Review: The Elgato Game Capture HD

For some time now I’ve wanted to have a gadget that would allow me to grab footage from games I’m playing and either stream that content to a service like or post it to YouTube or VideoPress. Over the last two weeks I’ve purchased a couple of solutions to try them out and after some testing I think I’ve found the winner, at least for now.

The one I won’t be returning is the Elgato Game Capture HD, and for most people who would like to capture gameplay, I can recommend it as a starting point for capturing gameplay video. I’ve done some tests with the device and will insert them throughout the review; all YouTube videos in this post were captured in my living room using the Game Capture HD.

What’s in the Box?

The Game Capture HD is a pretty simple package. You get:

  • The Game Capture device
  • A 1-meter HDMI cable
  • A 2-meter mini-USB cable
  • A 1-meter PS2/PS3-to-DIN cable
  • A very short DIN-to component/RCA stereo breakout cable

In short, everything you need to use the device comes with it, which is very handy. As far as the computer hardware you need, it’s best to look this up on Elgato’s site, but it works with USB 2 (something its competitors sometimes don’t), is completely external, and works with both PCs and Macs. (I did my testing on a Mac.)

The device itself is not much larger than a deck of standard playing cards:

DualShock 3 and a 360 controller for comparison.

As you can see, there isn’t much to it. On one end, there is an HDMI out, which is a passthrough to your TV or other monitor, and the mini-USB connector that goes to your computer:

And on the other end, there is the HDMI in and the DIN in, which can accept either the Ps2/Ps3 cable or the component breakout:

That’s the extent of what you get when you buy it. You’re not left without anything, which considering the price of the unit, is quite nice. All the cables you need to hook it up come with it. You will need to download the software from the Game Capture site, which is a small (<100 MB) download and consists of only one application that is installed to your computer. It’s as minimalist as I think a capture box can be.

What About the Software?

The software itself is pretty simple and easy to grasp. When you start it up it will wait for you to connect the device if you are in the Capture screen.

Your input to the capture device is shown on the left. To the right, you can set options for the GCHD, check sound levels if input is running, give title information for the video before you start, and start the recording. The options that are available are pretty easy to figure out as well:

“Input Device” will tell the GCHD what to expect, from a choice of Xbox 360, PS3, and iPad, though as long as you have the input source selected properly, I found that it was pretty good at adjusting to whatever I had hooked up to it. You can adjust the bit rate of the compression used as the device sends the video to your computer for storage, and if you want you can also make some image adjustments – though those adjustments will also be reflected on your display, so I didn’t use them.

On the Capture screen, there is a short timeline in the corner near the big giant record button:

This acts as a buffering interface, much like a DVR. If you are running your game through the GCHD, it will automatically buffer the last hour of gameplay for you. If you want to begin recording, the default option is just to start with the current live point of the video, but if you would rather back that up to catch something awesome you did before starting the record, you can scrub the marker back on the timeline and adjust the starting point.

This is a nice feature and if you are cool with running your game through the GCHD all the time, can save a moment here and there that you might not otherwise have caught.

When you want to work with the video you have already collected, you use the Edit screen.

Your already-recorded videos are arranged based on the game title you entered when recording each video. There is a timeline view that has rudimentary razor and delete tools, and you can review the video as you please. There are also built-in exporting options in the lower-right. You can configure GCHD to use each of those services and it will appropriately compress the video for you and then upload the video as you need. You can see that it will also create local files for you optimized for your devices—or if you would rather move to something like Final Cut you can just dump a ProRes version and carry on.

What Makes the Game Capture HD Awesome?

The one-touch record and export are definitely the best parts of the package. Hooking up the GCHD is dead simple and using the software is even easier. It’s game recording at the push of a button, and you don’t have to know the slightest thing about video codecs, compression, or editing to get your footage shared to a bunch of services. In that way, if you are just looking to show people some games, and you don’t want to drop a serious amount of cash, it’s a great device. I never had a problem with it doing exactly what it advertised, and never had a hardware freeze or a software crash in all the time I tested it.

