Elgato Turbo.264 HD Reviewed

Over the last year or so I’ve been doing more and more video editing. It started when I got my Kodak Zi8 handheld video camera. It shot pretty decent 1080p HD video at a stupid cheap cost of entry. Getting the Kodak Zi8 was a no-brainer but how to handle the files afterwards proved to be a bit more complicated.

Typical Justin-style, long-winded introduction and review of the Elgato Turbo.264 HD continues below. The short story is the Elgato Turbo.264 HD is worth every penny. Read on to be entertained, informed and generally over-educated on my process and thoughts.

The Zi8 was one of the first true 1080p handheld cameras on the market and its MP4 files required more out of the computer handling them than any other pocket camera had up until then. Many of the first reviews for the Kodak Zi8 remarked how the video was choppy on their system or that their existing editing software had trouble working with the files.

Luckily for me I had a Mac with the latest iLife suite installed, including a high definition capable iMovie. Once I got the files into iMovie I could edit on the fly with no render time, then export away directly to YouTube or to my hard drive.

While the actual editing of the videos was super fast and easy, exporting the files could take hours. This became an issue for me when I was trying to be the first to release video of a construction accident in The District in Columbia Missouri. A crane fell across an apartment building, collapsing the roof.

I shot the video and edited it in a matter of minutes. Some video I pushed direct to the web from my iPhone but the really good stuff, the stuff from the Kodak Zi8, I had to export from iMovie.

The export time was around 50 minutes. I know this because I barely got to my Physics class in time, rushing from the scene, where immediately hit the export 1080 HD video and it finished just as class was dismissed.

A two minute video took 50 minutes to export. By that time the news outlets were already using the web video I uploaded from my iPhone and were beginning to get their video from the scene out through their satellite trucks.

In one hour I scooped the media and then they scooped me. Talk about a fail.

So I looked at some options to speed things up and discovered the Elgato Turbo.264 HD. It was $150 and didn’t do HD video at the time so I passed it up. Not long after Elgato released the HD version, it was actually a little cheaper and it peaked my interest again but I didn’t have a reason to spend the money on video from a handheld camera, edited in iMovie HD and especially when the video wasn’t going to pay for itself.

All that changed when I started editing video for Pure from a Canon 5DMKII and then got a job in Florida shooting a video series. Hours of video shot with two Nikon D7000 cameras to be cut into short video clips with FinalCut Express. The editing was slower than iMovie but required for multi-audio track syncing and the exporting of this quality of video was taking sometimes hours for a few minutes of video. Insane.

So I bought the Elgato Turbo.264 HD and I think it is going to change my life.

I ordered the Elgato Turbo.264 HD from Amazon for $89 and it arrived this afternoon. Being the nerd that I am, I immediately opened the packaging and got to work testing it out. Halfway because it was a new gadget and you know how much I love gadgets, and halfway a desperate plea to validate blowing nearly $100 on a USB dongle.

So I ran a handful of tests to see just how the Elgato affected my video converting and exporting from my usual suspects of video software, Handbrake, Quicktime, iMovie ’11 and FinalCut Express.

The Elgato Turbo.264 HD is a USB dongle, as shown above, that plugs into your computer and speeds up video conversion/export when pushed through either its hardware (USB) or software tools. You can buy the software only version for $50 or for more power and faster performance, buy the USB dongle. Buy the USB solution.

Elgato's Interface for converting videos

My computer configuration is as follows:

  • Apple MacBook Pro
  • Mac OS X 10.6.6
  • 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 4 GB 1067 MHz DDR3
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9400M 256 MB
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT 512 MB

I ran each test multiple times with each video card. In theory the NVIDIA GeForce 9600M should have pulled several frames per second more than the 9400M and subsequently finished its task significantly faster. This was not the case. In fact, the only solution that consistently took advantage of the NVIDIA GeForce 9600M’s power advantage was the Elgato software shaving off around 8% of processor time.

