The Blackmagic Intensity Pro is a great value for its combination of analog & digital I/O, both SD & HD. Is this the last video capture card you'll ever need?
Blackmagic Design's Intensity Pro video capture card stands at an interesting video crossroads. First and foremost, it's an HDMI input/output card, but the card can also import and export practically any analog video.
Back in June 2007, we reviewed the original Intensity card . The Intensity Pro is extremely similar to the original; the easiest way to tell an Intensity and an Intensity Pro apart is that the Intensity Pro adds a 26-pin D-sub port connector that connects to a breakout cable. The breakout cable goes out to 11 (count em!) RCA jacks: stereo analog audio inputs and outputs, an AES/EBU digital audio output, and component video inputs and outputs that can also handle composite video and (with an adaptor) S-video. You might want bind the groups of connectors together to help you find them later. Either that, or you might consider investing in a head-worn light to wear when you're crawling behind your computer to connect a different video source to the Intensity Pro.
Installing the Intensity Pro was not difficult at all. We installed the PCI Express x1 card into an iBUYPOWER workstation running Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit. (Note: Blackmagic notes that you can also use this card with a Mac, but only Intel Macs with PCI Express slots... er, that'd be a Mac Pro.) When we fired up the system we found the 64-bit .msi installer for version 1.8 of the Intensity driver software on the included CD. Upon rebooting, a dialog popped up saying that the video capture card needed a firmware update. We let the update proceed, and rebooted again.
The installation added a program group to Windows including a disk speed test and Media Express, a view/capture utility. Under 1.8, the disk speed test didn't work, prompting us to check online for updated software. Lucky us, we found version 2.1 on Blackmagic's site and downloaded it. We had to uninstall the previous version and reboot before we could install version 2.1, but this time the installer had us update the card's firmware before rebooting. (We wonder what the firmware version of our card ultimately is at the moment... we haven't found a way to tell yet.) But version 2.1's disk speed test plays more nicely with Vista, reporting that our system could handle hundreds of frames per second when operating in standard-def, but significantly less in HD. If you're trying to justify some faster storage, this application could prove very useful.
For Mac Pro users with two HDMI-equipped camcorders, attaching one camcorder to each of two installed Intensity Pro cards allows them to be used together with Blackmagic On-Air, a live-switching application that even lets you key titles onto your projects.
We also have to give props to Blackmagic's technical writers for putting together a fairly concise, but excellent manual (presented as a PDF) that is jam-packed with great information, including a table of data rates used by popular video formats.
The HDMI capture and output capabilities of the Intensity Pro are identical to the capabilities of the original Intensity; therefore, they will not be covered in this review. Suffice it to say, it's a real treat to be able to see your work on a big HDMI monitor in real time, and there are huge advantages to capturing uncompressed from an HDMI-equipped camcorder (if you've got the disk speed and space). However, it is worth noting that the HDMI port that is the input and the HDMI port that is the output are not clearly marked on the slot cover - you have to remember that the output is the one closest to the D-sub breakout cable port connector. A piece of tape or a permanent marker could help dispel confusion if you find it necessary.
In connecting the D-sub breakout cable, our test computer's tool-less case gave us a scare, as the card shifted when we attached the cable. We recommend screwing the card into the case if you have a tool-less case, to minimize the possibility of experiencing the kind of scare that we did. Luckily, the card appears to be undamaged by that event. Phew...
We attached a test pattern generator to the Intensity Pro via a composite video connection. You can plug a composite video source into the Intensity Pro by hooking it to the green (Y) jack. You can plug an S-video source into the Intensity Pro via a "breakout cable" available from sources such as Hosa and Impact Acoustics by hooking the yellow plug to the green (Y) jack and the white plug to the blue (B-Y) jack. A breakout cable is different from a regular S-video-to-composite video adaptor, which simply combine the two signals sent on an S-video cable into a composite video signal. A breakout cable sends the signals sent over the S-video cable directly to standard RCA jacks without combining the signals, therefore preserving the video quality. But even from our composite source, we got very high-quality video and audio capture.
The card, at the time of this writing, is unfortunately not ready for Premiere CS4. An update of CS4 is pending that will allow Blackmagic to ship an updated driver that will add CS4 support. If you're an Adobe user, just do your captures with Media Express instead, and you'll be golden. It captures everything that is fed into it uncompressed, so there'll be no loss of quality. The hardest part is going into the Intensity control panel and choosing what video format you'll be capturing, which really isn't that hard at all - it's just a little tucked away, so you have to find it to activate it. The SD clips we captured ran at 20.5MB/sec, so you'll have a much better time if you have a lot of hard disk space.
The Intensity Pro is a great value for its combined mastery of analog and digital I/O, in both SD and HD. This could well be the last capture card you'll ever need.
Platform: PC and Mac
OS: Microsoft Windows XP Professional; Mac OS X 10.4 or higher
RAM: At least 2GB recommended for SD and HD (4GB for HD on Mac)
Slot: PCI Express x1
Connectors: HDMI In, HDMI Out, analog breakout cable port)
HDMI Audio I/O: 2 channels
Analog Video I/O: Composite/S-video (with adaptor)/component (NTSC/PAL)
Analog Audio I/O: Stereo, 24-bit
Digital Audio Out: AES/EBU
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 OS X 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)
- Extremely versatile
- Excellent picture quality
- HDMI in and out not clearly marked
- Breakout cable could use some organization
HDMI and analog SD/HD capture together at last in one card.
Charles Fulton is Videomaker's Technical Editor.
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