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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

HAUPPAUGE COLOSSUS IMPRESSIONS   *   16.09.2011
Table of Contents:

- Introduction
- The Card
- The Purchase
- The Software
- The Connections
- Capturing from a PC
- Test Video Files
- Component Interference
- Video Quality
- Final Words



Introduction

A few months ago I read an article on AnandTech reviewing the Hauppauge Colossus high definition video capture card, and I was impressed with what it had to offer for a relatively low price (around 130-140 $ today).

ArcSoft ShowBiz



The Card

The card features a hardware H.264 encoder allowing us to capture SD, 720p and 1080i video at up to 60 FPS. This being an internal PCI-E x1 card, we do not need a special hard drive to record our videos, we can use the HDDs installed in our PC.
There are some cheaper alternative capture cards on the market, but they do not feature a hardware encoder, which means we need a really fast CPU to encode captured video in real time (which not many HTPC users have, myself included), or we have to use Fraps, which produces gigantic files, and on the other hand requires a very fast HDD (actually an SSD) to capture at 60 FPS.

The ViXS chip can encode video at a constant or average bitrate of 20 Mbps, which is quite enough for 1080i60 video. Quality of recorded video is really good, although definitely not perfect, as we can achieve nearly perfect results with software encoders operating at very slow speeds. Considering the encoder works in real-time, the quality really is good.

ArcSoft ShowBiz



The Purchase

The card is very expensive in Europe or the UK (pretty much the typical 1:1 currency conversion), and there is no easy way to import this card from the US. Fortunately my friend is in the business of importing various hardware with the help of his friend in America, so he was able to get this card for me for a reasonable price (about 165 $ including shipping and duties). There were some complications along the way, and I did not receive the software CD in the package, so I had to wait a bit more to have a fully functioning setup.



The Software

Hauppauge provides a copy of ArcSoft's ShowBiz software for capturing and editing videos. It fully supports the Colossus card, and we can even configure the bitrate we want to encode at, as well as some video format settings.
We can also choose one of three container formats - MP4, TS and M2TS. Both the TS and M2TS formats allow us to capture Dolby Digital audio, which is not possible with the MP4 container. For some reason the option to capture PCM audio is not available, which means the sound is compressed with the lossy AAC codec. If we want to edit the video, we have to re-encode the audio as well, which has an impact on sound quality. Hopefully ArcSoft will resolve this with a software update.
The ShowBiz application is pretty straightforward, I do not think anyone will have a problem using it.
I edit my videos in Adobe Premiere, so I am only interested in its capturing functions, which are very easy to use.

ArcSoft ShowBiz



The Connections

The card has a wide range of inputs, including Composite, Component and HDMI, as well as analog stereo jacks and an optical input for the audio. There is also an output corresponding to each input (except for HDMI), which means we get real-time pass-through for all streams, which we can connect to our TV or A/V receiver.
The reason for that is that we cannot watch the input stream on our computer monitor (through our graphics card). What we see in the preview window is the final video produced after all processing is done (including the encoding process), which means there are about 2 seconds of lag between the input video and what we see on the screen. I have to say this is disappointing, we should get the untouched input video stream on our screen, so that we could use this card as a receiver without the need to make additional connections.
There is also no HDMI output (why?). If we want to capture our videos through HDMI (no HDCP content allowed), we have to get an HDMI splitter for the device we want to capture from. I got one of those (the basic ones are relatively cheap, about 10 $ in Poland, probably a lot less in normal countries), and it works really well, which means I can capture digital video while watching it directly on my TV.
I can confirm that this does work with both the Xbox 360 and PC. From what I have read, you cannot capture HDMI video from the PS3 or STBs.



