|Matrox Marvel G200-TV
By Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson
Matrox has been a significant player in the video market for some time now. The first Matrox board I owned personally was the Matrox Millenium. At the time of it's release, near the real birth of the 3d acelerator market, it was the fastest 2d board out there and sported some of the highest resolutions and refresh rates on silicon. This small company was riding the cutting edge of technology.
The Millenium also had some 3d acceleration features. Sure, there were some compatability issues. But for most users the Millenium was an excellent product: simple installation, fast as lightning, and stable.
Not long afterward the first Millenium, Matrox released a stand alone 3d board, and a new version of the Millenium that was significantly improved over the earlier version.
More recently Matrox made a splash with their G200 series. When I first got my hands on a pre-release Mystique G200 in the spring of 1998, I was in heaven. Here was a completely stable, feature rich board that rivaled the 3dfx Voodoo 1 for speed, but with much better image quality. Goodbye to the image problems and compatability issues of the Riva 128!
Naturally, Nvidia wasn't sitting still either, and the G200 was shortly surpassed by the twin texel technology of the Riva TNT, which rivals Voodoo2 for speed, but with superior image quality to the 3dfx chip.
In response, Matrox has been working on an entirely new 3d accelerator, and in the maentime has enhanced their product line with full featured G200-TV products, appealing to the gaming and video marketplace with the abilities to record and edit material from a VCR or camcorder, watch and record TV on your PC, and accelerate software DVD and MPEG-1, etc.
I spent this past weekend experimenting with the Marvel G200-TV, and invited a friend over with his hot new SONY camcorder to experiment with me. We played some games, and then shot some video and did some image capture and editting from the TV. Here are the results.
There is no doubt that the G200 chip is already falling behind the times. It is somewhere in the area of 75% of speed of the TNT with most of the simulations we tried (at 800x600, 16 bit color). Image quality is equal, however. And if you happen to have the desire to monitor some TV input while you do other kinds of work, the Marvel G200 is an excellent choice.
I had no difficulty at all, in spite of the fact that both a TNT board and a Banshee board had been previously resident in this system. The Marvel comes with a slough of manuals and cables, 3 CDs and an installation chart. The chart is unusual, folding out to about four feet by two feet and guiding you step by step through installation of the cables and hardware.
The hardware itself is composed of two units: the video board and the Marvel connector box. The box is a bit intimidating at first, with four connections on one side, and seven on the other. Input and output connections include S-VHS in and out. Output includes provision for an S/PDIF. The only device you can add directly to this system is an upgrade module for hardware DVD decode.
In spite of the number of cables and connections required, I had no trouble following the step by step guide. However, when it came time to connect the sound output from the Marvel box to my speaker system, I had to dig around for an RCA to 3.5 mm mini stereo cable.
Once this was done, I ran the Matrox Quick Connect program and it led me through the software installation, including opening the Quicktime 32 utility to switch the sound out to the Wave device. I then clicked on the Matrox TV icon and I had live TV on my PC.
The screen above shows the Favorite Preview mode, which allows you to pre-select which channels you will view in preview mode. As you can see, I had ten channels selected at the time of this shot.
The clarity on a large monitor is quite stunning. The trouble arises when your kids discover that they can now move seamlessly from games to TV on one box! Is the world ready for this? ;-D
It's a very convenient ability to go from CNN live, or the HISTORY channel (if you are a history nut like myself) back to Email, seamlessly. I'm not sure how one would do without these abilities once experienced.
One of the cool things about this convergence of technology on the PC is that your investment in peripherals can also be reduced. For example, since I had the Aura Interactor Cushion hooked up to my system at the same time, moving from a great gaming experience in Falcon4 to a great movie experience is only a click away.
The Marvel G200-TV comes with Avid Cinema, a video editing suite that is basic but fairly rich in features. One can cut and paste, add text (in a huge variety of manners and fonts), and do voice and sound over as well as altering transitions.
Photo Express is also included in the package. This one allows you to create personalized screen savers and work in many other ways with individual images.
Naturally, you can also record directly from TV. The shot above shows a live image in the Video In interface. Click "record" and save the data as a .cma (camera) file and then you can begin to work with it. Moving to the next interface allows you to work with the image, adding text etc.
One disclaimer: video sequences, especially when combined with sound, use an astonishing amount of disk space. 1200 megabytes of disk space allows for 10.5 minutes of video with 16 bit sound.
A second disclaimer: while you can preview any number of channels simultaneously, this is an automated scan function which then freezes the frame. You cannot have more than one channel at a time in live motion. Yes, I know, wouldn't it be great to have two or three live at a time?
And while you can resize that single live window, you can't resize the preview window. So, while you can preview any number of channels with this still frame sampling, you can't choose to preview six channels and have them fill your screen.
Evaluation and Summary
I had only two glitches while using the Matrox Marvel system. The first occurred shortly after installation when I clicked on the Record button on the VCR Control (top right). The program locked. Oddly, a reinstallation fixed this and I never had the problem again.
The second problem was less critical. After resizing the Preview window, hoping that the images would also expand, I restored the window to normal size. I then had a graphics glitch which produced distortion in the area where the window had been, as well as on the top right of my desktop. After my screen saver kicked in the desktop display returned to normal.
If you are a video buff and desire to create or edit movies or AVI presentations, using video capture from TV or other sources, but you still want a reliable gaming board, this is a great package. You can capture at full-screen resolution, so the quality of your edited material is good enough for output back to videotape.
If you simply want the ability to watch TV on your PC, this board is also a great value. And if you are looking for more high end capabilities, you simply need to add a software package like Adobe Premiere 5.0 and you are set.
Where can you find the Matrox Marvel G200-TV? Sources in the USA include I.C.G., G.T.I, D&H, Ingram Micro and Synnex. Incredibly, Matrox Graphics Inc. has received over 550 awards for it's G200 Series from leading international trade publications. The Marvel G200-TV has itself captured over 30 industry awards and was listed as one of Time Magazine's top picks of 1998.
In short, a 15 in 1 desktop video and gaming solution for the jack-of-all-trades. Slice 'em, dice 'em, this is the cuisinart of desktop video. The Marvel G200-TV is another solid product from Matrox. Can't wait to see what they have up their sleeves next!
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Last Updated February 22nd, 1999