Among the random advice I give developers is to attend as many conventions as you possibly can because you never know who you're going to meet, and here is a phenomenal example of that: At events in San Francisco we typically hold a party at Bin 55, the bar in the lobby of the Marriott. We've always had it as a totally open party that anyone who has even a vaguely industry-relevant business card can come. I was handing out the bracelets for the free booze, shaking hands, and collecting cards when the guys from Elgato introduced themselves.

I've know about Elgato for quite a while, as they make a few video capture and TV tuner products that have been on my purchasing radar in the past. But, backing things up further, dealing with iOS gameplay video has been a massive hassle for us since, well, forever. I'd consider the Grand Theft Auto III gameplay video my current iOS cinematic magnum opus:

Setting up to shoot this video took nearly an hour of tweaking lighting to fight glare, camera settings to get the white balance and color reproduction as accurate as possible, and a ridiculous gameplay posture that had me basically hyperextending my arms to get the full iPad in frame. After that, I've got to import the footage into iMovie, which takes about 2 minutes for every 1 minute of video, then there's the whole process of encoding, exporting, and all that jazz. This video still isn't that great, despite the elaborate setup and years of experience in shooting the screens of iOS devices.

When the Elgato guys who stumbled across our party started telling me about the Game Capture HD, I admit, it sounded too good to be true. The original pitch involved something like "You just plug your iPad or iPhone into it, plug the USB cable into your computer, and hit record." Naturally, I was skeptical, as shooting iOS gameplay video is practically a ritual of ridiculousness, surely it can't be distilled to this level of simplicity.

The next day we met up and got our hands on a demo unit, and I'm not sure whether or not it's hyperbole to say that my life was forever changed. Currently, I'm leaning towards not.

The Game Capture HD is a slick looking glossy black box that's slightly larger than a deck of cards. On the front, there's a port for HDMI in, as well as an A/V in which works with a dongle of sorts for component video input. On the back, there's a USB port and an additional HDMI port to pass the video through to a display device like your TV, a projector, or whatever else.

Recording video off the iPad and iPhone is as simple as plugging in the Apple Digital AV adapter, plugging in the one included HDMI cable to the Game Capture HD unit, then finally connecting the Game Capture HD to your computer via the included USB cable. From there, you download the Game Capture HD software (which is available for the Mac and PC), hit record, and I'm not at all joking when I say that is it.

Here's the first video I captured, using the above setup and an iPhone 4S:

…And a second video using my 3rd generation iPad, trying a few different games in different screen orientations:

Where things go from incredibly cool to off-the-charts-amazing is when you look at the actual video output. The Game Capture HD encodes to 720p (or 1080p) h.264 .m4v videos on the fly, and there's an options screen where you can tweak quality and resolution. These videos are immediately ready to roll to upload to YouTube, dump into iMovie, or really, whatever else you want to do.

Better yet, this setup is so portable that in the future we'll be able to just capture direct gameplay footage without needing to use camcorders and dealing with screen glare at conventions. The sole down-side of the whole setup is some unsightly black bars, but I think this might be more of an issue with the actual video output format of the iPhone and/or iPad, as it looks similar when I plug it into my TV.

Sure, video capture is nothing new, especially if you've got a full-blown desktop PC that you can just toss an actual capture card into… But, all of us here have Mac laptops, and prior to the Game Capture HD, a good solution for snagging iPad and iPhone video was basically non-existent. If you're in a similar situation, and are either an iOS developer looking to produce your own gameplay videos or just an iOS gamer that wants to post brag clips-

You need a Game Capture HD, yesterday. What used to take me hours now takes me minutes. I could just cry tears of sheer joy. Thank you, Elgato.

  • wim

    Awesome

  • chamuscao

    Well, Display Recorder (yes, the same Cydia application) is available in the AppStore too.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Display Recorded has never really worked that well for me, and takes quite a bit of fiddling around. Also, it suffers quite a bit from frame rate drops.

