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Elgato Video Capture review


A great way to convert your old tapes and get them onto an iPod.

Review Date: 14 Jul 2009

Price when reviewed: £90


Reviewed By: Alan Stonebridge

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

Ensuring you can play older formats such as VHS will only get more difficult as time goes on, and the relative fragility of tape means it might not survive a mechanical failure.

You'd be wise to transfer your irreplaceable home movies to a more durable format, which is exactly what these kits from Roxio and Elgato help you to do. Once digitised, you can make as many copies of your movie as you want, without it succumbing to generational degradation that you'd get with the original analogue version.

On the surface, the two products look very similar. Both of them have inputs for composite and superior S-Video connectors, while audio is fed in through separate RCA jacks for the left and right audio channels. You'll need to supply your own cables to connect them to a video source, whether it's a VHS deck or an old analogue video camera with corresponding outputs.

However, there's a big difference in what happens to video as it's passed into the USB sticks. Roxio's converter captures video as Mpeg-2, which can be saved to DVD using the bundled copy of Toast 9 Basic. You can also choose between two compression settings, which is handy if you need to squeeze a bit more onto a single-layer disc. Elgato uses the H.264 video codec and outputs files that are immediately ready for playback on an iPod, iPhone, Apple TV or your Mac.

Both products set up the capture process in the same way. A step-based wizard tests whether video and audio signals are being received prior to capturing. You also have the option of setting a rough running time, so that the Mac will stop recording by itself and not waste disk space to a point.

Unattended recording requires you to choose from a list of presets, rather than setting your own value, so if, for example, your movie is slightly over 60 minutes long, you'll waste some space by choosing the next preset up, which is 90 minutes. However, you can manually stop recording at any time, so this isn't a problem if you're sitting at the Mac as the movie finishes.

Not that this is a problem for Video Capture, as it lets you trim recordings, so you can get rid of lead-in time from the beginning of the tape, as well as any excess video at the tail end. Easy VHS to DVD can't do this, and the copy of Toast that comes with it isn't capable of trimming Mpeg-2 movies; you'll have to upgrade to the Titanium edition to add this capability, or make do with some unsightly lead-in and -out time on your DVDs.

Video Capture also gives you control over the aspect ratio of the files that it outputs. This ensures that film from an anamorphic 16:9 video camera is stretched to the correct dimensions so it doesn't appear distorted on your iPod or TV. This is omitted from Easy VHS to DVD, and there's no way to manually set it in Toast, so you'll have to correct the ratio using the controls on your TV remote.

Another distinction between the two lies in the resolution of your newly digitised movies. Video Capture takes a lowest-common-denominator approach and downscales your video to 640 x 480 pixels for 4:3 video (or 640 x 360 pixels for 16:9), ready to play on an iPod. However, there's no option to retain the original video's resolution, which Apple TV and your Mac are capable of playing. Take video into iMovie then pass it to iDVD and it will be scaled down and up again on its journey. This doesn't occur with Roxio's converter because it's geared up to put movies straight onto DVD, so it maintains the original resolution.

After recording, Easy VHS to DVD allows you to send the movie to QuickTime, which produces an iPod-compatible file. However, it uses plain Mpeg-4, rather than the H.264 codec favoured by Video Capture. Elgato's converter can also send to QuickTime, or to iTunes for transfer to an iPod. You can also send to iMovie for editing, but the process is slower with Easy VHS to DVD because Mpeg-2 movies must be converted to the Apple Intermediate Codec first. iMovie can edit Video Capture's H.264 files without delay.

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