accidentally disconnected (a common occurrence on the MacBook Pro), you will have to reboot. Not cool. (Ed.: I’ve noted lots of folks having issues with ExpressCard connections and unwanted disconnections, seemingly regardless of vendor. -PK)

The second issue – not seen in the video – is that the MXO2 Mini would sometimes see the DVI->HDMI input as YUV, also requiring a reboot. In short, the thing is touchy, and that makes it hard to trust for real gigs when things can’t go wrong. When initially setting this up, it happened quite a few times.

On top of this, processing true HD textures on the GPU + your other normal video clips and any compositing, mixing, masks or effects can reduce framerate unless you have a high-end GPU. Unfortunately, OS X users are limited to only the 17″ Mac Book Pro if they want a new machine capable of using the MXO2 Mini in a mobile form factor. This annoys me. %$@! SD card reader. Seriously?

I’m honestly very torn about this. My gut tells me some of these things can be fixed with software driver updates, but the sensitivity of the Express Card interface is worrisome. On the other hand, mobile laptop-to-laptop HD mixing is a realization, and it doubles as a mini (har) post-production editing tool. Awesome.

We’d love to hear from Windows users experiences with the MXO2 Mini with VJ apps, compatibility and general usage, and in a real performance scenarios. Let us know. Thanks!

I’ll try connecting my own PC to Anton’s box when we’ve got a chance, but we do welcome those reports. Send them in. -Peter

  • i was talking to anton about this the other day. i've wanted this box, oh how i've wanted this box, but i think for me its a pass:
    – i'd say if it takes *any kind* of noticeable cpu/gpu, which is does in a fairly big way, then we're not going to be able to do anything interesting with it, so we could be back to the macpro+intensity or nothing.
    – even with the solidness of a card in a desktop, i've had flakiness with the intensity, let alone the things here like loose expresscard slots.
    – i don't mind restarting a crashed vj app, the output signal is not compromised. having to reboot computers as a troubleshooting step is unacceptable for live use imho.
    – 5 frames latency + vj app processing = broken lipsync.

  • Michael

    Hopefully Matrox will re-release the MXO2 Mini with a FireWire 800 interface (now that Apple is getting rid of ExpressCard on the MacBook Pro). In terms of bandwidth, FW800 is not a whole lot slower than ExpressCard (FW800 has 100MB/s shared between both directions, while a PCI Express lane has 125MB/s for each direction), so it's definitely possible.

  • I just had a nice chat with Matrox's Macintosh product manager, some of my issues may be related to 10.5.8, as hot swapping the ExpressCard 34 apparently works quite well under 10.5.7. Stay tuned, ill update this when I have more information.

  • Tim Reha

    Vade – Thanks for shooting the review.

    I have been trying to get a demo box from Matrox for two months now, so your video was awesome. They may finally get one out this month.

    What are your thoughts about the 5sec latency with a live video stream passing through the box and using Modul8 or VDMX to composite overlays like lower thirds, bugs, etc. Then using the second laptop to record?

    Thanks, Tim

    Thanks, Tim

  • massta

    It's not 5sec delay, 5 frames. It's noticeable but not a bid deal unless your controlling the laptop with the delay, then you try to adjust for that. Having flakiness when running the Matrox is the biggest issue. I found the TripleHead to work flawless once it's running and with no visible latency. I wonder if the intensity pro works faster? At least gives you get an input that is using all of it's computing toward a vj app. I'm happy with simple video mixing and effects. I'd like to hear more reviews, including the Intesitity Pro. Maybe it's more solid and can except hot swapping laptops live!

  • massta

    Forgot to mention in my previous babble:

    Portable is another high mark, just plug, go and share.

  • Vade – thanks for a great review.

    I'm trying to build a video sampler/mixer for a theatre play. To avoid a bit of latency and the DV-codec, I was thinking of getting the DFG/1394-1e from The Imaging Source (for uncompressed YUV PAL SD). This product seems a lot more up to date and interesting, though. Do you think it might work as a substitute for the DFG/1394-1e?

  • Ah thanx for that review. I've had my eye on the Matrox for a while wondering if it might be used for this purpose – did not at all dare to invest without a test/review. So thanx for providing just that.