The video management is pretty good and keeps things organized and easy to find. File sizes and types are manageable, and you don’t need a high-performance computer, hard disk array, or data transport to use it. Having it run on USB 2 must not have been simple, but it works and means that a lot more people will be able to use it.

It will also record video from an iPad 2 or later, or an iPhone 4 or later, as you can see:

This is really neat, because I figured it wouldn’t be this simple. With the GCHD it’s just plug-and-go. If you are a software developer and you would like to give demos of iOS applications using video, this would be a great tool to have.

That said, there are a few hangups, depending on what you really want to do.

Where Does It Fall Short?

You shouldn’t buy the GCHD if any of the following are really important to you out of the box:

  • You want to stream your gameplay to instead of record it.
  • You want to record your voice while you play the game and have that be part of the video.
  • You want to play the game on your computer monitor or don’t have a TV handy.

Let’s talk a bit more about those.

The main problem that gets in the way of those is that the device itself is doing a lot of the encoding before the video even makes it to your computer. Because of this, there is a delay (depending on the bit rate you are using) that is a few seconds between what you are doing and what appears in the GCHD software. (This delay doesn’t affect the passthrough, which works flawlessly.)

The GCHD software doesn’t have any method available to mix in additional sound sources such as a microphone to your video. I hope this is something they are looking into adding in a future update because I know the lack of commentary ability will turn off a lot of people, like Minecraft players for example. If you wanted to you could record audio at the same time and then mix it in using an app like Premiere after the fact; you would just need to deal with the timecode difference—but it’s a lot of work to do all that.

Similarly, you can’t stream the video directly from the device. It doesn’t function unless the matching software is running on your computer, and it doesn’t appear as a capture device in any other applications. I did some gymnastics with my computer using CamTwist and recording the GCHD software window to pipe that into Flash Media Encoder, but that just made my MacBook sound like it was going to take off and the footage didn’t look all that awesome. I think it’s too much work for most mortals. As with the commentary thing above, I hope this is in mind at Elgato for a future update. It’s definitely on my wish list.

Other limitations that might give you pause but are far from stowstoppers:

  • You can’t record or passthrough at 1080p, but not much other than super-pro gear can. You’re limited to 720p or 1080i. And the GCHD can’t capture older SD sources.
  • The GCHD won’t passthrough Dolby Digital audio, or at least it didn’t in my testing. You’ll need to run an optical from a 360 direct to the receiver, and if you are trying with the PS3 you are pretty much out of luck. You’ll get Pro Logic II (matrixed surround) and that’s it.
  • If you leave it hooked up all the time, the passthrough won’t work unless you have the GCHD hooked up to your computer and the software running. It’s both or nothing.
  • You can’t record any HDCP-protected content via the HDMI connection. This includes PS3 games, which for some inexplicable reason, have their video output copy protected.

Some of the stuff that’s listed above can be alleviated with a software update or two (or so I would guess), but there are some things that are just limitations of how the device is made and intended to be used.

What Else Did I Test?

For purposes of making a wise decision, I also tested a Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle Pro. I was originally going to keep it, but after some additional testing I decided against it. Without getting into that device too much, my comparisons:

What it does better: is a capture device and so can stream directly: theoretically no audio lag: can be mixed with other audio sources; can capture from SD sources; more powerful overall.

What it does worse: definitely not plug-and-play; requires USB 3 or Thunderbolt (depending on model); much more CPU-intensive to use; doesn’t compress on the fly; had an audio lag I couldn’t resolve in practice; brought my computer to its knees; streaming was promising but ended up muddy and choppy in the end.

In the end, I kept the option that was simpler mostly because I can’t afford a new computer right now. I really want to stream gameplay, but I think I am going to have to look into building a PC specifically to do that at some point and use an internal card solution from AVerMedia.

Conclusions: Should You Buy One?