    • LeeDot

       I ran into the same issue of it needing a lot of fiddling, frame rate drops, and the version I was using didn't support sound output at the time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ian.hawley.96 Ian Hawley

      This will not give anything like approaching the quality you will get with the Elgato

  • http://twitter.com/BeRad_Ent Be-Rad

    Any idea if the captured frame rate will be affected if you have a fairly weak macbook?

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Probably, but that's always the case with any kind of video capture as there's a lot of data to be dealt with and tons of bottlenecks between raw CPU to disk i/o.

      • http://twitter.com/BeRad_Ent Be-Rad

        Yeah, time to upgrade, haha.
        Great to know about this though, will be a very useful tool.

  • Kafumanto

    Nice! Have you ever tried Intensity Shuttle (by BlackMagic Design)? It should be able to record uncompressed HD videos. A comparison would be very interesting.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      No, haven't looked into them much as they seem cost prohibitive and honestly I like that the Game Capture HD video -is- compressed. This goes a long way to streamline my whole workflow, as with the Shuttle I'd still need to do the whole import and encode process. When you consider your typical YouTube viewer is probably just watching the 360p standard resolution version of your video, working with uncompressed video for any sort of quality increase seems excessive.

      • Kafumanto

        Usually, as developers, we have to heavily post-process the recorded video (cuts, overlays, effects, ...), and an uncompressed stream helps. But you are right: your workflow is quite different, having uncompressed data would no help. Tx

      • http://www.danieltsou.com Daniel

        Considering that the Game Capture HD is compressing the video, are you able to use the Game Capture HD as a video device on other applications apart from the Elgato app? For example, will you be able to stream the video it is capturing over Skype or Ustream?

      • http://twitter.com/irongeek_adc Adrian Crenshaw ♞

         I got one, and it seems on a Windows PC only the ElGato app can see it, not other tools that use capture sources. Not sure on a Mac.

  • http://playfo.com/ Playfo team

    Looks promising!

  • http://twitter.com/ramadan Amr Ramadan

    So, that black bars you mention, you mean just outside the full-frame, right? Nothing is cut off from the original picture!?

    Is it possible to get a pixel-for-pixel capture!? Like, get a 1024x768 off the iPad, even if it's padded with black, or it upscales it to fill 720p!?

    And how is the compression? I see it doesn't have an uncompressed output. Is the highest-bitrate H264 it outputs of a considerably high quality or still suffers from compression artefacts!?

    Would be nice if you can post a downloadable sample at the highest quality. :-)

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I pinged Elgato to come and answer the technical questions, but here's some raw video files that it spits out, with the quality slider set to maximum:

      Zen Bound 2: http://tapodcast.s3.amazonaws.com/zen_bound_2.m4v (13.1MB)
      Tweetbot: http://tapodcast.s3.amazonaws.com/tweetbot.m4v (4.2MB)

      The software has all sorts of settings that allude to 1080p, but I cannot for the life of me get the iPad (or my iPhone) to send 1080p video to it. I'm not sure if this is a current software limitation, something I'm doing wrong, or what. So, hopefully the Elgato dudes can answer that too. :)

      • http://twitter.com/elgatogaming Elgato Gaming

        Yes, you do get a pixel-for-pixel perfect capture! We record everything that the iPhone or iPad outputs through the dock connector, so nothing is cut off or upscaled.

        For this reason, the capture includes the black bars, as well, which - as Eli pointed out - also appear on any TV, since the iPad or iPhone transmits these as well to get a standard HD aspect ration. Due to the different resolutions (iPad/iPhone) and the fact that some games do offer full 720p output via HDMI, we don't automatically crop those black bars.

        Also, Game Capture HD supports video inputs up to 1080i - since the iPad or iPhone cannot output 1080i, 720p is the best choice for those devices.

        Hope this helps, let me know if you have other questions!