The first test was video conversion. I took a 30 second, 180 MB MOV file from a Canon 5DMKII and put it through Elgato, Handbrake and Quicktime, converting it to a 1080p Mp4 file suitable for uploading to YouTube. I tested Elgato in software and hardware mode. Here are the results (numbers represent seconds it took for file conversion).

As you can see, even in software only mode, the Elgato solution saved around 40-51 seconds. When the Turbo.264 HD hardware solution was used, I was able to take an addition forty seconds off the conversion time.

Next I compared exporting the same video file with iMovie and FinalCut Express comparing the Quicktime export to the Elgato export, maintaining the same 1080p MP4 settings. This is where the Elgato really shined.

The graphs really speak for themselves with the Elgato, in both tests, was over 2 minutes faster than the standard software export option. This difference is dramatic and means the difference between one of my video clips exporting in an hour to exporting in fifteen minutes.

With the Elgato USB dongle taking control of file export/conversion, CPU cycles were cut down by over 20%, in one case by nearly 50%, preserving laptop battery life and allowing you to actually do something else while processing video.

There were reports when the Elgato first came out of diminished video quality of dark images. Amazon users shared in their reviews that these issues were fixed with a firmware update and I saw zero difference in video quality of the brightness of the image. Each of the conversions/exports I did from each software test came out around 35mb so there isn’t much to say as far as size value.

Would someone ask me if the Elgato Turbo.264 HD was worth the price tag I’d whole-heartedly say, “Hell to the yes!”  For a measly $89 you can dramatically increase your efficiency. If you’re working with FinalCut Pro, where you can do batch exports, you’re going to find even more value with this device.

If you edit video, buy the Elgato Turbo.264 HD.

55 thoughts on “Elgato Turbo.264 HD Reviewed

  1. Are you finding sound stays in sync? All but a few of the .avi/.mkv-to-AppleTV conversions I’ve done using the Turbo.264 HD I ended up having to trash because sound drifts so far out of sync with video by the end. And I’m not the only one — check out the user comments on Elgato’s support forum. I consider mine to have been a bad buy and have gone back to Handbrake.

  2. Are you finding sound stays in sync? All but a few of the .avi/.mkv-to-AppleTV conversions I’ve done using the Turbo.264 HD I ended up having to trash because sound drifts so far out of sync with video by the end. And I’m not the only one — check out the user comments on Elgato’s support forum. I consider mine to have been a bad buy and have gone back to Handbrake.

  3. @Seamaster73 I have not done any .avi or .mkv file conversions with my Elgato and have had no issues with audio staying in sync with the video. This review was written from the perspective of someone who produces video who exports high definition video on the regular.

    Tonight I will do my best to run a few tests converting .avi and .mkv files to mp4 and see what my results are. I will post them here and if something interesting happens, such as the problems you described, I will add an ammendment to my review acknowledging the issue.

    Thanks for the comment and for informing me of the issue some users are experiencing.

  4. @Seamaster73 I have not done any .avi or .mkv file conversions with my Elgato and have had no issues with audio staying in sync with the video. This review was written from the perspective of someone who produces video who exports high definition video on the regular.

    Tonight I will do my best to run a few tests converting .avi and .mkv files to mp4 and see what my results are. I will post them here and if something interesting happens, such as the problems you described, I will add an ammendment to my review acknowledging the issue.

    Thanks for the comment and for informing me of the issue some users are experiencing.

  5. Very helpful information. Have you had any problems with the quality of the MTS.-H.264 imported file? Because I have used other video converters and when I review the final convertion appears with area of pixel indefinition?

    Another comment Seamaster73 asked you. I have review a Don McCallister (screencastonline) Elgato review and he transfer .mkv files with elgato turbo HD.

  6. Very helpful information. Have you had any problems with the quality of the MTS.-H.264 imported file? Because I have used other video converters and when I review the final convertion appears with area of pixel indefinition?

    Another comment Seamaster73 asked you. I have review a Don McCallister (screencastonline) Elgato review and he transfer .mkv files with elgato turbo HD.

