PRG (Production Resource Group) recently released a trimmed-down version of its powerful Mbox Extreme media server that can run on any Mac OSX machine running 10.6 or later. In the past you, could only rent an Mbox system. Mbox Studio is available for purchase and at a reasonable price point of $1,000 that brings the system to a different playing field, making it competitive with lower-priced media servers such as Dataton Watchout and only slightly above solutions such as TroikaTronix Isadora and Derivative TouchDesigner.

Studio is designed to be a standard-definition playback solution, but it’s capable of HD content provided your system is powerful enough. When renting an Mbox Extreme media server, you get a powerful Mac Pro built to tight specifications for optimizing the Mbox software and video playback. It’s an all-in-one kit complete with a UPS, some storage space, and an input/output panel with many connectors for a variety of applications. When you load the software on your own computer, it becomes susceptible to the variety of hardware options specific to the computer, such as processors, hard drives, graphics cards, etc. Although the software should run fine, you never know which odd hardware configurations could impact performance.

Hardware considerations aside, the software has been tamed down but luckily without the loss of many features. For instance, Mbox Extreme supports 12 layers of video, where Studio supports eight. The world that the price point serves should generally be fine with eight layers, though.

As with Extreme, Studio supports two video outputs but only in dual panoramic mode, which creates the same stage driven through two outputs with an edge blend. Extreme adds support for dual independent outputs, which creates two independently controlled stages over two outputs. Depending on the complexity of the programming, this can quickly tax the system so it is understandable why this feature is not supported in Studio. Again, at this price point, users shouldn’t have a major issue with this feature reduction.

Mbox Extreme includes a vast library of stock content that can help with simple one-offs or filling in gaps in a production. A small library is offered with Studio, as a starting point for content creation. The library consists of 14 SD videos.

A lot of features remain unchanged, however. Even without the I/O face panel, Studio can still accept two live video inputs, support 32 universes of pixel mapping, be controlled via Art-Net or DMX, and offer the same amount of precision control that Extreme has.

Like Mbox Extreme, Studio can be controlled with PRG’s software Mbox Director, which provides a graphical user interface. Mbox was originally only controllable via a lighting console before Director was released, so the control philosophy is built around addressable DMX (0-255) channels. Because of this, Director lacks some control abilities, and many still prefer to program via a console.

Mbox Extreme and Studio both interact very well with PRG’s V676/V476 console series. Extreme’s price often makes it unfeasible for most shows when competing servers with similar features can be found at lower prices, but the seamless integration of Mbox with PRG’s consoles can often be reason enough to spec one. With the new price point of Studio, Mbox will enter into a new competitive market.

Mbox supports limited 3D interactivity. It handles playback, scaling, coloring, sizing adjustments, etc. quite well. If you have a simple output, like a projector hitting a flat surface, an LED wall, or monitors, and you only need to play back and make simple adjustments to content, Mbox is a great solution, and Studio brings these powerful features to a whole new market.