Review: Blackmagic Design Video Recorder with H.264 Encoding
First things first: for those of us with certain video devices that output component video, Blackmagic Design's Video Recorder ($149) for Mac users can be a godsend. It's a tiny USB dongle with five female RCA-style inputs permanently wired in, two for audio, and either one or three for video. Connect a standard yellow composite video plug to the green port to record from most video sources, or hook up the red, green, and blue video connectors to component video sources. Support for the fading S-Video format is also possible via an optional adapter. A USB extension cable is included in the package.
Recording from all of these sources is handled through a CD with included software, developed by Blackmagic, which transforms your output into iTunes-ready H.264 files. The software is cleanly laid out, fairly easy to use, and can run in the background while you’re doing other things. It supports 720x480 resolution—enough for DVD transfers—and brightness, color, and contrast adjustments, as well as stereo audio input. You can set it for specific Apple devices, such as iPods, iPhones, or Apple TV, select varying bitrates, do timed recordings, minute- or Megabyte-chunked recordings, and export directly into iTunes.
To be clear, one of Video Recorder’s cool features is its ability to make backups of whatever video content you may have on a 480i or lower-resolution analog video source. Connect most camcorders, iPods or iPhones, for instance, and you can create a duplicate of whatever they’re playing back. As soon as the recording has finished, the H.264 file is sitting there ready for you to play on an iPod or iPhone without additional transcoding.
The software does have some issues, however. Rather than offering its own adjustments for aspect ratios, it relies on the video source to feed it a 4:3 picture, and lets you use cropping bars to trim off whatever part of the image—letterboxes—you don’t want. In the case of an Apple TV outputting a video to the Video Recorder, the aspect ratio was off and apparently uncorrectable, so the video was stretched to incorrect proportions. On a related note, when the Apple TV attempted to output to the device in any resolution save for 480i, the Video Recorder couldn’t recognize its video properly; even 480p signals didn’t work. Consequently, we couldn’t get the now 480p-capable iPhone 3GS to put out a compatible video signal, and high-definition-only devices will be non-starters given the 480i cap. While we’re hoping that this is something that can be resolved in a software update, none has yet been released by Blackmagic Design.
For the time being, the Video Recorder offers a partial solution to the needs of Mac and iTunes users with component video outputting devices, as well as users with composite or S-Video devices. With a few tweaks to its resolution and aspect ratio functionality, it could be more worthy of its $149 asking price, but in its current form, it’s a handy if imperfect tool for users of certain types of video creators to have in their arsenals.