PVR your ticket to gaming exhibitionism on web

Blog PhotoI've long been curious about the possibilities of capturing video from games, for several reasons: mostly in order to capture my own screenshots and (try to) put together watchable reviews (as opposed to readable ones.)

So when a public relations firm offered me the chance to test out the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition, I leaped at the opportunity.

Don't think of me as being too selfish though. I agreed to review the device because I think you might be interested in it, too. Want to put a permanent record of your gaming dominance on YouTube?  Think "voyeurs" should be watching as you play, via Twitch or Ustream? This type of personal video recorder is what you need.

Well, in addition to a decent PC or Mac. This device MUST be hooked up to a computer to function as a recorder. Without such a connection, it's just a well-built hunk of metal and plastic. It'll pass through your consoles' video and audio signals, but nothing more.

But don't think of that as a negative. Pretty much all PVRs I can find lack any sort of internal storage. So this is an overall caveat: If you want to make use of a PVR, make sure your computer is in relatively close proximity to your gaming consoles.

The Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition comes with a 9-foot-long USB cord to connect to your PC, so your devices don't need to be right on top of each other, but … well, I think you get the picture.

The PVR is lightweight and fairly small — similar in scale to a Nintendo Wii. And it straddles the middle ground of industrial design: Functional and solid, without the toy-like feel that characterizes many inexpensive electronics or the high-end gloss of display pieces.

Blog PhotoAside from the ports in the back, it has two distinguishing and noteworthy features: a rubbery start-and-stop "record" button on the top left corner; and an easily visible indicator light, arranged as a band that bisects the device horizontally.

The button's presence is self-explanatory. I find the design of the band of light, however, to be a thing of beauty, because after a moment of orientation, it leaves no doubt in the user's mind as to what is going on with the PVR. (If it's blinking baby blue, it needs assistance — a status that is usually quickly fixed by connecting it to a computer. A solid comforting band of green means it's recording. Harsh red means an error has occurred.)

Of course, the ports in the back are pretty important too. It has an HDMI In, an HDMI Out, an A/V IN, a USB port, and the power input.

Blog PhotoAny non-HDCP-encrypted HMDI source can connect to the HDMI In, such as an Xbox 360 or Wii U. (In the case of the Wii U, the recorder will only see the image being sent to your TV; it cannot access the data being streamed to the Wii U pad controller. At least, not in any form that I've been able to figure out.)

Unfortunately, the PlayStation 3 uses HDCP encryption, so it cannot be connected with an HDMI cable. That's where the A/V In comes into play; the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 comes with both an A/V component adapter that plugs into that port (with stereo audio inputs), and a PS3 component A/V cable.

It's still high-definition, though not as good a signal as HDMI would provide, but you really aren't going to get any better because of the encryption.

Personally, I find the included A/V component adapter to be a nice inclusion, because original models of the Xbox 360 completely lack HDMI outputs. Yet they can connect with this PVR easily, and the signal will be output on HDMI.

It's also possible to connect to the PVR's A/V In with composite video or S-Video, but you'll have to buy a separate adapter cable (about $12). You'll want to do that if you intend on hooking up and recording off of older consoles, such as the original NES or a SEGA Genesis.

Note: Because the only output is HDMI also, your TV must have an HDMI port to connect to.

Video captured by the PVR is encoded with the H.264 standard. And because the encoding is handled inside the PVR, it doesn't bog down your computer. Plus, the signal is passed through to your TV or monitor with no discernible delay.

Another good thing about the H.264 encoding: It's a common, useful standard. It's what's used for many Blu-ray discs, as well as streaming on YouTube, Vimeo and other websites. It's easily handled by most video-editing software I've found. And it means your video files will be saved at a manageable size.

The PVR can record at data rates from 1 to 13.5 mbits a second, as either AVCHD (.TS and .M2TS) or MP4 files — pretty much a basic format for most video players.

And the resolution it'll handle is pretty high: You can set it for 60 frames per second for most resolutions up to 1080i, or 30 fps for 1080p. That may sound depressing to some videophiles, but the truth is that most console games stick with 30 fps anyway.

Blog PhotoTwo pieces of software are bundled with the device:

— ArcSoft ShowBiz is the software you use for capturing your video, editing it and uploading it to YouTube. It'll get the job done and it's fairly user-friendly, but anyone who is really into the editing aspect will definitely want to invest in something a little more hardcore.

— The Hauppauge Personal Logo application allows users to "burn" their own watermarks into recordings. You know, if you don't want someone claiming your work is theirs.

And one piece of software isn't included, but is free for download off Hauppauge's website: StreamEez, a program you'll want if you want to send your video to Ustream or Twitch.

Overall, while testing the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition, I've found it to be a quality product. And at $149.99, it's not a budget-breaker.

But I found myself asking, why get this one? There are other PVR options out there, after all. So I did some checking, and I'm even more certain now that this one is a decent purchase.

Most of the others out there either don't do HDMI yet or don't handle anything other than HDMI, so this one wins on flexibility. There are PVR "cards" that are installed directly into PCs, but those can bog down a weak system by tying up resources during encoding.

And hopefully you'll soon see me posting video reviews and my own screenshots.

Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition
www.hauppauge.com
$169.99 from Hauppauge; $149.99 on Amazon and other websites.

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