December 30, 2007

Those involved in any kind of video work will be able to relate to the grueling chore of long encoding sessions, especially if you’re not on an exceptionally quick Intel based machine. Video encoding takes time, hogs your machines resources, and is a long and tentative task.

I’m lucky enough to own a powerful dual-core MacBook Pro now which makes encoding videos for my show an easy process. However on my old Intel iMac this wasn’t the case. Videos took an age to encode into different formats, while the process left something to be desired. Enter the Elgato Turbo.264, saving your sanity, and your wallet from having to shell out for a quicker machine for faster video encodes.


The Turbo.264 can essentially be thought of as an extra processor which can be used externally on your Mac. It plugs into any free USB port and acts as a second (or third in the dual-core MacBook Pro’s case) processor solely for the purpose of video encoding. Once plugged in and installed it will show up when exporting in Quicktime, iMovie, iDVD, and the Final Cut suite. How much faster does this device process videos that than your current Mac, well, it all depends on what exactly your current Mac is.

The Elgato Turbo.264

If you’re running a newer and more powerful Intel based machine, results will not be as astonishing as when using the Turbo.264 on a G4 or a G5 based Mac. I’ve done a little testing a few different machines (Intel only).

When exporting a 2 minute, 19 second long MP4 clip from Quicktime to the Apple TV format without the device installed, I received these encoding results:

- Mac Pro 2 x 2.66Ghz - 58 seconds.
- MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz - 61 seconds.
- iMac Core Duo 1.83Ghz - 74 seconds.

However when the device was plugged in and enabled, I was presented with these more than acceptable results:

- Mac Pro 2 x 2.66Ghz - 53 seconds.
- MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz - 59 seconds.
- iMac Core Duo 1.83Ghz - 67 seconds

Michael Mistretta asked if the Turbo took the load off of the MBP’s processors while encoding. In answer, yes. The second advantage of the Turbo is not only faster encoding speeds, but the ability to free up your main CPU. This made the MacBook Pro run quicker, and cooler than it would have when not using the device.

Overall I’ve been very impressed with the Elgato Turbo.264. Will I miss it? Not terribly, because I feel my MacBook Pro is quick enough to export video in able time, but if I was stuck with any other slower Mac, I believe I’d miss the device a considerable amount more. My advice, if you do any video related work and don’t have a state of the art Intel Mac in your office, you couldn’t invest $100 in any better way.

The Mac Gap
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