The usage is clear: you have a stack of old VHS tapes and you'd like to get the content they hold in a more convenient, digital form for viewing on an iPod or burning to DVD. Elgato's meant-for-Mac Video Capture comes late to the party - people have been digitising VHS tapes for ages, either using a TV tuner or a standalone …
It's a bit pricey considering it doesn't do hardware encoding (I'm sure they could have got an MPEG4 encoder chip cheap enough).
I've seen a similar thing (well it actually looks pretty identical just a different colour) for about £20 online, I don't think it's Mac compatible though. Makes you wonder how much they're making on these things.
Personally if it was me I'd just get a DVD recorder and use that to transfer the videos to DVD (you can pick up a reasonable DVD recorder to plug into the TV for about £50 now, possibly even cheaper). Then if you want to watch the movies on the iPod then just transcode them.
Why only Very Horrid System?
Surely it doesn't matter to the unit where the programme comes from as long as it's PAL. It doesn't have to be as bad as VHS - it could be Betamax, V2000, S-VHS, Betacam, other camcorder formats or whatever.
The disappointing thing is that, although it can top and tail recordings after a fashion. I take it that you can't cut unwanted material out of the middle - specifically commercial breaks. Can you pause the recording? Can you record separate segments and stitch them together? I fear not.
Miglia capture box works well
I like Elgato stuff, but this one looks like a bit of a turkey. They are obviously saving money by using your CPU to do the video encoding in real time, but this is always going to be hit-and-miss unless you've got some serious processing power.
I had much better results with an external SCART-to-Firewire box made by Miglia. It was a little bit more expensive (about £120 I think), but it encodes to DV format in hardware, in real time, and is powered by the Firewire link.
The advantage is that iMovie (or any other linear editing suite) can understand DV format directly, so you don't really need any other software on a Mac. The disadvantage is that DV, being based on MJPEG, creates much bigger files than MPEG4 or H.264. Of course, that's not really a problem because you can easily convert to those formats, or others like MPEG2 (for DVD) at a later stage. And then it doesn't matter about CPU power because you don't care if it's real time or not.
As the review said, not really worth it for old movies, but I had a load of VHS camcorder footage of my kids when they were small. For that, it was ideal.
Does it matter that it doesn't save in the 576 line format? VHS only had 240 lines anyway.
Re: 240 lines
In the broadcast world, "lines" of resolution is not the same thing as scanlines. It's giving you an indication of "horizontal" / per-scan-line / columns of picture detail. Moreover, since the Elgato device has an S-Video port on it, presumably they're expecting some users to play back SVHS cassettes. More information on resolution and VHS / SVHS can be found on this NTSC-centric Wikipedia article:
Most VHS and SVHS decks record and play back all 625 scan lines of broadcast PAL (of which roughly 576 are intended to be visible, apart from anything lost to overscan). They vary in the amount of detail captured on each of those lines, though. Nonetheless even mediocre VHS is usually good enough to reliably record and play back analogue wide screen signalling and decent SVHS can sometimes record and playback teletext - interesting if you're trying to capture page 888 subtitles.
The NTSC 640x480 resolution of the Elgato device is poor (if depressingly common for "cheap" video capture units) and makes it look rather like a kind of lazy afterthought import with PAL bolted on, throwing away real scan lines which even VHS does record. There isn't much detail to start with so throwing away entire lines of it is just silly - the less you have to start with, the more important it becomes to retain as much of it as possible. No mention of interlaced recording is made and I imagine it does its own deinterlacing job without asking.
If you want to burn a DVD from your 640x480 25 FPS new digital movie, you're going to have it scaled back up to 576 visible lines again, transcode it to MPEG 2 *and* you've lost interlace information; the net result will most likely be quite rough. If Elgato are going to keep the hardware cheap by omitting a dedicated encoder chip, the least they could've done would be to offer an "advanced" settings window which presents the standard QuickTime encoder settings, allowing the user to choose their preferred CODEC (e.g. DV, AIC or ProRes for a near-lossless master, or MPEG 2 for straight-to-DVD use).
Albeit quite a bit more expensive is the BlackMagic H.264 converter:
That said, an analog video to DV converter like the Canopus ADVC-110 gives you more flexibility to edit out stuff. You'd have to let it run overnight to compress down to H.264, but that is seldom the limiting factor in converting old videos.
Just use a miniDV camcorder
A lot of miniDV camcorders handle FireWire passthrough, where you can plug in an analog source, have the camera on but not recording and it will pipe the signal into iMovie as DV. I compared this using an old Canon Elura and ElGato's EyeTV 250 which does on board encoding into MPEG 2. Using the camcorder provided far better final picture quality then the EyeTV 250.
Old old technology
This has been around for years! Why would you bother to convert your VHS tapes now if you haven't bothered to for the last 10 years?? You can use a £20 TV card to do an uncompressed capture and easily convert to MPEG4. What a pointless product and one that is at least 5 years out of date!
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