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Review: Matrox Monarch HD

The dual-stream use case--one for streaming, one for archive or other production--is very common in live production, and Matrox Monarch HD, a $995 compact standalone streaming/recording unit, appears to be the lowest-cost solution--and a highly competent one at that.
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Matrox’s Monarch HD (Figure 1, below) is a live streaming encoder that costs $995. In a video and accompanying article that you can see/read here, I demonstrate how the unit works and its most important features. In this review, I tested the unit’s functionality.

Figure 1. The Monarch is about the size of a deli-sandwich. Click the image to see it at full size.

Connections

I’ll start with a brief overview. The Linux-driven hardware is about the size of a small deli sandwich (5.6”x4.3”x1.22”), with no moving parts, which means it’s quiet so you can stream from anywhere with a cabled Ethernet connection (the unit does not have WiFi). The unit accepts HDMI audio/video input, with a separate jack for analog audio (Figure 2, below). There’s an HDMI output for monitoring and a headphone jack. If you need HD-SDI or other inputs, you can buy the unit bundled with the Matrox MC-100 SDI to HDMI convertor combo kit, or use third-party converters.

Figure 2. Connectivity on the back of unit. Click the image to see it at full size.

Configuration

You configure the unit by logging in from a computer with access to the unit, configuring streaming and recording compression parameters, and inserting server credentials and stream names. Once saved in the device, you don’t need to log in to stream; you can drive the unit via buttons and status lights on the front panel (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. Driving the unit via buttons and status lights on the front. Click the image to see it at full size.

Encoding Options

The unit can encode in resolutions ranging from 92x96 up to 1920x1080, with a data rate max of 10 Mbps for streaming and 30 Mbps for recording. Note that the maximum combined throughput is 30 Mbps, so if you’re streaming at 3 Mbps, your maximum recorded data rate is 27 Mbps. If both streams are larger than 720p resolution, recording parameters must be identical to streaming. This wasn’t a problem for me using the 720p@3Mbps streaming/1080p@25Mbps recording combination, but you can’t do 1080p at two different data rates.

Streaming and Storing

The Monarch’s unique selling proposition is that in addition to transmitting a stream to any RTSP/RTMP-compatible service providers or streaming servers, the unit can store an archived version of the event at much higher-quality levels to networked storage, or to USB or SD card storage on the device. For example, in many of my tests, I transmitted a 720p@3Mbps stream to the streaming server, and stored a 1080p@25Mbps version to a USB thumb drive in one of the Monarch’s two USB slots.

While devices like the NewTek TriCaster, Livestream Studio, or Telestream WireCast can also store a higher-quality archival version, there are much more expensive units operating from a separate computer. The Monarch HD is a standalone, $995 device.

So that’s the setup; what about testing?

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