If you are looking for a low-cost ($180 on Amazon) and easy-to-configure way to capture your gameplay footage and post it to YouTube or share it on your blog, it’s a winner. It’s quick to set up, portable, simple to use and figure out, and gets the basics right. With some additions to the software in the future, it could be the only piece of hardware you would ever need for capturing footage from the current crop of consoles.

It works with lower-spec computers than many of the other options out there, is pretty much the best solution I have seen for the Mac, and can ever grab stuff like iOS footage without needing to goof around with settings and video formats.

It’s a winner.

If you have questions about my review or the GCHD, drop a comment below. Otherwise, watch 10 minutes of Pai and don’t forget to tip on your way out:

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut Soundtrack

I hope you are paying attention.

You do, if only for tracks like this:

(One of the few pieces of music from a game that has actually moved me to tears and still triggers an emotional response when I hear it.)

Another great set of work by Sam Hulick. I’ve enjoyed his work on the Mass Effect series and though I hope he gets the chance to do more there, am looking forward to what he does next.

Minecraft XBLA: Not Bad for a Rush Deal

Allistair Pinsof for Destructoid:

Even companies with net worth in the millions are guilty of turning in a rushed assignment from time to time. While Microsoft Studios seemed pretty confident getting behind a Xbox Live Arcade port of the indie PC hit Minecraft, at E3 last year, the publisher only signed the deal a week before the announcement. Even crazier, the graphic they made for the announcement was a rushed job made the night before.

“Even the people inside Microsoft, as they were looking at it, were thinking, ‘What is that Minecraft thing and why are we putting it on stage?’ Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios, told Destructoid.

A few million in sales to date.

Snagging good indies and radical ideas is one place where PlayStation Network has an edge on Xbox Live. They take on projects that are riskier and more experimental.

Based on this quote I’d say that the biggest challenge for the Xbox game library might be Microsoft itself.

Elgato Game Capture HD Test Run

I bought a Game Capture HD this week and the first thing I did with it was a quick one-fight run in VF5 Final Showdown:

My initial thoughts: great piece of hardware and super-simple to use for capturing. It’s not really usable as a source for anything multicam, which is a shame, but it looks like there’s nothing else on the market that really is, at least for the Mac (you always have to basically record the on-screen preview of the capture device). This is a shame as I was hoping to use it for some live streaming.

I’m hoping Elgato will release an update to the software that makes it usable for such an application. I asked their support team and haven’t heard back; if I can find something that makes streaming easier I might return this and go with that.

You can’t really mix any other audio sources here, either (say, if you wanted to do commentary while you were playing). It’s a shame they didn’t think of that as all you have to do is check out YouTube for footage of people doing that pretty much anywhere.

I’ll put some larger thoughts on it down later.

Shepard vs. Xzibit: The Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut

If you’ve read this blog over the past few months you no doubt ran headlong into my rather lengthy deconstruction of how Mass Effect 3 went off the rails story-wise in the last 30 minutes or so.

This week, BioWare released a 2 GB add-on for Mass Effect 3 that padded the ending of the game, adding a pretty significant amount of voice acting, cutscenes, and rearranged bits to the game. I ran through it myself and I certainly see what they did and how they filled in the gaps. There are indeed several questions I raised in my own review that have been answered by the updated ending, including:

  • Why the Normandy was getting out of Dodge at the end
  • How your team in the final mission in London ended up on the Normandy
  • How screwed (or not) the galaxy is after the events of the ending
  • A few other things here and there that were either poorly or simply not explained

Even with those, we’re still left with some other questions, and more importantly, something that’s been made significantly worse.

Let’s talk.

What BioWare Did Well

There was clearly a lot of effort put into this extension of the original ending. There is some pretty fantastic added voice acting that fits with the original tone and was (once again) expertly directed and acted. I think the VO studio at BioWare is the best in the business.

There is some additional dialogue (if my memory serves me correctly) during the conversation with the Illusive Man at the end that is well-placed and increases the desperation of the moment as well as providing some additional insight into TIM in his final moments. I still think TIM was a bit wasted in the end, but more is never a bad thing.

