Hauppauge's HD PVR Gaming Edition works, but with some issues
Game capture is a bigger and bigger business lately -- with YouTube views earning money for partner channels, indie devs needing to capture video footage of their games, and lots of players just wanting to record their own gameplay for various purposes, there's a big call these days for full, HD video of gameplay captured from video game consoles. Hauppauge has been making the HD PVR for a little while now: It's a run-through set-top box that's designed to capture video footage, specifically from a satellite or cable box (so you can record an HD TV signal as it comes in). But just a few months ago, Hauppauge also introduced the HD PVR Gaming Edition, basically the same box, but designed to work directly with the top video game consoles: The PS3, Xbox 360, and the Nintendo Wii.
And with the help of an app called HDPVRCapture, Hauppauge's box works with your Mac computer. I've run the system through its paces, and I can say that despite some issues I had with setup (and a few missing features), the HD PVR Gaming Edition is an excellent way to capture high quality video game footage.
Getting the unit plugged in was the hard part: All of my video game systems are well-ensconced in my entertainment center, so having to dive back into that tangle of wires was probably the hardest issue I had. For most of the capture, I used my PS3, so I had to pull the component cables out of my television, and then run the included cables with the HD PVR from the PS3 to the unit, and then a separate component cable from the PVR to the television. To go from the box to my Macbook, there was just a simple USB cable, so that part was super easy in comparison.
The HD PVR itself has plenty of options: You can run through the component video hookups as I did (along with right and left audio), or run with Optical video out and in. On the front of the unit, there are also connections for SVideo, if you happen to be running that, or composite video from another console.
The hookups on the box are solid, and the component video worked well. The HDPVRCapture software allows you to set a bitrate for recording the video, which mainly just affects hard drive usage (more video information obviously means more hard drive space used). To test, I first set the bitrate super low (at 1000 kbps), and as a result, the output video was grainy and hazy, albeit still usable.
Running at a higher bitrate, however (I kicked it up to around 10000 kbps), creates really beautiful video -- full 1080i footage, perfect for playing on any HD television or projector (or, more likely, YouTube's HD settings). In fact, the video file that I created by running the device for about 30 minutes was so big and so HD that my little years-old Macbook actually had trouble running it, at least until I closed some other apps. Editing or even viewing video of that quality could be a problem if you have an old computer to work on. But most video editors will have computers much more powerful than my little laptop, so high quality video shouldn't be a problem.
The HDPVRCapture software has plenty of options for recording and converting the video afterwards (the streams I recorded came out as .m2ts files, easily converted into .mp4 for playing on most video systems), and there are also controls for video light levels and sharpness, along with an option to hook up to iCal for a recording schedule (in case you do want to use this with a cable system to record TV shows). There's also a few network options, so you can hook up the software to automatically send recorded footage to a network drive, streaming it live or later on.
I did have a few issues with Hauppauge's box, however. First and foremost is the lack of an HDMI connection -- the component video looked great, but I usually run my PS3 with an HDMI cable, so to set the box up, I had to actually switch the system's video back over to component to use it. Elgato makes a competing box that only runs on HDMI, and since Apple sells an adapter that will send your iPhone or iPad's video out to HDMI, that's a connection that's sorely missed here. Unfortunately, that might be a dealbreaker for a lot of people, including me.
The other big issue I had was with the audio. If you want to just record straight gameplay video, the HDPVR will let you do so without a problem. But if you want to record commentary on that video, or bring in audio from another source while recording, the HDPVR capture software won't let you do that. I thought it'd be simple enough to hook into the Mac's internal mic while recording and mix it into the footage, but that's not an option. If you want to record commentary for YouTube, you'll need to record your own commentary separately, and mix the two later.
Same deal for streaming: The app does have an option for streaming the captured video out to a third-party app like VLC, but there's no way to see the video directly on your Mac as it comes live off of the box. That means that if you want to stream the video online (through a service like Twitch.tv or Ustream), you'll need to cook up your own solution, by setting up VLC or getting the signal some other way. It'd be nice if this was all built into the HDPVRCapture software (especially since this is the Gaming Edition), but it's not.
And finally, the HDPVRCapture app is a nice piece of software, but it doesn't come cheap. While Windows-based software comes with the Gaming Edition box, we Mac users need to buy our software separately, for an extra $29.95. I believe the developer of the app works for Hauppage directly, so it's unclear why we need to buy the app when Windows users don't. But the box is $199.99 already, so if you need to run with it on a Mac, the extra $30 is probably something you're willing to pay.
Still, despite those issues, the HDPVR Gaming Edition does do what it says on the box. Especially if you are already using component video for whatever game console you want to record from, all you'll need to do is plug it in, install the app on your Mac (gritting your teeth through the $30 charge), and then hit record. If you would rather run on an HDMI connection, it's worth shopping around: The Elgato box runs natively on the Mac, so it's a good candidate, and there are a few other cheaper options with different features out there as well.
Whether you just want to capture some of your awesome gameplay, or you're thinking about starting up your own Yogscast channel, this box will help you do it (and lest I forget to mention, there's also a pretty groovy green LED that lights up when you're recording!). But if it's not exactly perfect for your setup, it's definitely worth looking around at other options before you choose what to buy.
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