  7. @Seamaster73

    Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I had a devil of a time finding 1080p mkv files that weren’t pirated movies!

    I ran the test on a few 1080p avi, mkv and even dvix files and had no issues with degradation of video quality or audio getting out of sync.

    I do know that the firmware that shipped with these Elgato Turbo.264 HD usb dongles had some issues. Mostly people complained about the converted video being much darker than it should be.

  8. @Seamaster73

    Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I had a devil of a time finding 1080p mkv files that weren’t pirated movies!

    I ran the test on a few 1080p avi, mkv and even dvix files and had no issues with degradation of video quality or audio getting out of sync.

    I do know that the firmware that shipped with these Elgato Turbo.264 HD usb dongles had some issues. Mostly people complained about the converted video being much darker than it should be.

  9. @JansFromow Thanks for the comment. No, I haven’t noticed any issues with video quality. As i wrote in an earlier comment, the initial firmware that shipped with the early models of the dongle had some image quality issues but so far I haven’t noticed any (the firmware update was supposed to fix these problems).

    One of the conversions I did was of mkv files. When I played these with VLC on my computer the video was really choppy and there were sections of the video playback that would get blocky. These blocks showed up in just particular areas of the video as it was being played. Like maybe the top section would get blocky while the rest looked great.

    After converting with Turbo.264 HD, not only did the video playback smoothly, those blocky areas were gone! Only trimmed off a tiny bit of file size.

    Also notable, the divx files I converted were often larger after conversion compared to their original file size. That was an unexpected result.

  10. @JansFromow Thanks for the comment. No, I haven’t noticed any issues with video quality. As i wrote in an earlier comment, the initial firmware that shipped with the early models of the dongle had some image quality issues but so far I haven’t noticed any (the firmware update was supposed to fix these problems).

    One of the conversions I did was of mkv files. When I played these with VLC on my computer the video was really choppy and there were sections of the video playback that would get blocky. These blocks showed up in just particular areas of the video as it was being played. Like maybe the top section would get blocky while the rest looked great.

    After converting with Turbo.264 HD, not only did the video playback smoothly, those blocky areas were gone! Only trimmed off a tiny bit of file size.

    Also notable, the divx files I converted were often larger after conversion compared to their original file size. That was an unexpected result.

  11. Thanks for the cold hard data Justin. El Gato really needs some graphs like yours on their product page to help drive the point home. I do wonder though, how the hardware accelerator compares with software encoders compare to a quad-core processor with hyper-threading, or GPU-accelerated tools. I know Handbrake is definitely good at utilizing multiple cores and Final Cut X supposedly takes advantage of the GPU. In any case, my MacBook is very similar to yours, so I can see it would really benefit from this gadget.

  12. Thanks for the cold hard data Justin. El Gato really needs some graphs like yours on their product page to help drive the point home. I do wonder though, how the hardware accelerator compares with software encoders running on a quad-core processor with hyper-threading, or GPU-accelerated tools. I know Handbrake is definitely good at utilizing multiple cores and Final Cut X supposedly takes advantage of the GPU. In any case, my MacBook is very similar to yours, so I can see it would really benefit from this gadget.

  13. Thanks for the cold hard data Justin. El Gato really needs some graphs like yours on their product page to help drive the point home. I do wonder though, how the hardware accelerator compares with software encoders running on a quad-core processor with hyper-threading, or GPU-accelerated tools. I know Handbrake is definitely good at utilizing multiple cores and Final Cut X supposedly takes advantage of the GPU. In any case, my MacBook is very similar to yours, so I can see it would really benefit from this gadget.

  14. I meant to delete one comment, but then I reposted it with some fixed typos. Not sure why the second one disappeared.

  15. I meant to delete one comment, but then I reposted it with some fixed typos. Not sure why the second one disappeared.

