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Elgato Turbo.264
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by Matt Serrano on July 11, 2007 in Apple

Encoding video is not normally ones idea of fun, but Elgato promises to take out some of the pain for Mac users by making the process up to 4x faster, with their Turbo.264. Does it live up to it’s claims, and more importantly, is it worth your $100?

Testing, Final Thoughts


Even though the dongle was smaller than I expected, the width still blocked the other USB port on the test system. Elgato resolved this issue by including the USB extension in the package, so it’s not a con, but something to be aware of. One thing that’s worth noting is the Turbo stayed cool the entire time it was used.

I had a minor issue for a moment when I got everything working. As foolish as this may sound, I had no idea if the encoder was actually working. Unlike Windows, OS X doesn’t notify you of any new hardware and there was about the same level of response from Elgato’s own software. The only clue I had was the gauge in the Turbo.264 application that read on when the Turbo was attached (at the time, I thought this was a static image). I had to go to Elgato’s website to make sure everything was working the way it was supposed to.

There are profiles available for the iPod, Apple TV, and Sony’s PSP, without the ability to add your own. This is a pretty big oversight, but it may be irrelevant considering one of them should suffice most Mac users. Still, a general “QuickTime” profile could have been added.

AVI to iPod

Encoding Method
Time Elapsed
Turbo.264 Attached 12:37
QuickTime Standard Encoding 28:33

The Turbo did an excellent job with the first test video. With the test system, a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo Macbook with 1.25GB of RAM, the encoder managed to re-encode an entire 176MB AVI to an iPod compatible H.264 file in 12:37 compared to the time of 28:33 that was achieved with QuickTime Pro. While that was a hefty speed increase, unfortunately, that’s where the praises end. Even though the same file was converted much faster when the Turbo was utilized, the end result looked much worse compared to the QuickTime encoded file. The problem with the quality was probably because Elgato offers no way to select the bitrate of the encoding.

Finally, since I had the EyeTV software installed, I tried using the one-click export feature to compress 27 minute EyeTV video file to an iPod compatible format that could be imported into iTunes.

EyeTV to iPod

Encoding Method
Time Elapsed
Turbo.264 Attached 27:36
Standard EyeTV Export 1:29:27

In this test, the Turbo was able to encode the video just under 110% faster than the standard encoding time. This test is different from the other two because the two files have the same visual quality, since the same software was used.

Copying DVDs is certainly a gray area and I would never condone copying or selling them illegally. Setting aside national laws, I am taking into consideration the fact that the internet is made up of a global community, so I believe the discussion should be allowed. However, I will not go into detail about the entire process.

DVD to Apple TV

Encoding Method
Time Elapsed
Turbo.264 4:39
Handbrake 18:10

I decided to take a 5 and a half minute long chapter of a DVD and encode it optimized for the Apple TV. Since there are arguably far better solutions for compressing DVDs than using QuickTime, I ran Handbrake’s Apple TV profile with its default settings. The times were much better than Handbrake with one caveat: the final MP4 file was in French.

Like I mentioned earlier in the review, there are no options in Elgato’s software, so the only work around is to decrypt the DVD using stream processing to only copy one audio stream, or demux the movie and mux it with the audio stream you want. Unlike iLounge, I didn’t encounter any interlacing issues with the Apple TV profile, but I’m unaware if the problem was fixed in a software update.

Besides the ones mentioned, my last gripe was (in my opinion) a serious limitation with the encoder. Even though an Apple TV preset is offered and the Apple TV can in fact play HD video, the Turbo.264 can only encode with resolutions up to 800×600. Obviously because of the resolution and increased file size, high definition video is the most time consuming to encode, and if you’re dealing with HD Elgato’s product is unfortunately useless.

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, the Turbo exceeded my expectations. It didn’t quite live up to Elgato’s claim of “up to four times faster” in my tests, but it was able to convert every file I threw at it much faster than every other program I’ve used on OS X.

With a company that caters to Macs exclusively, I would never expect Windows compatibility. That’s not a bad thing considering there are other products very similar to this one that have been on the market. The provided integration with Apple products keeps the entire experience as tight and easy to use as it can be. Being able to drag a file and have it load into iTunes ready to play is a welcome change from what a lot of us, myself included, are use too.

Regrettably, the hurdles that users are required to jump through are annoying. I wouldn’t give the software much merit over “traditional” means, so unless you’re converting files that are already resized, cropped and subbed how you want them, you’re going to half to open the program and cross your fingers.

If there’s one saving quality of this product, it is definitely the ability to speed up EyeTV exports. I was already using an EyeTV 250 to record home movies, and all I had to do was plug it in and press the export button. The EyeTV software had always been slow in my opinion, so instantly being able to speed things up was nice, and it worked perfectly as advertised.

Beyond that, I think most Mac users would be better off using the hardware in their machines to at least have encoding options available, that is, except for Power PC owners. For the most part, the times should stay the same across different machines, and the encoder should be able to do a much better job than a G4 slower compared to a beefed up Intel machine. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) the slower the machine, the better the investment for this product will be.

    Pros

  • Small footprint
  • Fast encodes
  • Keeps system resources free while doing most of the dirty work.
  • Solid one-click EyeTV support
  • Excellent value for the speed that can be achieved.
    Cons

  • No encoding options are offered.
  • Programs must be able to export using QuickTime.
  • The quality was occasionally worse than other encoding tools.
  • Cannot encode in HD. 780 support would have been welcomed.

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1. Introduction
2. Testing, Final Thoughts