One thing that has come to define this generation of games console is the inclusion of built in capture capabilities to the current crop of consoles and the rise of streaming and sharing online. Just having the immediacy of being able to tap a button and saving that amazing, super cool trickshot you just pulled off is wonderfully powerful. As the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you, and that’s true of game capture as well, but depending on what you want to do with your captures, you’re going to want something a bit more powerful.
The PlayStation 4’s Share button encoding outputs H.264 video at a measly 4-6Mbps, barely enough to make its 720p resolution look good, especially when it’s on-the-fly encoding deals with a lot of fast paced action on screen. The PlayStation 4 Pro steps this up a notch to around 10mbps for 1080p, but it’s still far from great and it struggles when backed into a corner, prone to blocking and obscuring the actual detail of what it’s trying to capture.
For great quality videos, you have to look at external capture boxes and PCIe capture cards, where companies like Elgato and Avermedia have developed into the go-to companies for quick and easy capture. These devices and their chipsets are often able to go to far higher than 10Mbps, and the quality gains are clear to see – when we’re capturing on the go, Elgato’s Game Capture HD is our go-to device. But again, there’s another tier beyond that, and today we’re looking at the Intensity Pro 4k, a PCIe capture card from Blackmagic Design that, at under £200 brings professional capture gear into an affordable price range.
Simply put, the Intensity Pro 4K is well beyond the requirements of the vast majority of users. It is without a doubt a professional capture device that’s more than capable of handling broadcast or movie media workflows. However, it’s also more than capable as a capture device for games as well… depending on your computer set up.
As a PCIe capture card, you need to crack open your desktop PC to install it into a 4x PCIe slot, which is a simple thing to do. Software can then be installed from two SD cards that come in the box or the latest versions can be downloaded from Blackmagic’s website. That includes hardware drivers, Blackmagic Media Express for capture and media management and the free version of DaVinci Resolve for colour grading your footage – I really wasn’t kidding about those broadcast media credentials. If you prefer, it can hook into Adobe Premiere or Avid Media Composer for capture, Final Cut Pro X for monitoring, or if you like free, Open Broadcast Studio can also take its input signal with minimal fuss.
It features an HDMI in and HDMI out for passthrough while capturing and outputting video playback. There’s also a monster of a breakout cable that allows for Component, Composite and S-Video to be captured and output, as well as the old red and white RCA audio connectors. There’s a ton of flexibility there, for if you need to step back to PlayStation 3 – where you cannot disable HDCP which prevents HDMI capture – or even further back to, say, Gamecube, or even if you just want to copy some old family videos.
This is an out and out capture card, designed to capture lossless video. That can lead to truly eye-watering storage usage and bit rates – I filled a 480GB SSD in 30 minutes, and that wasn’t even with the card’s highest capture settings! It can quite easily hook into other software and hardware, as well. On OSX, that means you can encode with ProRes instead, a lossy but high quality codec used in Final Cut Pro X that lets me get a few hours out of this SSD, or you can use the eminently flexible OBS to encode the signal via software or hardware video encoding functions built into modern CPUs and GPUs – this naturally affects the quality.
It doesn’t take long to get used to Media Express for capture, but this too is software geared toward a professional audience, as opposed to catering to gamers and streamers. Such niceties as passing through video without the software running are missing, meaning that you’ll have some HDMI cable swapping to do, and there’s no ability to pause the playback on computer or make it full screen – there’s no lag to the computer’s playback, so you could theoretically play on there.
Stacking these captured video files up against an Elgato Game Capture HD60, by far the biggest and most noticeable thing is the depth to the colour, with the Elgato looking somewhat washed out compared to the Intensity Pro 4K. Some of that, I believe, is down to the ability to use RGB 4:4:4 or YUV 4:2:2 chroma subsampling, as opposed to the Elgato and most consumer recorders and cameras opting for YUV 4:2:0. This doesn’t affect the resolution of the image, but rather the colour data within.
I like to aim for great quality video whenever capturing, and being able to capture at lossless or near lossless settings allows you to keep the quality as high as possible, from capture to editing, exporting and then uploading. Unfortunately, it’s that last point where you have to ask, is this worth it? Whatever you upload, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or whoever will take that file and transcode it to other target bitrates and formats that they feel is best served to distributing over varied connection speeds and to different screen sizes. Unless you have uses that require such quality, it can feel like a moot point to capture lossless video in the first place.
This example video switches back and forth between simultaneously captured and synced footage on the Intensity Pro 4K, capturing in ProRes 422 HQ, and my Elgato Game Capture HD60, set to capture at its maximum of 40Mbps. It was edited in Final Cut Pro X, exported using the ‘Web Hosting’ preset and uploaded to YouTube.
As something of a side note, all of this refers to 1080p capture. Despite its name, the Intensity Pro 4K is not suited to capturing the PlayStation 4 Pro at 4K. Having released back in early 2015 when HDMI 1.4 was the best you could hope for it can accept 2160p input but only at 30Hz. The PS4 Pro automatically detects and steps down to 1080p where it can output at 60Hz. There’s currently no cost effective way to get 4K console capture on the market right now, let alone HDR capture.
Unfortunately all of this leaves the Intensity Pro 4K in an unusual position of being both too powerful for most people, and not quite having features like 2160p60 and HDR that would make it appealing to those looking to capture the best from the PS4 Pro. It could be a little while before those needs and desires are catered for.