  16. Stranger still, the moment I posted that reply, my earlier revised post has reappeared (below). Bizarre.

  17. Stranger still, the moment I posted that reply, my earlier revised post has reappeared (below). Bizarre.

  18. I see it if I’m logged in, but not otherwise. Oh well, I’ll repost it. Apologies if it shows up twice.

  19. I see it if I’m logged in, but not otherwise. Oh well, I’ll repost it. Apologies if it shows up twice.

  20. Thanks for the cold hard data Justin. El Gato really needs some graphs like yours on their product page to help drive the point home. I do wonder though, how the hardware accelerator compares with software encoders running on a quad-core processor with hyper-threading, or GPU-accelerated tools. I know Handbrake is definitely good at utilizing multiple cores and Final Cut X supposedly takes advantage of the GPU. In any case, my MacBook is very similar to yours, so I can see it would really benefit from this gadget.

  21. Thanks for the cold hard data Justin. El Gato really needs some graphs like yours on their product page to help drive the point home. I do wonder though, how the hardware accelerator compares with software encoders running on a quad-core processor with hyper-threading, or GPU-accelerated tools. I know Handbrake is definitely good at utilizing multiple cores and Final Cut X supposedly takes advantage of the GPU. In any case, my MacBook is very similar to yours, so I can see it would really benefit from this gadget.

  22. @MichaelAskew Haha, just checking! Thanks for stopping by and letting me know. Been working through some kinks with the great service that is livefyre.

  23. @MichaelAskew Haha, just checking! Thanks for stopping by and letting me know. Been working through some kinks with the great service that is livefyre.

  24. @MichaelAskew Thanks for the compliments and yes, you’d think Elgato would like to showcase these sorts of numbers!

    If I can get my hands on a more powerful computer system, like a Mac Pro or the latest iMacs, I will definitely update the review.

    Final Cut X has given me a lot of trouble syncing audio during exports. My workflow for it is to export at the native resolution from FCX and then use Elgato to convert that into YouTube friendly 1080p. Even though I am technically exporting and then converting, it’s still faster than the export and convert from Final Cut Pro 7, iMovie and Handbrake on my MacBook Pro.

    I’ll look into doing some more tests.

  25. @MichaelAskew Thanks for the compliments and yes, you’d think Elgato would like to showcase these sorts of numbers!

    If I can get my hands on a more powerful computer system, like a Mac Pro or the latest iMacs, I will definitely update the review.

    Final Cut X has given me a lot of trouble syncing audio during exports. My workflow for it is to export at the native resolution from FCX and then use Elgato to convert that into YouTube friendly 1080p. Even though I am technically exporting and then converting, it’s still faster than the export and convert from Final Cut Pro 7, iMovie and Handbrake on my MacBook Pro.

    I’ll look into doing some more tests.

  26. I too have had chronic problems with sound drifting far out of sync by the end of long files. So much so that the resulting files are useless. I’ve used several versions of the Turbo HD software over the years and have had this problem with about 25% of the files I attempt to convert. I’ve had this happen on both my MacBook Pro and on my Mac Mini. Both Intel machines. This happens most often with conversions of VOB files in VIDEO_TS folders of my ripped DVDs when converting using the pre-canned Apple TV preset in the Turbo HD software. This also happens frequently with M2T files I grab from my Scientific Atlanta cable box. For speed sake, I always use the Turbo HD USB hardware module. I have yet to find a solution to this problem.

  27. I too have had chronic problems with sound drifting far out of sync by the end of long files. So much so that the resulting files are useless. I’ve used several versions of the Turbo HD software over the years and have had this problem with about 25% of the files I attempt to convert. I’ve had this happen on both my MacBook Pro and on my Mac Mini. Both Intel machines. This happens most often with conversions of VOB files in VIDEO_TS folders of my ripped DVDs when converting using the pre-canned Apple TV preset in the Turbo HD software. This also happens frequently with M2T files I grab from my Scientific Atlanta cable box. For speed sake, I always use the Turbo HD USB hardware module. I have yet to find a solution to this problem.

