Elgato Game Capture HD delivers easy HDMI recording to OS X

Talk about off-label use: I own neither an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3. These are the normal devices associated with Elgato's Game Capture HD box. Retailing for US$200, the box lets you hook up an HDMI video source to record your interactions with your favorite gaming system. For me, I wanted to see how well it worked with Apple TV and iPad.

With Game Capture HD, you can plug in a second-generation-or-later Apple TV unit and, boom, you can watch and record anything you'd normally view on a TV. This is, roughly speaking, a billion times easier than earlier solutions we wrote about on the blog.

Plus, the video quality is astonishing: really crisp and clear. You can also connect an iPad up directly, using the digital AV adapter with HDMI or mirror an iPhone 4S through Apple TV for the same effect.

There is, however, lag. Like connections made through Elgato's flagship product EyeTV, you'll find that the video you're watching is a second or two behind the real world. That's because this product's focus is on recording action, not on mirroring it for direct interaction.

If you need that direct mirroring, use the unit's HDMI output port, to play through to a TV rather than focusing attention on the software display. The unit runs off USB power, limiting the number of cables you have to deal with.

What you're buying into is a good set of tools including an editing suite, levels controls, integrated social sharing and more. Basically, Elgato has streamlined this product into everything you need to show off battles, walk-throughs, and so forth.

As a parent of children who endlessly record and share their game progress, I think Elgato has hit the mark in terms of their feature set and interface. The application focuses strictly on capture/edit/share and its interface is much cleaner and more modern than their better known EyeTV tuner system/software.

You might ask questions: why does an OS X user need this when Reflection provides direct video mirroring and recording already for far less money with no lags and why are you hooking up Apple TV or the iOS device to your computer, why not just watch the same stuff directly on OS X or the device?

As a tech writer, my ability to capture Apple TV screens -- not just mirrored iOS -- is, in itself, valuable. That's something other solutions do not provide. Plus, it's nice to be able to record and edit in a single app.

Also, the HDMI source is not limited to game boxes and iOS/Apple TV. The mid-2011 Mac mini introduced HDMI output. You could record the mini's desktop without putting extra strain on the native processor.

If you're thinking that Game Capture HD might offer a workaround for re-recording HDCP content, think again. It cannot process any HDMI signal that uses HDCP protection.

Elgato Game Capture HD delivers easy HDMI recording to OS X

The box itself felt solidly built, and had a nice rounded profile on its sides, compared to the relatively blocky design of earlier Elgato units I have worked with. Mind you, those other boxes are fine. They are nice blocks, with a fairly standard Apple look. It's that Elgato stepped up the look on this unit to appeal to gamers. It's shiny, it's black, it's a little slicker.

Elgato Game Capture HD delivers easy HDMI recording to OS X

Elgato promises to ship an EyeTV update this June to support their new box. Until then, the Game Capture HD software they provide for the unit is the only way to view and record incoming signals. Unfortunately, I found this software was fairly unstable. That's not so surprising for a brand new app, but was a bit of a let-down compared to the relative polish of the design.

Update: According to a spokesperson, Elgato has addressed the issues that caused my spinning beachball of doom hangs. The fixes have been pushed under a "Check for Updates" release. Elgato also sent me a new build of EyeTV that supports the Game Capture HD directly. This will be released to the public shortly.