back to article Elgato Turbo.264 H.264 encoder

Apple TV and iPod. Sony PlayStation Portable. Different devices, but united in common support of the H.264 video compression technology, part of the MPEG 4 standard. And since a lot of us own these, the need for H.264-encoded content is high. The snag: it takes a heck of a lot of processing power to produce. Elgato Turbo.264 H …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Heat saving

    For those of us with Mac laptops this seems like a real win: the CPU at full tilt causes the machine to get very hot and for the fans to go in the Concorde-taking-off sound effect mode. And not frying the SATA drive to death is also a plus.

    Ken Tindell

  2. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

    Re. Heat saving

    Very good point, Ken, and one I intended to raise but inadvertently admitted. Running MPEG Streamclip and HandBrake to encode H.264 files gave the MacBook Pro's fans a mighty thrashing - this was a system you could tell was working *very* hard.

    The Turbo.264 just felt vaguely warm during testing.

  3. Neil Smith [MVP Digital Media]

    There are PC options surfacing too

    Stealth Imaging also have relatively low cost cards (4 and 2 input devices) for transcoding DV and other content to H264 - at first glance I thought this was a rebadged device from them.

    http://www.stealthimaging.com/duoexpress.html

    The first mention I'm aware of is on the Quicktime lists Aug 2006, which predates this device by some time :

    http://lists.apple.com/archives/streaming-server-users/2006/Aug/msg00091.html

    As noted in your article, it still takes a tremendous amount of raw CPU "grunt" to encode to H264 (and VC-1 video) near realtime, even iif GPU uplift is applied using a good graphics card to assist the encoding.

    So I reckon there will be a market for these sorts of devices for a good while yet. Any idea of UK retail sellers for the Elgato though ?

    Cheers - Neil

  4. Jonathan

    What about older Macs?

    Am I tight in thinking that the speed you get from the Turbo.264 will almost be the same regardless of which Mac it is running from (it presumably only works at one speed so-to-speak)? Therefore, for someone on an older Mac, you should see similar times for encoding as you do on a newer model?

  5. Joe K

    PSP users avoid

    "a PSP setting that essentially matches the 320 x 240 iPod output"

    Well thats totally useless, as the PSP has a resolution of 480x272 and free tools all over the net (3GP convertor, Videodora, PSPVideo9) can convert any videos to this pin-sharp, incredibly beautiful resolution.

  6. Jason

    G4 and G5 Mac users rejoice!

    I've got a Mac Mini G4 and Turbo 264 performance on a G4 is even more extreme. Even better, Elgato EyeTV will automatically find and use the Turbo.264 for AppleTV encoding.

    This is a way cool piece of equipment.

  7. Christiaan

    Elgato are a fantastic company to deal with

    I just bought an EyeTV 610 off them and couldn't get it to work in the UK, so they're taking it back and giving me a full refund.

    Where they got the idea that the customer is this important I don't know. Presumably they're not a UK company. I've never experienced a competent UK company in the 5 years that I've lived here.

    Anyway, highly recommended company. Their EyeTV Diversity hardware is very good to, as is their EyeTV software.

  8. Alistair MacRae

    Title

    I dont think it took me that long to do it with my pc.

    CPU: Athlon FX60 GPU: 7950 GX2 1024 MB

    is it worth doing for moi?

  9. Dillon Pyron

    In a few generations

    In a few generations, imagine the horsepower behind the Turbo .264 version 3.

  10. Joe Nash

    That's all well and good, but...

    I really hate to poo-poo this product, but I'm thinking, is there any point for Intel Mac owners? I'm not overly impressed with the speed improvements it mentions. I convert each episodes of widescreen programmes to H.264 at 768x576 so it works on my widescreen TV. For a 45-ish minute episode, VisualHub will churn it out in H.264 in approximately 65 minutes. Also, from the sounds of this review, is that I wouldn't be able to do that resolution conversion with the Elgato, since it only has predefined sizes (unless I'm wrong). It also produces slightly darker results than the original, which bugs me because I'd then want to colour-correct them too.

    Admittedly, on my MacBook the Elgato would save on the processor and fans going into overdrive so if anything it would help save my laptop... However on a Intel Mac Mini or iMac the speed of the processor is just as good, if not better, and doesn't have the huge fan/overheat problem of the MacBook (I don't think?) so leaving it for all that time converting video files shouldn't really be much of an issue. I also have an issue with the whole USB2.0 thing, surely it's wasting a heap of processor cycles transferring data in a pants way between the computer and the bus? If they're going for a Mac-only product, surely Firewire would have been better?

    To be honest, if you have a 2GHz Core 2 Duo then I can't see the point. Even on my Core Duo it would only save me a few minutes. I'd be interested when there's possibly a next generation that can do it at double real-time or thereabouts.

  11. Brian

    wide screen ?

