Digital World: Getting carded

The only way to go is to spend money on a video card with TV in/out, with a hardware encoder and on-board memory.

pinnacle pctv deluxe 88 (photo credit: )
pinnacle pctv deluxe 88
(photo credit: )
Hardware. Real man stuff. Ugh. Make me wanna grunt and play with wires and drills. But we're not here to play, we're here to work - and figuring out which connects to what on who is a major task. Fortunately you got me, the guy who's been through the connection wringer, working through the ins and outs of male to female audio and video plugs (Hey, this is a family column!). I started out this discussion last week by actually ranting on about what "not" to buy - specifically, a combo DVD recorder/VCR player, because of the difficulties of resolving copy protection issues, which can crop up even on non-copyrighted videos (like your home movies) because of discombobulated hardware. The facts in that situation are not in dispute, because the evidence is there for all to see; you will have a very frustrating time on many videos that you try to copy onto DVD because of the way your original capture device worked. This week's opinion on what not to buy, however, will definitely generate some raised eyebrows. After long hours of working with various input methods, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to go is to spend money ($200 and up) on a video card with TV in/out (s-video and/or RCA connections), with a hardware encoder (if possible) and on-board memory (required). How all of these features fit in with video capture will be explained directly, but take my word for it right now - anything less than this is just not worth the money. "Less than this" can constitute one of several options. There are video cards with TV in/out available in computer stores for less than $100 - even far less. They may have the connections, but they don't have the memory. Instead, they siphon off memory from the computer's motherboard for its own purposes. Obviously, this is not a good idea for an intensive activity like video capture, which tends to take up lots of memory in and of itself. Obviously, the more memory dedicated to the cause the better, and it would be self defeating to take away processing memory for use by the video card. There is another method of video capture that has become popular of late, mostly because of the low, low price associated with it. For about $60 or its shekel equivalent, you can get a USB capture device. Instead of buying and installing an expensive video card, you can just get one of these cheap devices and plug them into your computer's USB port. USB video capture devices come with a connection to keep everyone satisfied; the USB connection for the computer, as well as video/audio RCA cables and s-video connections In Windows XP, just plugging a USB device into a PC automatically gets it mounted on your desktop. You can then use a video capture program, such as the one included with the device, or the built in Windows Movie Maker, to capture the video when the device is attached on the other end via RCA cables. If you walk into a computer store these days and ask for a video capture solution, chances are the salesperson will try to sell you one of these. Perusing the Internet yields lots of positive, as well as negative, opinions on these devices. Personally, I have found them to be extremely lacking, useful only for capturing video that will eventually end up in a Web presentation or other lo-res purpose. The truth is that many of the cheap devices sold here are either USB 1.1 - barely suitable for lo-res 320 x 240 analog video capture - or not much more powerful USB 2.0 capture devices, which are capable of not much more. This is not to say that USB capture devices should not be considered. Something like the Pinnacle PCTV Deluxe ( will do a fine job - because they come equipped with on-board hardware encryptors, which, again, take a significant burden off the capture device itself. Only problem - devices like the PCTV Deluxe cost about $200, the same price as an analog video card, which are more versatile than a capture devices for the same money (i.e you won't believe how good computer games look), although you do save the effort of opening up your PC and installing the video card. Just remember: In video capture, if it looks cheap, smells cheap, and is cheap, it will do a cheap job. As far as analog video cards are concerned, a good card, like the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 350 (, will let you capture as much video as you want at any speed you want - with the job of encoding and decoding, depending on what direction the video is going, almost exclusively on the card itself, leaving your computer free for other work. Encoder/Decoder includes MPEG2 compatibility, making it perfect for DVD work as well - the whole reason we're changing our PC's video card in the first place. What's cool about cards like the PVR 350 is that you can also watch directly from your analog or digital TV (i.e. cable or satellite) connection - although if you try to record with many of these cards, you may come up against a copyright notice preventing you from recording. Hauppauge, ATI (in its All in Wonder series), Radeon and others make cards with some or other features as well, but the basics - s-video and RCA composite inputs, TV (at least analog) receive capability, on board memory (the more the merrier), and a hardware compressor/decompressor (especially for MPEG2 files) are what you should be looking for in a card. [email protected]