The A/V Raider
Do you need to do some light video capturing, or have a pile of analog videotapes that you want to send directly to DVD? Do you abhor your computer’s existing sound capabilities? Creative’s USB Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Video Editor might be your answer for both needs. It’s not only a video capture and output device, but it also appeals to audiophiles with its DVD-Audio, Dolby Digital and DTS decoding capabilities.
Creative’s USB Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Video Editor is a slick silver and black box with the potential to look like a pincushion with its sheer number of ports. Not only does it act as a USB hub with ports on its front and rear panels, it’s also got composite and S-Video inputs and outputs, digital audio inputs and outputs, a headphone jack, a mic jack, front-panel volume and mic level controls, three 1/8″ and one set of RCA stereo line outputs, an RCA stereo line input and a FireWire port (for DV-family camcorders only–you can’t attach any other FireWire devices to it). (Whew!)
In your hands, the Audigy (sorry, Creative–if we mentioned the product’s full name over and over again, we’d run out of words! –Ed.) is surprisingly heavy for its size. One reason for that heft is because that little box also contains an honest THX-certified audio amplifier.
Due in large part to that audio amp, you will need to plug it into a power outlet on your power strip or UPS to make the Audigy work.
We attached the Audigy to a USB 2.0 port on a modest Celeron 1.8GHz machine with 256MB of RAM, Intel Extreme Graphics and an 80GB hard drive. Since it replaces your computer’s existing sound hardware, we plugged our Philips powered speakers into one of the Audigy’s 1/8″ stereo audio outputs.
We found Creative’s installer to be a little bit touchy, in that there were some major lags between steps. We took out the CD-ROM at one point thinking the software was finished installing, which apparently made the installer unhappy. (More on this later.)
The installer also dropped an AOL icon on our desktop without us asking for it, which didn’t make us particularly happy. It didn’t appear that any AOL software actually landed on our hard drive (it’s possible it was just a small “Insert the supplied AOL CD and sign on today’ announcement), but that icon had a date with our computer’s recycle bin as soon as it landed on the screen.
The first thing that we noticed was how much better our computer sounded once the computer rebooted. However, we did notice some audio stuttering at first, which caused us to realize that the on-board audio chip wasn’t disabled. We disabled the onboard sound and noticed that the sound was even better as soon as the machine came up for the second reboot.
Sadly, though, our test machine did not have a DVD-ROM drive, so we could not test out the additional DVD playback sound enhancement features provided by the Audigy.
We were itching to put some video through the Audigy, so we fired up our copy of Windows Movie Maker. Windows Movie Maker then dutifully reported that it couldn’t find a video capture device. Puzzled, we reached into the box and pulled out the SE versions of Ulead’s VideoStudio 8 and DVD MovieFactory 3 provided in the box. We couldn’t capture from them, either. As it turns out, the aforementioned fussiness of the driver installation program caused the video capture driver to not be installed, so we had to reinstall the software, with a little more patience this time.
Upon the next reboot, the drivers got loaded onto our system and we were able to capture from both VideoStudio 8 SE and Movie Maker. Capture was as simple as it gets–the driver includes a selection between S-Video, composite and DV inputs, and video can be captured as DV, MPEG-2 or MPEG-1. Incoming DV can either be transcoded to MPEG-1 or -2 or brought in as a full DV data stream if you’re using a USB 2.0 port. Your best results will come when you use a USB 2.0 port–using USB 1.1 will limit your combined audio+video bitrate to 5Mbps.
Analog video is processed with a LSI Logic DoMiNoFX video processor, which includes some motion compensation optimizations and other little tweaks to improve the quality of captured video. We found the video quality to be quite good, breathing some life into some old Hi8 footage we brought in via a classic Hi8 camcorder, the Canon ES4000.
If you want to capture in MPEG, bear in mind that its data structure makes it difficult to edit, and you will most likely experience your system bogging down substantially when editing footage that you capture as MPEG. This was our experience with our poor Celeron, as observed with our hard drive’s activity LED being steadily lit for several seconds at a time. Therefore, we would recommend MPEG capturing most strongly for those who want to take their footage directly to DVD without editing.
Living with the device for a while, you’ll notice how toasty-warm the top surface becomes. This is due in large part to the aforementioned THX-certified audio amp. But it sounds so great, we think it’s worth it, although there are more than a few cats we know of that we’d try to keep away from it. If your cat likes the warmth of your satellite receiver or cable box, we bet she’ll love this box just as much.
The unit’s remote control and support software with nice, big on-screen displays also lends it to be part of a den-based home entertainment computer system.
We’re happy to say that we had a positive experience with the Creative USB Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Video Editor and were very impressed with its versatility and high quality in everything it endeavors to do.
Operating System: Windows XP SP1
Minimum Processor: 1.3GHz
Bus Connection: USB 1.1/2.0 recommended
Compatible Video Format: NTSC
Analog Video In/Out: Composite, S-Video
Analog Audio In: Stereo RCA, 1/8″ mic
Digital Audio In: Optical
RF Input/TV Tuner: n
FireWire I/O: y
SDI I/O: n
Analog Audio Out: 3×1/8″, Stereo RCA
Digital Audio Out: Optical, Coaxial
Capture/Render Codecs In Hardware: DV, MPEG-1, MPEG-2
Real-Time Hardware Effects and Transitions: n
Real-Time DV Output: y
Real-Time Analog Output: y
Included Software: Ulead VideoStudio 8 SE, DVD MovieFactory 3 SE
- High-quality video captureM/li>
- Excellent sound
- Touchy, intrusive driver installation
A very good video capture solution, especially if you want better computer sound.
Charles Fulton is Videomaker‘s Associate Editor.
Creative Labs, Inc.
1901 McCarthy Blvd.
Milpitas, CA 95035