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Matrox Parhelia APVe Graphics Card

Powerful new card proves that (up to) four heads are better than one By Charlie White

(8/1/05) Matrox characterizes its new Parhelia APVe 128MB graphics card as one that is specifically designed for creative professionals. Its claim to fame is its ability to let you connect two high resolution digital monitors while outputting a 1080i or 720p signal from an HDTV monitor. This new hardware, along with plug-ins for variety of digital content creation applications, promises to make life easier for those who make their living with digital images. We connected a variety of monitors to the Matrox Parhelia APVe, and liked what we saw.

When you open the Parhelia APVe box, you'll immediately notice a variety of connectors. The card is a little finicky about where you plug these in. What we wanted to try first was two DVI monitors along with an S-Video monitor, perhaps the most common and useful configuration for digital video editing.

I was a little put off at first because there was no paper documentation in the package, and aside from the press kit (which is probably not included in packages for sale), the only documentation is apparently on an installation CD. But when I installed that CD, it tried to install the graphics card drivers, and as soon as it noticed there was no Matrox graphics card inside (yet), it promptly quit. I found out later that paper installation guide and instructions are normally included with the card, and that it was just this pre-release version that didn't include the documentation.

Here's the Matrox Parhelia APVe card. The APVe stands for Audio, Photo, Video and the lowercase "e" stands for the Express in PCI Express.

Pressing on, I went ahead and installed the APVe card into our test computer anyway. Once that was safely in the PCI express slot, I simply plugged one DVI cable into one of the DVI connectors, and the DVI/S-Video splitter into the other connector, and then connected the other DVI monitors cable and our S-Video monitor to that. But that didnt work. Taking a guess that I had a 50% chance of plugging them into the right connector and that I had gotten it wrong this little minidrama was soon over as soon as I switched the plugs to the opposite connectors.

Once I was able to get to the documentation that was part of the drivers CD, I was presented with the excellent Matrox Multi-display Setup Wizard, and it had recognized that I had plugged in two DVI monitors along with an S-Video monitor. I realized that the ?preferred digital monitor must be connected to the ?A connector. The clearly-written Setup Wizard confirmed that I had plugged everything in correctly. 

Then the wizard asked me which display setup Id like to use. I was given the choices of one display, one display plus one ?feature display (meaning either another computer monitor or an NTSC or HDV monitor), two displays in independent mode plus one feature display, and two displays in stretched mode plus one feature display. The wizard then asked me to pick a display resolution for each monitor, but the only problem was that one monitor I was using had a 1600x1200 native resolution while the other was at 1920x1200. You can do that if you're using two DVI monitors, but not with two analog monitors. Herein lies a limitation of this Parhelia APVe: If you're going to use two or three analog monitors, they must all be running at the same resolution and color depth. But that's a small limitation considering that you can have dual analog output, with each monitor at 1920x1200, and at the same time you can output an HDTV signal via component cable. Another limitation to keep in mind is that you can't hook up three DVI monitors at the same time in that configuration at least one of your three monitors must be an analog monitor connected via a VGA (otherwise known as and HD-15) connector. Another thing you can't do is hook up two DVI monitors and output to a third HDTV monitor.

There are a variety of cables included in the package, designed to facilitate the use of various combinations of component, composite, S-Video, VGA, and DVI monitors. There are two DVI ports on the back of the APVe card, into which you either plug your monitors directly, or use a combination of the included cables.

I had the choice of having two DVI monitors operate independently, or having my computer video stretched across both. At the same time, I was able to use either the S-Video to an NTSC monitor, But if I wanted to get HDTV support on a third monitor via component out, the two conputer monitors had to be connected to analog outputs. While it's too bad I couldn't connect two independently controllable DVI monitors at the same time I was outputting HDTV, this capability of seeing two analog monitors while also outputting HDTV was a big plus. It's especially useful when editing HDV footage where you'll be able to see your final product on an HDTV monitor in real time using either 1080i or 720p resolutions. Currently computers aren't powerful enough to output HDV in real time to so that you can monitor your output as you're editing, and this little trick solves that problem. Sure, you can see some playback on your computer screen, but it's not the same as seeing it on a true HDTV monitor. When you install the WYSIWYG PureVideo plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, Autodesk Combustion and 3dsmax, along with NewTek Lightwave 3D, you can see your final output on an HDTV monitor without the necessity for looping your signal back through the 1394 port.  

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Related Keywords:Matrox, Parhelia APVe, 128MB graphics card, creative professionals, DVI, 1080i, 720p, HDTV monitor, hardware, digital content creation applications, review, Charlie White

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