Startech is relatively well known in computer hardware as they manufacture cost-effective alternatives to name-brand peripherals. It was only a matter of time before the company took notice of the ever-growing content capture market, especially with the explosive popularity of Elgato, Hoppauge, and the utterly fantastic AVerMedia gear. Enter the USB 2 HD PVR external capture card. When it was first released it was one of the early 1080p capture devices and was quite affordable given its competition (which generally cost upwards of $300 for a portable capture solution), though much has changed since the device was first released, does it still stand up to its competition?
The HD PVR is a small, compact USB 2.0 capture device that a large number of gamers these days are looking for. As a way to go through and capture their montages, “pwnage” streaks, Let’s Play and Longplay videos, the HD PVR’s pricepoint is now right in the middle of the pack. While there are some less expensive options out there, the Startech device comes with the backing of a phenomenal customer service team; something a number of its competitors seem to be missing.
Unfortunately in my case I actually had to contact their customer service team as I began having issues with the unit within about ten minutes after starting my first recording. While my computer has more than enough power to drive the unit, I found that running Dark Souls II on the PlayStation 3 (both via HDMI and Component connections, as the unit supports either one) was more problematic than not. Not only was I experiencing massive input lag, but the framerate was downright atrocious. You can see a sample of the recording (using Startech’s handmade recording software; more on that later) below.
After a half-dozen emails back and forth, various driver and firmware updates, we (the tech and I) were able to get the unit to record properly but a quick perusal of various forums will find that the experience is relatively common. The nice thing is that the issue was actually resolved and in a favorable manner. Below you can find a recording of Tomb Raider on the Xbox 360 and there is a significant improvement in the framerate and quality. I will be completely and utterly honest; when I first saw the performance of the HD PVR I was ready to simply write the review and score it a 4 out of 10. Fortunately I put in my due-diligence, contacted support (which unfortunately delayed the review release, but ultimately worked out) and began troubleshooting the issue which in turn provided me with unexpected yet pleasant results. It just goes to show that occasionally it is not the fault of the user, the product, nor the content, but rather then unfortunate side effect of living in a world where drivers and firmware are updated on a near-weekly basis.
The software (vivastation) that you need to download with the drivers and firmware is quickly installed and easy to use, however I did notice that resource usage was quite high. I attribute this to the USB 2.0 nature of the device, though I could be wrong; it could just be aging hardware or possibly even a lack of optimized software. Regardless, the videos that were turned out during the recording were small given they are AVC-encoded MP4 files which means greatly-reduced file sizes. The largest file that I had was about 11 GB and that was for well over an hour’s worth of 1080p @ 30FPS. Quite nice given some recording applications tend to be massive (looking at you, Fraps).
While there was some significant trouble to start, the Startech USB 2.0 HD PVR is, with a little work a great little capture card. Featuring HDMI and Component connections, you can essentially hook up any device that supports those outputs (note though that copying protected content is not possible, nor is it something that you should do) and easily capture on your Windows-based PC. While onboarding and initial use should be improved, the unit is reliable and can record just fine, though adding in Mac support would be a blessing and one can hope that Startech will develop a Mac OS-based recording suite. All-in-all it is a handy little device that I would have no shame in picking up if I did not want to drop an additional $100 on a name-brand unit.
Review by Robert