The new cutscenes, beth rendered and in-game, are as well-done as the rest, and there is an additional sense of closure after the Space Magic does its thing. Some added details and a few changes to the original cutscenes (like the shift in who appears when Shepard makes his run to the final decision) are well-placed and extremely thoughtful.

Sam Hulick outdid himself with the extensions on the music. “An End, Once and For All” remains one of the most directly tear-jerking and emotional pieces of music ever written for the medium and the added sequences don’t change that  bit even though they have to fill a lot more time.

I think some thanks are in order—regardless of what you think about what was changed or what we got—because if the tweets I have seen over the last few months are any indication, the Mass Effect team at BioWare poured serious amounts of overtime and love into this project. For that alone, and for the fact that they did anything at all, they deserve a pat on the back as I believe this situation is the first of its kind.

But now, let’s talk about the not-so-good of the Extended Cut.

Xzibit in Four Dimensions

After some distance from completing the game, I found that I really didn’t care too much about the actual endings because by that point they had already screwed up the narrative so much that it didn’t matter.

The real problem is the Catalyst.

Allow me to refresh your memory:

Remember that at the end of the game, after Shepard passes out at the Citadel control panel, he is carried up to the top of the citadel on the wings of angels using a magic elevator portion of the floor, where he meets the Catalyst, which was a ghostly apparition of the Child from the beginning of the game.

It wasn’t really clear in the original version who you were dealing with or what was going on, but it was presented as HERE’S THE REAL REASON PEOPLE ARE DYING, K and then after a very small amount of explanation you make the choice at the end.

Again, in my original critique, I said:

So a race of synthetics comes back every 50,000 years to kill a lot of organics so the organics won’t make synthetics that kill all the organics.

There’s a tiny bit of “yeah, OK, that kind of makes sense” in there, even though it’s a remarkably closed-minded and megalomaniacal viewpoint. At this point I want my Captain Sheridan Option to say “get the hell out of our galaxy”[…]

and later:

These choices are being handed to you by the very enemy that you are seeking to destroy. The Child says that he is in control of the Reapers. By this train of thought you should consider the child to be the most unreliable source of information possible. There is no narrative reason why you should trust a word the Child says. But that doesn’t appear to matter in this instance, as Shepard is just like “YEAH THAT’S COOL THANKS FOR THE INFO KID” as you trudge towards the ending of your choice.

I also hat-tipped the Indoctrination Theory in my post, and after the Extended Cut, I agree with Sophie Prell and think that BioWare missed an opportunity to utilize that idea of the ending and find the sweet spot.

So apparently the decision that was made was to add more exposition to the dialogues with the Child.

The problem with this is that they didn’t solve anything—they just made the narrative dissonance worse.

To the script! We get three new wheel options when responding to the Child at the end, just before the choices are revealed. They are, from top to bottom, Catalyst, Reapers, and Crucible. If you look at the script, there is a narrative flow to them if you go from top to bottom. So let’s do that.

Keep in mind our pal Xzibit up there. We’ll get back to him.

S: You said you’re the Catalyst, but… what are you?

C: A construct. A intelligence designed eons ago to solve a problem.

So we’re dealing with an AI of sorts. Which means the Catalyst is technically speaking a synthetic organism. OK.

C: I was created to bring balance, to be the catalyst for peace between organics and synthetics.

Hmmm… a synthetic life form was created to broker peace between organics and synthetics. Hope he’s not a hometown referee.

S: So you’re just an AI?

C: In as much as you are an animal. I embody the collective intelligence of all Reapers.

OK, so you are essentially the bad guys who have been trying to kill me for the last three games.

S: But you were created…

C: Correct.

S: By whom?

C: By ones who recognized that conflict would always arise between synthetics and organics.

So you mean some race who figured that their mistakes would be everybody’s mistakes. Closed-minded, and still doesn’t change the fact that I made peace happen without your help, but all right. Keep going.

