Let's Play -- It's a Video Thing...
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 11th Oct 2012
PVR that Made the Cut
The Dazzle lands in our list as the budget solution, with its cost coming in at a paltry $99 while the Hauppage HD-PVR Gaming Edition lands on the other end of the spectrum, with a buy-in price of only $199 that still leaves it in the budget category. The differences between them are clear and easy to understand, so the choice you make is going to be simple as well -- you buy what you can afford, and you get what you pay for. More than that though, both devices appeal to specific and different uses, though in the end we ended up leaning towards the HD-PVR for serious users, and the Dazzle for the more casual. You will have to make up your own mind which category you fit into...
The Dazzle Video Creator Plus HD from Pinnacle
Out of the box this device, which has existed for quite a while in various versions, is dead simple to eyeball out: it is an oddly-shaped device with a permanently attached USB cable at one end, and a set of RCA plugs and an S-Video plug on the other. That is what you find in the box, along with the Pinnacle Studio video editing suite, once you add a gold-tipped set of AV cables to the device you have an instant studio on your PC.
One of the strengths for this approach is that unlike the traditional AV capture solutions, there is no need to tear open your computer to install a capture card, and then much about with IRQ's and Memory Settings, or to convince it to work with your system or video card -- in the case of the Dazzle you just plug it in to a USB 2.0 Slot and you are good to go.
Installing the device was dead simple -- we first installed the Pinnacle Studio software as the installation guide required, and then plugged the device in. On our Windows 7 PC the OS went out and got an updated driver for the Dazzle without our even needing to ask it to, and a few minutes later we were all set up and ready to make a video.
The Pinnacle Studio software allows you to select the primary source for audio and video -- in this case the Xbox 360 of PlayStation 3 -- but it also allows you to use other audio sources including files, like songs in a number of formats, and your microphone, so that you can narrate or comment as you go along, either while you shoot the video or during the editing stage when you are selecting the scenes for the finished production.
The learning curve for the software was nice and gentle, and its layout makes it very clear what the different sources are as well as how to overlay additional audio, and even includes slots in the display for special effects. Adding titles -- even titles with special actions like fades or scrolling -- required a bit of study and getting used to the interface, but the help files that are included with the device largely made that much easier than it might otherwise have been.
To HD or Not HD?
In the end what we learned in giving this kit a strong workout was that it is ideally suited for making Let's Play videos, game guide videos, and even for taking a collection of videos, images, and audio in order to create a presentation, but mostly in the normal format. While it is certainly capable of making HD video, the system heavily relies upon your PC to do that, with the processing being offloaded on to your PC, and if you happen to have a high-end system with lots of RAM and a very good video card you can do that painlessly... But if you do not own a high-end system -- if your computer is an average PC and not a screaming hot gaming system, well, then the process of creating HD videos may be a bit more challenging for you.
In the end we liked the Dazzle for making regular videos and we really liked the Pinnacle Studio suite for its easy use, and forgiving nature when we tried to pack in too much content all at one time, using it for creating larger HD videos was not as easy or as forgiving, as it relied too much on our PC hardware. When we tested that with an average system we found the process to be painfully slow, though to be fair when we tested it on a PC that was intentionally built to create game play videos -- the PC that we use daily for creating the videos for our game guides and walkthroughs over at SuperCheats.com, it performed flawlessly.
If your aim is to create standard video on a budget, the Dazzle Video Creator Plus HD from Pinnacle may be just the ticket, though some care must be taken in handling the unit, as moving it while you are capturing can create distortion on the screen. Still, for just a Benjamin and some personal effort in learning how to use it, it managed to make the cut as our low-end solution to creating Let's Play Videos.
The HD-PVR Gaming Edition from Hauppage
It really is no accident that the preferred solution we ended up choosing comes from Hauppage -- who happens to be one of the veteran companies in the industry. Chances are good that back in the 90's if you had a TV card in your computer, or a A/V capture product, it was made by Hauppage or it contained hardware that they built and engineered. In fact for quite a while there they helped to establish and set the standards for PC video and audio capture technology!
Right out of the box the HD-PVR is an elegant and attractive piece of kit -- and speaking of out of the box, the box contains everything that is required to install and use it for capturing video from your console or other device, and then editing that into the finished product, including the box-shaped (and wickedly slick looking) PVR, and a full set of all of the cables you could possibly need. Seriously, ALL of the cables, and that is not just a three-cable RCA set with the Red and White Audio and Yellow Video cables (it comes with that) but also a special cable with the standard RCA and HD connectors at one end and the three special connectors at the other for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii! There is a USB cable for connecting the box to your PC, and the power supply for the PVR.
The software that is included in the package is ArcSoft ShowBiz, which while it is generally considered to be a rather basic video editing suite, still packs in lots of features and capabilities so that a novice can easily put together a video and then transform it to a number of media formats with very little actual book time. ArcSoft ShowBiz can burn the created videos to DVD/Blu-Ray, which is nice, but it is also preset to make it very easy for you to upload directly to YouTube! While content can be saved in a wide variety of formats the finished productions will likely be headed for YouTunbe anyway, so using the automated settings for that platform makes it a lot snappier than it otherwise can be when editing video.
That HD Thing
What makes the HD-PVR Gaming Edition special (note that Hauppage also makes a personal DVR with remote version of this device) is that it offloads ALL of the HD processing on the device itself, so even if you own a marginal or very average PC, with limited or budget video capabilities you can still turn out professional HD quality videos with little to no impact on the system, and that is probably the most important point in its favor. Well, that and it being wicked easy to use!
Installation of the device was a snap: after popping in the included CD and installing the drivers and the ArcSoft Suite, we simply plugged everything in, connected it to our console, and we were off and running in under ten minutes. Our first HD video, a five minute flick for Risen 2, required no special effort on our part, and form a time and software perspective felt pretty much the same in effort as making a regular video.
The HD PVR supports full 5.1 audio via its optical input, allowing function as a pass-through with its optical out slot. In addition it features inputs for composite and S-Video and 2-channel audio, with duplicated selectable front and back inputs with selection controlled from within the software, which means that the user can connect their console to the rear and a camera or other device to the front and switch between them.
Out of the four similar devices we tested, the HD-PVR Gaming Edition from Hauppage stood shoulders and head above the rest, though it was not a completely perfect solution due to issues with older video cards. While it works with most modern cards some older cards can create driver conflicts. According to other reviews older video source devices can cause significant frame loss, though we did not experience that in our testing.
Regardless of which of the devices you end up choosing there are some common issues that will have to be addressed when you set up your studio, chief among them the need to patch-in a video drop for your TV because using the on-screen display box to play the game is simply not practical. When you are simply setting the device up as a temporary capture system that is not as big an issue as it might be if you wanted to install the device as a permanent piece of kit. In that case you will also need to set up splits and drops for the audio as well as the video coming out of the source device as otherwise your capture system will have to be turned on and active any time that you want to play your video game console (or other source) in order to have sound and video.
Still even with the extra effort that is required, the quick setup and ease of learning these systems really does mean that anyone can create their own Let's Play videos.