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Blackmagic Design Intensity HDMI Capture Card Review

Blackmagic Design Intensity HDMI Capture Card Review

Intense Video, Small Size

Intense Video, Small Size

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is the newest signal standard and connector for High Definition Video. There's a lot to like about it: uncompressed digital HD video and audio travel down one easy cable connection, practically all new HD displays (well, any new HD display worth considering, anyhow) have HDMI support, and more and more camcorder manufacturers are including HDMI ports on their new HD models.

Blackmagic Design has seen this trend coming and released a video capture and display card with HDMI connectors, called Intensity. The card itself is in a deceptively small and simple package that belies the card's HD power. It plugs into a PC or Intel Mac with a PCI Express slot and has only two connectors, HDMI In and HDMI Out.

Bringing It In

So why would you want to capture video from your camcorder via HDMI, as opposed to your trusty FireWire signal? Would you get better video quality? Well, the answer here is yes and no. If you have a tape-based camcorder and are recording in DV or HDV to tape, you won't gain any advantage in picture quality when you capture your footage from the tape, since the images that are recorded on the tape have already been compressed, using either DV25 or MPEG-2. However, if you are in a studio situation and will be capturing video live from the camera to the computer using the Intensity card, you can get beautiful uncompressed HD video for a fraction of the cost of the professional solutions.

Uncompressed HD video will require some hefty hard drive support, however, with multiple drives striped in a fast RAID. This proposition has the potential for making uncompressed HD capture a fairly complicated and resource intensive procedure for day-to-day use. Blackmagic recognizes this and will also allow you to capture into a variety of other compressed HD formats, such as DVCPRO HD and Blackmagic's own Online JPEG codec. Capturing to these codecs drastically cuts down on the computing resources necessary for editing HD video. One clear advantage for small camcorders using the AVCHD format is the ability to take your video and transcode it to a format that is easier to edit, as few video editing packages currently support AVCHD video.

The process of getting video into your computer is basically as simple as plugging the HDMI cable into your camcorder and computer, then selecting the proper capture settings in your editing software. Intensity currently supports Adobe Premiere Pro on the PC and Final Cut Pro on the Mac. Importantly for tape-based capture, you have the ability to take the video from the HDMI port, while simultaneously capturing timecode from the computer's FireWire connector (the HDMI signal does not include timecode information). Once you're all connected, you would proceed to simply log and capture your clips using your editing software, just as if you weren't connected any differently to your computer.

Getting It Out

The output of a digital uncompressed HD signal from your software applications is where Intensity's real usefulness shines. Simply connect another HDMI cable between the Intensity card and an HD display, and monitor your work in all its beautiful High Definition glory.

Aside from supporting synchronized playback of your timeline from Premiere and Final Cut Pro, you can also view your current projects in After Effects, Photoshop, Combustion, Shake, Motion and many others. This is a tremendous boon for those working in video and motion graphics, as you can see your work exactly as it will appear on the HD screen, rather than rely on the small preview window on your computer monitor.

As far as laying back to DV tape, well... you're out of luck. The current generation of HD camcorders with HDMI ports support only HDMI output, limiting you to lay back your final project to tape either via FireWire or in the analog domain.

Conclusion

The Intensity is an extremely useful device for those producing HD content. Seeing the output of your project in final HD form on a monitor is invaluable. While it's not quite as practical for capturing as FireWire, the option to take in the highest-quality uncompressed video is there if you need it. At just $249, Intensity could become an essential part of your HD arsenal.

TECH SPECS

Platform: PC and Mac
OS: Microsoft Windows XP Professional Mac OSX 10.4 or higher
RAM: At least 2GB recommended for SD and HD (4GB for HD on Mac)
PCI Express Slot: x1 lane or greater PCIe
Connectors: HDMI In, HDMI Out
HDMI Audio in/Out: 2 channels
HD Format Support: 1080i50, 1080i59.94, 720p50, 720p59.94
SD Format Support: 625/25 PAL, 525/29.97 NTSC
HDMI Video Sampling: 4:2:2
HDMI Color Precision: 4:2:2
HDMI Color Space YUV: 4:2:2
HDMI Audio Sampling: 48kHz, 24-bit
Real-time Processing: Mac OSX only HD down conversion, HD cross conversion
Real-time Effects: Final Cut Pro internal effects, Adobe Premiere Pro 2 internal effects in DV, MJPEG and uncompressed edit modes (system dependent)

STRENGTHS

  • Easy install
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Some real time processing

WEAKNESSES

  • Demands high performance systems

SUMMARY

The inexpensive Intensity fills the gap for a much-needed device to interface your computer with HDTVs and camcorders touting the HDMI interface.

John Burkhart is Videomaker:'s Editor-in-Chief.

$250
Blackmagic Design
1551 McCarthy Blvd., Ste. 106
Milpitas, CA 95035

Tags:  June 2007
John
Burkhart
Fri, 06/01/2007 - 12:00am