C: I was first created to oversee the relations between synthetic and organic life… to establish a connection.

C: But our efforts always ended in conflict, so a new solution was required.

S: The Reapers?

C: Precisely.

Tell me more about these Reapers, young ghost boy.

S: Where did the Reapers come from? Did you create them?

C: My creators gave them form. I gave them function. They, in turn, give me purpose.

C: The Reapers are a synthetic representation of my creators.

Proving the Xzibit Logic as embodied above.

S: And what happened to your creators?

C: They became the first true Reaper. They did not approve, but it was the only solution.

So the creators of the Xzibit Logic were themselves the victims of their own, slightly different Xzibit Logic? It’s like the Xzibit Logic has somehow bent back in on itself and created like an Xzibit Logic Tesseract.

The thinking of the Xzibit race that created the Catalyst:

S: You said that before, but how do the Reapers solve anything?

C: Organics created synthetics to improve their own existence, but those improvements have limits.

C: To exceed those limits, synthetics must be allowed to evolve. They must, by definition, surpass their creators.

So this AI is far from impartial. It assumes that synthetics are always the more evolved form of life. Sounds like I should trust him with the fate of all things.

C: The result is conflict, destruction, chaos. It is inevitable.

C: Reapers harvest all life—organic and synthetic—preserving them before they are forever lost to this conflict.

At least now we know what will happen to the geth, though I seem to recall that at some point there was a statement that the Reapers would just destroy the geth, not harvest them.

S: We’re at war with the Reapers right now!

C: You may be in conflict with the Reapers, but they are not interested in war.

S: I find that hard to believe.

C: When fire burns, is it at war? Is it in conflict? Or is it simply doing what is what created to do?

C: We are no different.

C: We harvest your bodies, your knowledge, your creations. We preserve it to be reborn in the form of a new Reaper.

C: Like a cleansing fire, we restore balance.

C: New life, both organic and synthetic, can once again flourish.

So… you are going to take peace-loving civilizations, process them, turn them into paste, then put them into a really big synthetic body—ALL OF THIS AGAINST THEIR WILL—and make them kill others without any free will of their own until the end of time? Sounds like a fun time; bet you’re a hit at parties.

S: What do you know about the Crucible?

C: The device you refer to as the Crucible is little more than a power source.

C: However, in combination with the Citadel and the relays, it is capable of releasing tremendous amounts of energy throughout the galaxy.

C: It is crude, but effective and adaptive in its design.

S: Who designed it?

C: You would not know them, and there is not enough time to explain.

Translation: I need to hurry this conversation up before you have time to think about what I have been saying.

C: We first noted the concept for this device several cycles ago.

C: With each passing cycle, the design has no doubt evolved.

S: Why didn’t you stop it?

C: We believed the concept had been eradicated.

C: Clearly, organics are more resourceful than we realized.

Translation: UH OH we didn’t think you would get this far.

The last part about the Crucible isn’t nearly as interesting as it’s largely just “hey, this is the MacGuffin, just roll with it,” which I don’t have much of a problem with.

Unfortunately BioWare took the Child/Catalyst that made no sense and dropkicked you into the decision and turned him into Exposition Kid who does nothing but give you more reasons not to trust him! Before, it was just “I know all this and here’s what we’re about, it’s cool, just go along with the plan” and now it’s more “my creators were a bunch of idiots and I do nothing but follow my own twisted and self-righteous ideals, but, hey, it’s OK, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” (Read my previous post for more on why the Catalyst never made any sense in the first place.)

Narratively, if you think you can trust even a word the Catalyst says in the whole conversation, I would argue that you have a moral obligation to choose Destroy—even more than the last time. (Again, this is borne out IMO by the breath intake after the ending and also by the fact that it squares best with Indoctrination Theory.)

Unless you’re pure Renegade, in which case you should pick control and become Alpha Reaper, crushing all resistance beneath your iron… fist. Leg. Thing.