Review: Turbo.264

Elgato Turbo H.264

It might seem at first, humble reader, from this delightful blog that I am a “thought leader” and “opinion former” of the highest order. In actual fact, I am very easily led.

Case in point: the Elgato turbo.264. I read reviews of it in MacFormat and Macworld and thought to myself “I need one of those!”

The reason for this is simple: Bastard, my PVR, takes forever to export stuff into a format that my iPod or Apple TV can cope with. I record The F-Word, it lasts an hour, and Bastard takes two or three hours to export it at a reasonable video quality. I don’t especially want to be leaving my Mac on all night – not very environmentally friendly is it? – so anything that speeds the process up and reduces electricity consumption has to be good.

The Turbo.264 is what I need, apparently. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

The Turbo. 264 simply plugs into your USB 2.0 port to work. Oh, and you need to install an app on your Mac (drag and drop from a CD so it’s very simple). But that’s not hard

Once installed, Bastard my EyeTV-based PVR automatically recognises it and uses it for exporting video into iPod and Apple TV formats.

Not only is this faster (it’s more or less real-time, so an hour-long programme takes about an hour to convert), it also frees up your Mac’s CPU for other things instead of video conversion, like web surfing or responding to keyboard commands. This means that when it’s getting all glacial normally, post-turbo H.264 installation, your Mac is acting as though nothing’s happening. Which has got to be good.

The other good thing is that instead of the MPEG4 format used by other programs, it uses the sequel to MPEG4 – H.264 – as its video format, which means that ever so snug Apple TV isn’t quite so snug since H.264 files are about half the size at the same video quality as MPEG4 files.

It comes with a rather nice program for converting other videos to H.264 format as well.

Turbo.264 app

It’s shiny and easy to use, I’ll say that much.

Trouble is, it’s still not as fast as Visual Hub, which can produce content in H.264 format just a little bit faster and produce MPEG4 files in about a third of the time. The Apple TV setting on Visual Hub still produces a mighty fine piece of content that will still work on an iPod, whereas the Apple TV setting in the Turbo.264 app will only work with the Apple TV.

The result is that if I’m not in a rush and I know for sure where I’ll be watching the programme, I’ll use the Turbo.264. If I want to use my Mac while I’m encoding, I’ll use the Turbo.264. If I recorded the video using Bastard, I’ll use the Turbo.264 whether I want to or not..

But if I’m in a rush or I’m not sure where I’m going to watch the resulting video, I’ll still use Visual Hub to produce a high-quality MPEG4.

The Turbo.264 costs £70 and how much it will suit you depends on what your viewing habits are like – or whether you have a Mac or not. Certainly, if you have an older, slower Mac, the Turbo.264 is a much better investment since it’ll shave hours off your encoding time.

But it’s not quite a must-have if you don’t have an EyeTV-based recording device, I reckon. I’ll let you know if I change my mind.