Elgato Turbo.264 full review

If you’ve ever tried to convert digital video into a format your iPod or Apple TV understands, you’ll quickly have grown frustrated at how long conversion takes. If you’re a keen iMovie-maker, you’ll have had plenty of experience watching your Mac render your compositions.

Video transcoding is one of the most processor-intensive tasks you can ask of your computer. An episode of Gordon Ramsey’s F-Word may only last an hour, but converting it for Apple’s entertainment products take several times that using your Mac’s own processor (Intel or otherwise). It can mean you record a show on Wednesday and don’t get to watch it on your device of choice until Friday. This hurdle to ease-of-use is annoying, particularly if you’ve spent your cash on an Apple TV. Thankfully Elgato’s Turbo.264 makes it faster to transcode content into Apple’s favoured H.264 codec – by up to 300 per cent.

The Mac-only black USB 2.0 device is about the size of a large flash drive or first-generation iPod shuffle. In use, it handles the process of migrating video to H.264 instead of your processor, saving time. This means your Mac won’t be tied-up, so you can do other things while converting video.

The device is optimised to convert video from numerous formats. It will even convert unprotected DVD_TS files – though you’ll need to rip the video into H.264 using the excellent Handbrake utility (http://handbrake.m0k.org). Elgato’s device also works with any application that uses QuickTime for export – iMovie and Final Cut Pro, for example. You get to choose to use the device for encoding from within an application’s ‘Save As’ command. This means converting your home movies into a format for the Apple TV will be easy, and won’t tie up your Mac.

The Turbo.264 also works with Flip4Mac’s WMV components for QuickTime – so you can convert some WMA movies using the device. As an added bonus, the device doesn’t require you to have a QuickTime Pro license to access these features.

This solution ships with Elgato’s own conversion software. Installing this is easy – you just drag-and-drop it into your Applications folder. The beauty of Elgato’s software is its simplicity – you just need to drag video you want to transcode into the application window. A bonus for those who don’t think in tech, the options for conversion are named by device: iPod (high), iPod (low), PSP, and Apple TV. You can set what conversion you want to perform for each piece of video.

Batch conversion is supported. At the top there’s a speedometer which shows the device is connected and clear number counters show how long the operation will take and what frame rate is being achieved.

When dealing with EyeTV recordings, EyeTV 2.4 or later automatically detects the Turbo.264 so you won’t need to drag video to the application window. The fact the device is connected is shown in the EyeTV window by a series of coloured dots underneath the recording.

The Mac sends video using the USB 2.0 bus to the Turbo.264, it encodes this and passes it back until the job is complete. New Macs host more sophisticated motherboards and faster system buses – so operational data transfer is quicker.

The company claims encoding a one hour PAL film for the Apple TV takes over four hours without Turbo.264 on an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and just over an hour (near real time) with the device. Conversion to iPod formats is even faster.

We tested these claims using a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo Mac mini. It took just three-and-a-half hours when converting a 1-hour 58-minute film (2.22GB) into Apple TV format. Without the device it took 15 hours.

A G4 iBook demanded 46 hours to convert the video without the device (we cancelled the operation), with the Turbo.264 plugged in it took a more acceptable four-and-a-half hours.

This means your old Mac has now been transformed into an effective media server, capable of converting video, though the newer the Mac the faster the operation, even with Turbo.

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