First Look at the MOTU V3HD
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First Look at the MOTU V3HD

By Ron Seifried

For years, Mark of the Unicorn, aka MOTU, has been a leading software and hardware developer of pro audio applications. Now it has jumped into the world of video editing feet-first, with the release of the V3HD, an I/O Box capable of working with both SD and HD video with Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro on Windows. We were fortunate enough to get our hands on a V3HD recently and run it through its paces. The software drivers currently shipping with the unit only work on the Mac, but MOTU assured us that the Windows Premiere drivers would be available via download by the end of September. We didn't want the lack of Windows OS support to hamper us in reviewing this new box, so we tested it with Final Cut Pro.

Editing with the Mac

Installation on the Mac was simple enough, with one installation CD including all of the basic video and audio setups in an intuitive 100+ page manual, as well as a few goodies we'll mention later. Minimum Show Desktop requirements call for Final Cut Pro 5.1, G5 Power Mac, 1GB RAM and OSX 10.4.9, but we tested this unit with a PowerMac Quad-Core 3 GHz with 4GB DDR2 667Mhz RAM and Final Cut Studio 2. The box itself is 2U rack-mountable with front panel ears that can easily hold up the light 7-lb unit, and comes with a Firewire 400 cable (6p to 6p). In our preliminary tests, this was a problem for playing back HD footage, so we switched over to a Firewire 800 cable that easily handled the extra throughput for HD.

V3HD Rear Panel

A Closer Look at the V3HD Rear Panel

The unit comes with a plethora of analog and digital video/audio input and output connectors, LTC, Video Reference I/O, Firewire 400 and 800 (for host connection) and even a USB port for future firmware updates. The front panel has some sleek-looking LED's that monitor audio levels, source devices, Time Code, Video Status, headphone jack, and stand-alone menu operation.

The main video setup on the V3HD

A quick rundown of the main video setup panel reveals wide-ranging support and an intuitive signal path diagram.

Upon launching the MOTU V3HD setup screen, an easy-to-follow path diagram guides us through the basic video configurations. You can pre-configure and save up to five settings for different capture, playback, and converting modes. In reviewing the flow chart of the setup panel, the source device starts on the left, SD signals are viewable on the upper path, HD on the lower, with the outputs appearing on the right-hand side of the chart.

The V3HD can capture and output in most SDI and HD formats, including 1080p 24/30 (but not 1080p/60) with over 150 available presets as well as a host of other connections including analog component, s-video, and composite. The hardware does not support Apple's ProRes 422 format, limiting its ability to edit full-quality HD video in smaller, manageable file sizes. On the plus side, MOTU is boasting that it is the only device to make DVCPRO HD available for Adobe Premiere Pro on Windows. We will explore that cool feature in a future article.

When editing, we were able to switch host devices, going from a Quad-Core Power Mac to a MacBook Pro, by simply unplugging the Firewire cable and reconnecting it to a different computer. This is an extremely convenient feature for mobile situations in which there is more than one offline editing workstation dedicated to editing different scenes. 

For more sophisticated editing setups, when the client demands to view the final output in several different formats, the V3HD can monitor up to six different signals simultaneously. This is great for multi-format viewings in which the producer or director needs to see what the quality will be like in HD-SDI or HDMI, all the way down to composite video.

V3HD's capture settings

A Small Sampling of the VH3HD's 150+ capture settings

Front Panel Time Code

The front panel Time Code display reads on capture or from the Final Cut timeline.

The front panel of the V3HD offers an abundance of cool displays that make the post work flow more convenient. The Time Code Display reads via the LTC input, output, or SDI-embedded time code, and supports all standard TC formats. It also gets the time code signal from the Final Cut timeline, showing an easy-to-read display to anyone in the editing suite with a log sheet, so all of those back-seat editors can add their own suggestions.

A/D Coverter


The Video Status LED's display video source, format, and frame rate for easy stand-alone conversion operation.