  28. Thanks for this great article. I already had seen the elgato turbo but I didn’t know if it was worth my money, but thanks to you I know it is worth every penny. Thanks for this and keep on the good work.

  29. Thanks for this great article. I already had seen the elgato turbo but I didn’t know if it was worth my money, but thanks to you I know it is worth every penny. Thanks for this and keep on the good work.

  30. Hi Justin –

    Can you confirm that you were using iMovie ’11 with the Turbo.264 HD hardware? I’ve been scouring the net trying to find out whether that version of iMovie is compatible with it and yours is the first indication I’ve found that it is.

    Thanks,

    – David

  31. Hi Justin –

    Can you confirm that you were using iMovie ’11 with the Turbo.264 HD hardware? I’ve been scouring the net trying to find out whether that version of iMovie is compatible with it and yours is the first indication I’ve found that it is.

    Thanks,

    – David

  32. @justex07 Wonderful! Does it take any special setup, or does the dongle accelerate iMovie’s own rendering when it’s plugged in? What I mean is, do you have to export it a special way to get the speed boost?

  33. @justex07 Wonderful! Does it take any special setup, or does the dongle accelerate iMovie’s own rendering when it’s plugged in? What I mean is, do you have to export it a special way to get the speed boost?

  34. @dportela Nothing too special, you have to select Quicktime as your output and then select the Elgato from there. Here is a screen capture video of the process. I did it in OS X Lion, apparently it doesn’t do a perfect job at rendering full-screen video captures. http://youtu.be/-lGkE6YhPUI

  35. @dportela Nothing too special, you have to select Quicktime as your output and then select the Elgato from there. Here is a screen capture video of the process. I did it in OS X Lion, apparently it doesn’t do a perfect job at rendering full-screen video captures. http://youtu.be/-lGkE6YhPUI

  36. I’ve moved to http://www.macdvdripperpro.com/ for ripping my DVDs. Then the TurboHD software hardware combo works well; no audio video out of sync issues yet. (Although I have had other problems with aspect ratio) When I have problems with Turbo HD, I use this software (http://www.metakine.com/products/dvdremaster/) However I continue to have audio video sync drift with M2T files I grab from my Scientific Atlanta cable box when converting from M2T to Turbo HD Apple TV out of the box profile.

  37. I’ve moved to http://www.macdvdripperpro.com/ for ripping my DVDs. Then the TurboHD software hardware combo works well; no audio video out of sync issues yet. (Although I have had other problems with aspect ratio) When I have problems with Turbo HD, I use this software (http://www.metakine.com/products/dvdremaster/) However I continue to have audio video sync drift with M2T files I grab from my Scientific Atlanta cable box when converting from M2T to Turbo HD Apple TV out of the box profile.

  38. @stevedeleo It could be that the M2T files are dropping video frames which is a common problem in video. Dropped frames do not sync with audio, especially when you aren’t using a professional recording device which would be much more expensive. Applications like MPEG StreamClip will fix dropped frames, the Turbo 264 HD isn’t forgiving of dropped frames. I’d suppose that is the cause of your problems. Glad to know MacTheRipper is working for you!

  39. @stevedeleo It could be that the M2T files are dropping video frames which is a common problem in video. Dropped frames do not sync with audio, especially when you aren’t using a professional recording device which would be much more expensive. Applications like MPEG StreamClip will fix dropped frames, the Turbo 264 HD isn’t forgiving of dropped frames. I’d suppose that is the cause of your problems. Glad to know MacTheRipper is working for you!

  40. @stevedeleo Yes give it a go. It’s a free program that works wonders. I use it on a regular basis to convert MPEG-2 files for use in Final Cut Pro. It is truly a lifesaver! Good luck and thanks for your comments here.

  41. @stevedeleo Yes give it a go. It’s a free program that works wonders. I use it on a regular basis to convert MPEG-2 files for use in Final Cut Pro. It is truly a lifesaver! Good luck and thanks for your comments here.

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