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, theres a big call these days for full, HD video of gameplay captured from video game consoles. Hauppage has been making the HD PVR for a little while now: Its a run-through set-top box thats 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, Hauppage 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, Hauppages box works with your Mac computer. Ive 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, YouTubes 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 shouldnt 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). Theres 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 Hauppages 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 systems 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 iPads video out to HDMI, thats a connection thats 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 wont let you do that. I thought itd be simple enough to hook into the Macs internal mic while recording and mix it into the footage, but thats not an option. If you want to record commentary for YouTube, youll 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 theres 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), youll need to cook up your own solution, by setting up VLC or getting the signal some other way. Itd be nice if this was all built into the HDPVRCapture software (especially since this is the Gaming Edition), but its not.
And finally, the HDPVRCapture app is a nice piece of software, but it doesnt 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 its unclear why we need to buy the app when Windows users dont. But the box is $199.99 already, so if you need to run with it on a Mac, the extra $30 is probably something youre 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 youll 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, its worth shopping around: The Elgato box runs natively on the Mac, so its 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 youre thinking about starting up your own Yogscast channel, this box will help you do it (and lest I forget to mention, theres also a pretty groovy green LED that lights up when youre recording!). But if its not exactly perfect for your setup, its definitely worth looking around at other options before you choose what to buy.