    "I convert each episodes of widescreen programmes to H.264 at 768x576 so it works on my widescreen TV"..... 768x576 is 4 3 Not wide screen

  12. san

    A Toss Up

    For Joe Nash, the El Gato product, unless I'm woefully mistaken, is a QuickTime encoding accelerator only. Some encoding applications use QuickTime's H.264 encoder/decoder, some use ffmpeg's (free) suite, some can use both. I suspect with Visual Hub you're using ffmpeg. It's faster. Again unless I'm crazy wrong, El Gato's product can't accelerate an ffmpeg encode. For people who are using or have to use QuickTime's H.264 encoder, it cuts the encoding time in half. For $100. Use an application that can use ffmpeg and you'll get maybe 2/3, sometimes better, the encode time over QuickTime's encoder. It's a choice for QT users: wait longer for an encode to finish while you work on other things. Or spend the $100 and wait half the time, using QuickTime encoding applications. For people who do bulk work with QT encoding, the $100 is well worth it. For most the rest of us, using an ffmpeg encoding application is quick enough, and it's free.

    For Brian, 768x576 is definitely 4:3, not widescreen; what he's getting at is that his resulting files aren't limited to 480p, or standard definition. On most HDTVs, especially those with good upscaling video processors, a 768x576 resolution image will scale nicely to fill all or most of the screen, depending on how you set the TV, and look quite good, as opposed to scaling the image resolution during the encode by about 83% to get a true SD image. Essentially, he meant it's not SD, not that's widescreen.

    As for the heat argument, H.264 encoding on my 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook does get the fans going full blast, but only the top left corner of the MacBook gets even close to really hot -- the same place it gets a little warm under normal use. And you're not going to fry the SATA hard drive. Inside that sealed enclosure, with those kind of revolution speeds, that thing gets hotter on its own than you think. Tossing it into your bag every day is worse for the SATA drive than using it while the MacBook CPU is running full blast -- and it's still not likely to fail, but back-up critical files daily and everything weekly, anyway, to ward off random failures. The heat is more likely to get to the main or analog boards first, if anything, accelerating wear and perhaps reducing part life. But, if you have the extended AppleCare plan, well, that's why you have the extended AppleCare plan. If in the course of using your Mac fpr tasks within it's design specification -- and this definitely is -- it gets so hot the main board or some other part fails over time, Apple fixes it, at zero cost to you.

    I still like El Gato products, and this one seems great, but for me, for the amount of encoding I do -- mostly home movies of the kids; in my opinion, it's just as easy to pop the original DVD movie into a DVD player as it is to call it up on my Apple TV, so I see no point in putting my DVDs on my Apple TV; and only rarely, like for a vacation, do I have use of putting them on my iPod or PSP -- $100 is 7 DVD or 4 Blu-ray movies, or almost 2 games, or 10 music albums, however you want to look at it.

  13. Iain

    Re: PSPs

    Joe K may be correct that the PSP's screen is higher than 320x240. However, if he hadn't installed cracked firmware on his machine, he'd be aware that you've got to encode at this resolution for Sony's bundled player to support your file - the company reserve full resolution playback for shop-bought UMDs.

  14. Richard Shepherd

    h264

    768x576 can easily be "widescreen" if it is encoded anamorphically. Your "widescreen" DVDs are encoded at 4:3 NTSC or PAL resolution but are flagged as anamorphic and the DVD player/screen just stretches then accordingly.

    Also 768x576 should be okay for turbo.264 From the data sheet as long as the size is below 800x600 (and 768x576 certainly is) the image is not scaled. Only video above 800x600 will be downsampled.

    I've just ordered one of these and I'm sure I'll see an improvement in encoding times even on my 2Ghz core duo iMac. As far as I can see what is happening is that Quicktime has to do the decoding to YUV from the source file in software with the GPU. There will be no way the elgato can do the decoding from the miriad formats QT supports so will have to be passed a common format (this is usually 4:2:2 YUV I think) This will then be passed to the elgato which then sends it back as h264.

    Either way you look at it some of the encoding will be taken off the GPU which then allows it to have more cycles for the decoding/bus transfers etc. It really is an h264 co-processor.

    RS

  15. Vermifuge

    re: PSP users avoid

    According to my take on this article You can also use QuickTime to export to H.254 and set up a custom output quality. That means you should be able to take full advantage of the PSP's video capabilities

  16. Vermifuge

    Re: That's all well and good, but...

    I think a lot of people are missing this part of the review...

    "The connection to QuickTime means that the Turbo.264 is accessible by almost any application that uses Apple's multimedia software to encode video, not just Elgato's own - Turbo.264 shows up in iMovie, for example. Content is decoded then re-encoded by the Turbo.264, so any format QuickTime understands, even via a third-party plug-in like Flip4Mac's WMV add-in, can be converted into H.264 format. If the Turbo.264 isn't connected, you'll be told to slot it in."

    I read this as I can use QT7 to export and still take full advantage of the H.264 hardware acceleration. I believe this also means that applications like Toast will benefit because it uses QuickTime to process video too.

    You should also be able to sey up custom output resolutions

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same(ish) thing for PC

    The same soft of gadget is available for the PC from ADS, called the "Instant Video To-Go".

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