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If you were a kid (or had a kid) any time between the mid-1980s and the turn of the century, chances are you have a bunch of old videotapes with incriminating footage on them. Chances are also good that your mother (or someone like her) has probably bothered you on more than one occasion about converting those aforementioned tapes—because really, who uses a VCR anymore? Using Elgato’s Video Capture, you can turn any analog source into 640x480 digital video files, for playback on your Mac, iPod touch, or iPhone.
The device itself is both sleek and functional and can be stashed in a pocket easily. Video Capture features composite and S-Video outs, so it’ll easily slurp in signals from DVD players, DVRs, video cameras, and other sources with analog outputs. There’s also an included Composite-to-SCART adapter, although SCART is a French standard that never gained much traction outside certain European countries.
On the software end, however, we found that Elgato’s solution is lacking in the features department. Though utilitarian, it’s simple at the cost of being too simple. First, processing video is incredibly system intensive. On our test Mac, a 2.4GHz dual-core MacBook Pro, the software used all the processing muscle of one CPU and half of the second during the entire conversion, making it impossible to do much of anything else.
We found that Elgato records video at approximately 13MB per minute—a 90-minute video at 640x480 came in at a whopping 1.1GB. Comparatively, when we used HandBrake, the resulting file size was a relatively svelte (and much more portable-device-friendly) 600MB. While we could have compressed the video with third-party software, it’s an additional step, not to mention another encoding, which can affect video quality. Using a variety of sources, the resulting video was consistently a tad darker than it should be, requiring us to crank up the brightness when watching clips encoded by Elgato’s software. The biggest miss, however, is the lack of a pause function while recording, for editing down clips as you encode them. The software does offer a timer function, which can stop recording in 30-minute increments, but you can’t enter your own record times, and you have to trim the excess blank video after the fact.
The Elgato Video Capture works as promised, but lacks bells and whistles. If you are the kind of person that likes to "set it and forget it," you're in the money—the incredibly simple software only takes four clicks to output a good-quality video file. On the other hand, more advanced users will find themselves frustrated at the lack of options.
Video Capture’s editing and sharing capabilities worked well, but there were a few glitches. For example, the trimming functionality was seriously confusing. It’s color-coded, but there’s no clear indication of what the individual colors stand for. Furthermore, even though we tried logging in with several different YouTube accounts to upload our video to the service, it perplexingly only worked when we used a Google Account. On the other hand, the one-click iMovie export was glitch-free. That said, if you have a huge video file, we suggest you open it directly from iMovie—export makes another copy of the file for you to import into iMovie, but multiple copies of large videos can quickly chew through even the largest hard drives.