      • http://twitter.com/ramadan Amr Ramadan

        Sounds good. Bought one. :-)

      • http://twitter.com/DaleShephard Dale Shephard

        Elgato - I have just raised a ticket with you over the phone as my iPhone was coming up as a black screen in the capture software. Ive just downloaded the software on my PC to test, and its coming up as 'Content Protected by HDCP'. Could this be an app i installed??

  • Muhammad Hanafi Abd Latif

    So, is this the one that Sanuku has been using to record his gameplay trailer?

  • Ben Wetzel

    What about using AirPlay?  Maybe you could mirror to the Apple TV and record that signal?  I'm sure a few frames might get dropped but it seems like that would be preferable to the old setup.

    • Gatada

      Seems to me this is what http://ReflectionApp.com does very easily? Not tried it myself, my devices are too old :-€

      Surprised nobody has mentioned it yet. Have TouchArcade tried and dismissed it as a solution?

  • jeffmd

    You are a video editor and the whole idea of aspect ratios has never come up? The black bars is because the unit is capturing HD resolution while the ipad (1,2, and 3) run at a 4:3 aspect ratio. HD is strictly 16:9. 

  • Tranceaholic

    How much?

  • http://www.facebook.com/tobi.giek Tobi Giek

    So, where is the problem?! Why buying a hardware solution? I tested the new software solution called "Reflection" and made a video for you! Best solution in my opion to capture screen! http://youtu.be/BfTrrKzXSiw

  • lions3

    I'll be passing this knowledge around the office tomorrow. I know one team that wanted something like this a while ago.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tobi.giek Tobi Giek
  • http://rawrb.com/ Rawrb

    I'm not so much interested in recording the game as I am playing it through my MB Pro.

    It'd be great if I could just plug my PS3 into this device and just PLAY the game. Would the software allow me to just do that or do I HAVE to record?

    • Sojourn

      I was wondering the same thing! I've been wanting to play my GameCube through a modern monitor (without lag) for years . . .

  • http://twitter.com/NahMeenStudios Nah-Meen Studios

    One thing that might be lost is how a player interacts with the device.. Probably the only thing you lose. Pretty cool!

  • http://twitter.com/turbogamer_me turbogamer

    This is a bit off-topic, but does this device capture PS3 at 720p, seeing as it has some type of secondary, non-HDMI cord is required for PS3 recording?

    I currently use a Hauppauge HD PVR for recording PS3 footage, and I have been looking for a reliable way to record iPhone footage as well (without jailbreaking my phone), so if this captures at the resolution that I am looking for, this would be the one device that I need.

    My other question was...does this work with all games, or does it only support certain games that would also mirror to the TV?  I am not terribly familiar with how the iPhone and iPad mirror signal to the TV via HDMI.

    • http://twitter.com/elgatogaming Elgato Gaming

      Yes, PS3 gameplay can be captured up to 1080i!

      The mirroring function in iOS is device specific, so on any recent device (iPhone 4S, iPad 2, the new iPad), enabling it will allow you to capture any game/app.

      • http://twitter.com/turbogamer_me turbogamer

        Thanks for the info...I will be buying one in the very near future.

  • Matt McCollum

    I know this is a long shot, but is it possible to do a voice recording over the video?  I am a physics teacher and it would be great to be able to use my iPad to record my lectures for class that I on my iPad.

  • http://twitter.com/ezonecom Simon Edis

    Nice selection of free games in the demo video Eli - I assume that you are not really that bad at playing them and were concentrating more on the video capturing aspects ;)

  • Dragon3leg

    About a year ago I had to create training videos of some custom iOS apps being a Mac user I knew I with iMovie I would be able to make a quality video, the only problem how the heck to do it.... After a few days I stumbled across the Matrox MX 02 mini it's a full video conversion kit that can take input from anything and it uses the express card slot on my MBP if you need high quality native iOS videos there is no better investment I think it was around 400 bucks

  • himanshu modi

     Or you could have just hired Sanaku by now. :) What does that dude use for video recording?