    Too bad about the issues – I've seen HD capture work at a VJ friend of mine who has a Mac Pro and a Blackmagic card. Works like a charm – I'm very envious – except of course I don't want to lug a Mac Pro around to my gigs…

  • Teemu, I dont have a PAL source, but I can test it with analog NTSC input and compare the frame latency to the DFGs. I think they will be close to the same.

    Udart, it looks like most of my issues were caused by 10.5.8 ( at least, with regards to being able to hot-swap the card). Waiting to hear if Matrox can work around the changes in the OS that are causing the issue. Hopefully. If so, I think its a keeper.

    I also saw a thread on the Matrox forum regarding a work-around for the ExpressCard being accidentally ejected. Lovely hardware hack: (toward the end).

  • vjwunderkind

    Just read on Matrox' website that there's also a "Max" option which does hardware accelerated h.264 encoding:

  • Jay

    Can't be Uncompressed HD.
    Uncompressed HD has around 130 MEGABYTES A second datarate.
    Great video though;)

  • Vade – thank you. The DFG and the MXO2mini seem similar in this respect.

    I should receive one MXO2mini in a few days. I'll post back when i get it to work.

  • Jay, looking at the stack trace Quicktime components indicate it certainly is uncompressed 2vuy (thats 8 bit 4:2:2 video). Not sure why you think this is impossible, this is the same as the Decklink Intensity which is a 1x PCI-E card that does uncompressed HD. 130 MB/sec never hits the hard drive, Its flows through the Matrox via the express card and on to the PCI-E bus, into OpenGL, and on to the output display.

    Furthermore, the Expresscard 34 slot over PCI-E (it can alternatively use USB 2.0) gives you 2.5Gb/s (Giga bits per second) which is 320 Mega Bytes per second (spelled out for clarity). Totally feasible for uncompressed HD, which ranges closer to 167 MB/sec for 1080i 4:2:2, which the Matrox also supports.

    Nice try πŸ˜‰ Show me where it gets compressed and ill buy you a cookie… or just do 2 seconds of googling yourself.

  • massta

    Top 10 Reasons to Buy Matrox MXO2 Mini – Not Intensity Pro:

  • Great video Vade! Thank you so much for sharing the entire process – warts and all!

    This is a great example of the hard work, dedication (and infinite patience!) that goes into this art form and the kind of hassles one goes through just to get visuals onto a screen. People see Visualists and VJs and think it looks "so easy" – if they only knew!

    Thank you!

  • Hmmm – those top 10 reasons seem all very err reasonable. But the mxo2 mini is twice as much as the intensity. Is it really worth the price? Especially considering the fact that you can have two intensities in a machine and start mixing hd which is impossible with the mxo.

  • Well, I think the main issue here is portability πŸ™‚

  • Fair enough. I guess since I'm working with a rackmount Hackintosh now anyways, I'm gonna go for the Intensity…

  • Yea, the Intensity is definitely nice due to the multi-card capability. Its pretty easy to build a multi-HDMI in mixer with one and get great results. Let us know! I helped a friend build one, it works pretty damn good.

  • Tim Reha

    What about cameras here to work with the MXO2 or BMI?

    Most are interlaced, so the video mix does not work good. I see that the HV40 Canon is Progressive.

    Anyone use any other Progressive HD Cameras that also record to SD cards?

  • vjwunderkind

    I keep wondering HOW to get something working that can mix a triplehead setup. Maybe the triplehead after the mix?

  • "why is this thing such a cock sucker?" ROFL! that was priceless.

    Obviously HD mixing is not upon us yet.

    I will stick with my V4 + P10 + composite video signals for now.

  • adrock42

    i actually like having the touchy express card. I frequently put my computer on auto pilot to take breaks and its soo touchy that the video stops dead if anyone messes with it, and everyone in the club looks over at the douch that just stopped the video. its like the best security system I can think of.

    p.s. vade your my hero

  • cj

    Nice review Vade. Thanks

  • Entertaining review!
    My main interest in using this would be for recording the output of a performance directly onto the hard drive of another computer (so I would need a DVI splitter as well I guess).
    I am curious if this would work with the macbookpros with the burning hot GeForce 8600M GT graphics card (and an express card slot..), or do I need a more powerful GPU?