Capturing from a PC

"Why would you use this card to capture video from a PC?" you might ask.
Well, as I said before, you cannot capture 1080p60 (and sometimes even 720p60) if you have a regular magnetic HDD. When capturing 1080p60 video, Fraps records at bitrates higher than 900 Mbps. which means you need a disk drive that can achieve a constant write speed of 110 MiB/s or faster. No HDD can achieve this (maybe in RAID 0, but I have no idea), and even the cheapest SSDs would have a problem.
The other thing is, that if you want to capture video at 30 FPS, in 99% of the cases Fraps will lock the framerate at 30 FPS, even if your hardware can achieve constant 60 FPS. It is ok in singleplayer, but it is not acceptable in multiplayer, especially in shooters, where high framerates give a huge boost in mouse response time and accuracy.
Anyway, with this card you can record 1080i60 video, which means your graphics card will render the game in 1080p and 60 FPS (or higher without Vsync) and output the video in an interlaced format.
Playing back such a file will display a very smooth video at 60 FPS (after deinterlacing), while the file itself will take up half the space a normal 1080p60 video file would. You can also deinterlace and re-encode such a stream to get 1080p30 video, which can be easily uploaded to YouTube.
Of course outputting 1080i video does mean you lose a bit of the image sharpness, but you will only notice this if you have a really huge TV or projector. Modern TVs do a really great job of deinterlacing video, and you really have to try hard to notice the difference between 1080i and 1080p, especially if the video is very dynamic (like most games are).
Some might say that interlaced video also introduces ghosting and combing. Yes, but it is not a problem with games, where some aliasing is always present even with the best anti-aliasing methods like super-sampling.



Test Video Files

I have captured a few test video clips, I will mention a few things about them in a little bit.

Here are the links to download the files - part 1 & part 2



Component Interference

The HDMI input provides a perfect-quality image, which is encoded into a very good quality video stream. No complaints here.

Unfortunately, I do have a problem with the Component input. The image quality itself is not much different from the HDMI input, but there is interference present. I do not know if that is just in my case, or if it would be the same in any other PC. It is easily noticeable after substantially reducing the image brightness, but it can be noticed in other cases as well. I captured three short clips of the Xbox 360 dashboard where it is noticeable even with the brightness set to normal. It is also noticeable during the loading screens in Red Dead Redemption.
The gameplay itself is pretty much interference free, but that is because the image is dynamic. I am pretty sure the bars would be noticeable in some static scenes.
The interference is not present when watching the Component pass-through on my TV, or when connecting the Component input directly. That means it is not the cables, it has something to do with the PC.
I will try to find out what the problem might be, hopefully it can be resolved. I do not need the Component input at the moment, but I might one day.



Video Quality

As you can see in the short clips I provided, the quality is very good.
It is worth mentioning, that the clearer the original image is (noise, aliasing, flickering), the better the output video will look.
You can see that the Mafia II video is definitely the best looking one. Any stuttering present is the result of the rendering, not the capturing, this game does like to stutter. Also, the character behaves a bit weird, that is because I used the preview window to see the video (so I had that 2-second lag), because I did not have the HDMI splitter yet.
Red Dead Redemption is not aliasing-free. It can be seen in the video, that there are some compression artifacts present on the edges.
The Forza Motorsport 3 video is the worst looking of the bunch, as the game has lots of aliasing and flickering. It does not look bad, but a software encoder would do a much better job with this kind of source material.



Final Words

To sum up, I have to say I am very fond of this card so far.
I have not captured anything worthy so far, just a few test clips, but I cannot wait to capture some Battlefield gameplay (are you as excited about the BF3 beta as I am?), as well as some other stuff.
Forza 4 is also coming in a few weeks, so I will definitely have something to do.

As for the card itself, I love the ShowBiz software, I love the variety of connections (although I have no idea why an HDMI output was not included), I also really like the video quality of all inputs. If it was not for the Component interference problems, it would have been a nearly perfect card.

It is not the cheapest card on the market, but you cannot find anything better for a lower or similar price.
If you are looking for something that will allow you to capture the many hours you spend gaming (or maybe something else), I think this is the card to buy. Definitely recommended.
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