Elgato Turbo.264

Danny Gorog
24 June, 2008
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About six months back there were rumours floating around suggesting the next revision of iMacs and MacBook Pros would come with built-in video encoder hardware to improve the native performance of video conversion. The trouble with that juicy rumour, and subsequent discussion about video encoding hardware, is that most people simply don’t need the ability to encode movies on their computers. This, combined with the fact that Apple is now distributing movies in a ready-to-consume H.264 format, means that the added expense of bolting on dedicated video encoding hardware doesn’t quite compute.

But, there are some consumers for whom encoding video from one format to another (like from DivX to H.264 for example) is an almost daily ritual. While modern Macs are pretty powerful and can convert video faster than real time (using software like Visual Hub) older Macs can struggle. Plus, even with the fastest Mac there’s a "processing tax" associated with dedicating your main CPU to encoding video.

Enter the Turbo.264 video encoder from Elgato. The Turbo.264 has two elements: the first is a hardware USB video encoder, and the second is a piece of software that manages the encoding process.Elgato claims that Turbo.264 accelerates video encoding up to four times on Macs with Intel Core processors, and on older Macs like a PowerPC G4 or PowerPC G5, the acceleration is exponentially faster — some users report up to 10 and 15 times faster.

I’m one of those that does frequent video encoding and have found the Turbo.264 to be better than software-only solutions. On a new MacBook Pro, however, the encoding speeds aren’t dramatically different (certainly not four times faster for me). But because the Turbo.264 software uses the USB encoder rather than the Mac’s processor, my computer stays completely responsive while converting — a noticeable difference compared to software-only solutions. That means you can be converting a movie while you are using your computer for other tasks.

The Turbo.264 software is easy to use and flexible. If you’re a beginner you can select from built-in presets when converting, which include Apple TV, iPod (high and low quality), iPhone, PSP or YouTube. For more advanced users selecting Format > Edit gives you the option to customise all the settings, including size, frame and data rate. You can also save your settings for later use. Adding video to convert is as easy as dragging and dropping, and Turbo.264 allows you to add multiple videos in one selection.

Turbo.264 also works with EyeTV and speeds the process of converting your videos from a raw MPEG2 stream to a H.264 iTunes-compatible files.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. The Turbo.264 is a useful piece of kit if you find yourself regularly converting movies from one format to another. While you won’t find much speed gain on newer Macs, older PowerPC machines will see a significant speed gain when converting movies. At $199 the Turbo 264 is more expensive than a software-only solution, but if you’re serious about converting your videos, the cost of the unit will quickly pay for itself.

Elgato Turbo264

Type Video Encoder
Rating 4.5
Pros Small, light, noise free. Keeps your computer responsive while converting video
Cons Not much faster when using a new Core 2 Duo Mac with lots of RAM, more expensive than software only solutions
SRP $199
Manufacturer Elgato
Distributor Maconline 03 9682 5494

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