  • Pingback: Create Digital Motion » Get Ready for Handheld Live Visuals()

  • You dont need a powerful GPU if you are doing recording, you will need either a really fast disk array (which is doubtful you can connect because that would require a PCI slot you are using for the Matrox), or a decent CPU to record to a nice coded like AIC or Pro-Ress (or equivalent) to record good looking HD material at a manageable bitrate.

    the GPU should not matter in the 'record' case, only when using the MXO2 Mini to digitize and manipulate frames in realtime.

    It is also looking clearer and clearer I may just have had a bad unit with a weird HDMI port, or a bad HDMI->DVI converter, I am able to hotswap just fine with analog NTSC, so I may have had a lemon. If so, and it ends up being replaced, ill do another video showing the thing working as expected πŸ™‚

  • I wonder how the datapath capture cards compare to the MXO2 and the blackmagic card. They offer pci-e cards which are both rgb,vga,dvi,hdmi and hd compatible, they also have dual capture cards.
    Windows only though:

  • Hey those look really cool. Dual HD capture? yes please? Does that support multiple cards in one box? 4x VGA or DVI input? Software mixer? Fuck yes. Someone write OS X drivers stat πŸ˜‰

  • great research Vade

    Your macbook pro that you tested on how new is that? (specs)

    I guess we are a lot looking for an affordable and (possible) portable solution to do hd video mixing.

    not thinking portable for a moment – have anybody tried using 2 intensity cards with ie. nuvj – in theory it suports "as many cards as the cpu can handle". It would give a 2 channel hd video mixer.

    I spoke with bmd support that states the on-air app not is a work horse app but more of a 'show-me' app to give people ideas what their sdk can be used to (just funny since tha app came 18 moths before the sdk πŸ˜‰

  • xniala

    "Hopefully Matrox will re-release the MXO2 Mini with a FireWire 800 interface"

    Mickael, where do you find this info ?
    Are you sure of it ?

  • in theory it should be possible to do the same with the Aja Io LD. –
    It connects via FW800. But only has SDI/HD-SDI in/out.
    So an extra box is needed to convert the dvi to hd-sdi.

    And the budget is 3x the matrox mxo2 mini solution…

  • ah, and the most important thing that one cannot use the same i/o bus on the computer for harddrives and the aja device at the same time.
    If the fw800 and the usb2 is handled by the same bus then one needs to rely on internal drives only…or the now almost extinct (in the mac world) express card

  • Also, importantly about the IO-HD, is it works with compressed HD, not uncompressed which means you CPU will have to do some decoding to display it (usually this is a device meant for capturing, so it goes right to disk compressed as Pro-Res).

  • Oh, and Soren, yes, I have used 2 Intensity cards as a hardware / software HD capable mixer. It works.

  • luminescentdrive

    I can't run mxo2 mini in resolume. Im using windows 7 with latest release of matrox drivers. Can someone help me to fix this issue please! It shouldn't be any complicated. Just plug in and that should be it!
    Tanks! Marek

  • Gildas

    Hello Vade,

    I've read many post about capturing hd in the cycling forum, but I don't understand if what I want to do is possible.

    So I want to capture the video from a camera canon eos 550d full high definition 1080p in hdmi, to matrox mxo2 mini to jitter.

    But do you think it's possible to get the video in matrox mso2 mini, to my laptop under windows 7 by the express card, and play with it in jitter?

    So I want to use one camera for the photography and one for the video, that's why I want to have the same product in order to have the same field.

    I ask the question in matrox forum, they can't answer me:
    Hello, the MXO2 Mini is compatible with Microsoft Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, or Home Premium (64-bit), or Windows Vista Business or Ultimate (64-bit) with Service Pack 2. Please check this page for more information on the MXO2 System requirements (for PC). You can use the MXO2 Mini's inputs to ingest your video from your Canon camera to Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 and use any codec supported by this Application. Max/MSP/Jitter is not something we officially tested with the MXO2 devices, therefore I can not comment on it compatibility or workflows… "

    I've seen you're video, and you wrote you've tested on mac applications and in jitter in basic apps, but I am not sure…

    may be it’s easy (it would be nice!) but can you confirm me I can do that?
    thanks by advance !

  • Hi,
    has anyone tried the epiphan frame grabbers?
    They have several DVI2USB external grabbers, for instance this one:

  • Note the FPS provided is variable. Thoe capture compressed(USB 2.0 does not have enough bandwidth for uncompressed HD)

  • BJ

    Hi guys, I will like to connect my Cameras to a single laptop but don’t know how to go around it. please i really need your help. my email address thanks.