    I have seen other gameplay videos which capture video output from iOS devices. They even show the taps on the touch screen by putting a shiny little star on the video wherever the user makes a tap. That's pretty nifty. So solutions have been there. Not sure if the barrier for implementing these solutions was price, having to jailbreak, or quite simply cumbersomeness for TA to not have implemented and do things that sound like some sort of Yoga to record videos. (Hyperextension of arms and what not)

    That said, this sounds like a nifty solution if this goes mainstream.

    • http://twitter.com/try2bcool69 Jay G

      He said right in the article that they don't have a high-end PC to be able to capture video with a capture card, which, I am sure, is what Sanuku is using in some capacity.  Oh, what a travesty...needing a PC to do the job when the Mac won't suffice.

      • Dragon3leg

        He is wrong.. The Matrox mx02 mini works with anything, pc or Mac and thee are versions with a pcie card in addition to the express card and it's able to up convert or handle any device native resolution up to 1080p... Been in this game from the beginning trust me.

      • Salt Abdullah

        The Matrox is much more expensive. It all depends on what your goal is. The Elgato is perfect for what you get out of it. Here I am 2 years in the future and it's still the best option.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000550362553 Klas Segeljakt

    I have a jailbroken iPhone 4S with Display Recorder.. Problem?

    • laxking97

      I have an unjailbroken iPhone with Display Recorder.. Problem?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000550362553 Klas Segeljakt

        is not possible my friend

  • Lee West

    I am still trying to understand why this is cooler than just plugging a hdmi-cable into a normal video grabbing unit. Because this is more portable or cheaper?

  • http://www.youtube.com/MetalJesusRocks Metal Jesus Rocks

    I use my Elgato USB capture device every week for all my old school PS1, SNES, Dreamcast, Saturn reviews...and love it. Such a great little device and it just works...but the resolution is a bit behind the times. This new HD device will be a Day 1 purchase for me. Can't wait!

  • http://twitter.com/chubbypillow Chubbypillow

    Hey guys, will this work with Ipod touch 4th gen?

  • Mr_Ugly

    what hardware did you use to capture the videos? macbook pro, pc ? this is connected via "slow" usb2 or does it need 3?

  • Nicolinux

    Just a quick question? How about the frame rate? Were you able to get 60fps? This is the deal breaker for since Reflectionapp and Airserver are limited to 30fps.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ian.hawley.96 Ian Hawley

      Nico, I don't see an option I think it's always 30fps. My experience with ReflectionApp is that the Audio was always a couple of seconds behind the video and with AirServer I was never able to get the stream to record without a major stall followed by a rapid catchup. Both on OSX.

      Recording video from the screen with Soundflower for audio and Quicktime I found to be EXTREMELY slow, not to mention getting an HD stream out of that.

      With the Elgato it is extremely easy. I recorded two 2 minute videos and uploaded them to our ftp in around 20 minutes and over half that time was familiarising myself with the software and looking at the results. This compared with several hours with the previous scenario and I never managed to record AirPlay successfully

  • http://justposteverything.com/ Jerome Paul Esteban

    I have personally used Reflection App to do exactly that. It works, but it's very unreliable. Depending on factors I've yet to confidently determine, dropped frames and lag-spikes do occur in the recording.

  • http://www.facebook.com/audrey.leprince.14 Audrey Leprince

    How about the HDCP protection that is applied to the HDMI output of the iPad. Its says "If you connect a HDMI signal that has HDCP protection, then Elgato Game Capture HD will not display video." Did this protection not exist when you wrote this article or is there a way to bypass?

  • Thantelius

    The H.264 Enconding on the fly is great, 2 hours on a 5GB file, but the problem comes when you try to edit your captured videos, they always Grow, and always loses quality compared to the original captured file.