Since TV broadcast is in the process of being replaced by the web, I find myself encoding in H.264 a lot more frequently. The downside is that Apple Compressor is just too slow.

The good news is that Matrox has a product that seriously cuts down your rendering time. And I mean seriously.

You can use the three categories of Matrox MAX presets, Fast Encode, High-Quality, and Blu-ray, or you can create your own customized settings. I used the Fast Encode preset for my tests.

My 51/2 minute 720p 29.97fps test file took 3:45 using the Apple preset for iphone 4, and only 55 seconds with the Matrox preset. That’s about 4 times as fast…how cool is that?

Usually, quality goes down with encoding speed, but I was surprised to find that the quality was actually the same as the slower Apple preset clip.

How does Matrox do it? MAX is a hardware-based dedicated H.264 rendering engine that includes many tweak-able parameters such as Scene-Detection, which gives you multi-pass quality in a single-pass.

There is also access to Levels, Profiles, GOP’s, Frame rates, Bit rates, VBR, CBR, Constant quality, and more.

If you are new to encoding, you are covered as well. For those that are just getting into H.264 encoding, Matrox also provides predefined presets for many devices and targets such as iPad, Blu-ray and YouTube.

The Fast Encode presets use both the MAX hardware, and your CPU, to deliver H.264 files faster than real-time, so you can quickly and easily create H.264 files from a variety of video sources including SD, HD, and RED proxy files up to 2K. Frame rates are 15, 23.98, 25, 29.97, 50, and 59.94, which pretty much cover everything on this planet.

The Matrox Fast Encode and High Quality presets are used to create H.264 files for Apple TV, YouTube, Flash, the web, and mobile devices including iPhone and iPod.

If you need higher quality, the High Quality presets use the MAX hardware exclusively, thereby freeing up your CPUs for other tasks.

The quality is comparable to Compressor Multi-pass… it’s just a lot faster.

Matrox Blu-ray presets use the Matrox High Quality technology to create Blu-ray compliant H.264 files faster than real-time, directly from Compressor. These files can then be authored in Apple Compressor, Adobe Encore, or Roxio Toast, and burned without re-encoding on either Blu-ray or DVD media. If you have a slower computer, this process could save you hours, or even days of encoding.

There is duplication (burning), and replication (stamping) of Blu-rays. Use either H.264 level 4.0 or 4.1 if you want to author and burn individual copies that are compatible with Blu-ray disc players, or level 4.0 for H.264 files intended for mass replication of Blu-ray discs.

A common problem that has been documented with Compressor is a Gamma shift during encoding.

The Matrox MAX hardware performs proper color space conversions from HD to SD and SD to HD, as well as proper color space conversion from RGB to YUV preventing Gamma shift.

Other improvements over Compressor are a Source Video Complexity adjustment that lets you redefine the low and high clipping limit, a Data Rate slider that produces smoother or more abrupt transitions, and a Sample Rate option that lets you see if you are reaching your targeted data rate.

I tested the CompressHD on a new MacPro 12 core 2.93 GHz, with an nvidia Quadro 4000 card and saw a 4x increase in encoding speed. Since the CompressHD is a hardware-accelerated card that takes the burden off of your computer’s CPU, imagine the huge increase in performance that we would see in a quad or 8 core machine. They should call this card “The Rejuvinator”.

If you have a notebook computer, you can stillget this acceleration with the MXO2 Mini MAX, or other MXO2 MAX devices. You should see the same type of increase in encoding performance on your laptop, and the units can be moved easily from MacBook Pro to MacPro with an interface adapter, Express23 for MacBook Pro, and PCIe for Towers

Matrox MXO2 devices, including the MAX ones (with the purchase of an adapter), are now Thunderbolt compatible, so you can use your MXO2 in a tower, then a MBP with Express34, and move the same unit to a Thunderbolt system like MBP, Air, iMac, or MacMini.

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