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.
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.