These days, gameplay footage with commentary is one of the most popular categories of streaming content on sites like YouTube, but it wasn't long ago that recording high-quality gameplay was a massive hassle even for Windows users. Finding a piece of recording hardware that was compatible with OS X was simply an exercise in frustration. Today, however, things have changed, and Hauppauge -- one of the leading hardware makers in the field -- gave me the opportunity to test drive two of its Mac-compatible products: the HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition Plus and the newly released HD PVR Rocket (pictured above).
The PVR 2 is a small box about the size of a Mac mini that can record HDMI, component, S-video and composite inputs via a zero-latency passthrough. The PVR connects to your Mac via USB and syncs with the HDPVRCapture software for OS X. The software offers a ton of options for encoding the video as it's being recorded to your Mac's hard drive, including variable bit rate and image controls.
Once you've finished recording your footage, you can upload it as-is or tweak it using iMovie. Your capabilities for editing huge files in iMovie will depend on the power of your computer itself, but I had no problem moving files of over 2 GB directly to iMovie in just a few seconds.
If you need to be able to tweak your video as you record it (rather than afterwards), the HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition Plus is the perfect tool for the task. However, if you'd rather just capture extremely high-quality video and manipulate it after the fact, you may be more interested in the HD PVR Rocket.
Unlike the PVR 2, the Rocket requires no computer connection to record. You simply plug your input into the device, plug the passthrough HDMI cable into your TV and power the device using any available USB source (if you're using a game console, they all come with free USB ports that work just fine). Plug a USB flash drive into the Rocket, press record and the tiny gadget will fill your storage device with footage.
The Rocket also has a built-in microphone jack for adding commentary to your footage as you play, which is particularly handy if you don't feel like adding your voice to the track in post-production. The device will stop recording when you press the recording button again or when your flash drive is full.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn't expecting much from the Rocket, as these types of standalone recording gadgets never seem to be able to live up to their full-fledged counterparts, but the Rocket definitely surprised me. The video above was recorded with the Rocket, and as you can see (be sure to bump the quality up to 1080p), the video is virtually flawless. It was recorded without issue and, aside from the tiny Rocket box blinking on my desk, you'd never have even known the gameplay was being recorded.
The two devices are priced nearly identically -- the HD PVR 2 GE Plus is US$179.00 and the Rocket is $169.00 -- so it really comes down to whether you prefer the litany of recording options on the PVR 2 or the portability and "it just works" quality of the Rocket. Personally, I'd favor the Rocket for simplicity alone, but to each their own.