But this device doesn't only act as an editing I/O box—its also a 12-bit video converter. In the stand-alone converter mode, all of the available connectors can be utilized except for Firewire, which is used for the capture mode when connected to a computer. By incorporating an easy-to-program menu selector on the front panel, we were able to up-convert SD to HD and down-convert HD to SD, utilizing all of the outputs. We also connected the Canon HV20 and were able to take 24fps video and insert a pull-down to 29.97fps and output to an SD monitor.

Audio Interface

As a Video I/O Box or Converter, this unit seems to address the most important features. But the V3HD was developed by MOTU, a leading audio developer for Mac and Windows for over 20 years. This is where the fun begins. The V3HD includes up to 4 channels of AES/EBU audio (8 channels with a breakout cable), 4 channels of analog XLR audio inputs and outputs (you can add 8 additional XLR inputs with a breakout cable and 8 additional outputs with this breakout cable), two ADAT optical input and output ports for 16 channels of digital audio and even Word Clock connections. Another neat feature is 5.1 surround sound monitoring via the V3HD while editing in Final Cut.

Audio Interface

When launching the MOTU Audio Setup window, you have the option of selecting any audio I/O, provided they are connected. When going into Audio Only mode, you will lose the ability to work with SDI-embedded audio. Sample rates of up to 192 kHz are available, but when utilizing the higher bandwidth you are unable to work with 8 channels of analog audio input or output simultaneously, use only one 8-channel digital input or output at a time, and the headphone jack is disabled.

Also available is Sample Rate Conversion for the 8-channel digital input or output ports, and programmable meters for specifying which analog or digital signal you want to monitor on the V3HD's front panel. Mac OSX also lets you select the V3HD as a Sound Device for basic OS sounds, iTunes, etc.

CueMix Console

The MOTU CueMix Console expands audio mixing and monitoring within Final Cut Pro or as a stand-alone application.

Another addition is the CueMix console, for expansion of the audio mixing and monitoring capabilities that are available within the V3HD hardware. Working within Final Cut or as a stand-alone application, CueMix monitors audio during capture without any usage of the systems processor. Since the MOTU box has a wide selection of audio connections, CueMix enables you to mix each individual audio output separately for up to 16 stereo buses, or to select which input to monitor, including the ability to set levels and pan. An unlimited number of presets can be saved for future work, except for clock source and sample rate settings.

What is taken for granted by the pro audio producer can now be seen as a boon to the production work flow of the video editor. The V3HD even enables you to Talkback to live talent and Listenback to their responses by setting up a dedicated mic with preamp in the control room and another dedicated mic in the studio. A great feature for documentary filmmakers or commercial directors working with voice-over artists, this brings another level of sophisticated work flow to the masses.


Although it was announced to possess compatibility with Adobe Premiere Pro (Windows), this unit shipped only with Mac drivers. MOTU assured us that Windows drivers will be available via free download by the end of September. It should also be noted that with the release of the Windows drives, the V3HD becomes a cross-platform ready editor, give Premiere Pro users the only option to edit with DVCPRO-HD. With Adobe’s recent announcement at IBC for support of P2 and MXF, the V3HD will now be able to work with these formats without transcoding or rewrapping data.

A few of us were able to sit down with reps from MOTU, and we picked their brains and presented a wish list with items such as support for compositing apps like After Effects and Motion with a nod to audio-only producers looking to move up to video with programs like Soundtrack Pro and Soundbooth, and support for ProRes 422. We were able to check and see if other Mac programs were able to recognize the V3HD-some did including Soundtrack Pro, Motion and Premiere for Mac, but MOTU is only supporting Final Cut at the moment. But the limited support with these unannounced products gives us the impression that future software updates will expand the MOTU’s capabilities.

As a first video-based product from a predominantly audio manufacturer, the MOTU V3HD worked with incredible stability within the Mac environment, without any crashes. What takes some vendors several steps in approaching the perfect solution, MOTU seems to reach without getting much feedback from end users. MOTU prides itself on making future-proof hardware and often point out that you can still connect MOTU’s oldest piece of hardware to its latest offerings. Keeping this in mind, you can see the USB firmware update port as assurance that this investment will serve you for years to come. 

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