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Product Review: Happauge’s HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition

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I became a “Mac person” in 2010 and, over the past two years, I have learned that as much as I love my Mac and think it’s better than a PC, I’ve had to get used to not being able to do things that PC users can do.  Sometimes it can make me feel a little like a second class citizen, but generally I remain convinced that what I have is better.  Until I encountered the Happauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition I had never, as a PlayStation 3 user, felt second class to a 360 user (keep your snide remarks to yourself 360 fans).  And, my problems with the device are only exacerbated by being a Mac person.

Happauge’s recently released their HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition is a little square box that you place in line between your HD gaming console and your TV.  You then hook it up to your computer via USB and, voila, you can record an HD snippet of your game using the H.264 format.  A blue light is emitted from the HD PVR 2 upon it going live, and a green light when it records.

Why would you want to do this?  To show friends how awesome you are, because you’re putting together a little how-to on going through a level, or because you’re writing a review and it would help to have a clip showing what you’re talking about.

If you run an XBox 360, it all works like magic – HDMI out to the HD PVR 2 and then out from the HD PVR 2 to your TV or surround sound system. 

Things are more complicated on PS3.  Due to copy protection on the PS3, an HDMI out to a recorder isn’t the simplest of affairs and so the HD PVR 2 opts to use component video cables to make the connection.  The loss, video-wise, really isn’t anything to speak of if you’re putting together web videos, but the problem comes in with the audio to your TV (and the recommended downgrade from 1080p to 1080i).  The HD PVR 2 won’t accept the audio portion of the HDMI PS3 feed nor will it take the PS3’s optical out, so you’re left having to run the stereo RCA jacks from the PS3 into the HD PVR 2.  Happily, the HD PVR 2 will still run those signals out on an HDMI cable into your TV or surround sound system… but it won’t be surround sound, it’ll be stereo (a call to Happauge’s tech support line confirmed this limitation).

For PS3 users, that’ll be something of a hitch – if you don’t want to run stereo sound all the time (and seriously, why would you?), you’re going to do a lot of cable jockeying with the HD PVR 2.  The device is instantly far less useful if you have to constantly swap out cables and alter settings in the PS3 menu.

The included software from Happauge is Arcsoft’s Showbiz, a PC only program.  Mac user’s can buy third party software (Happauge has a link on their site to someone who provides software) to make the HD PVR 2 run.  Currently, the Mac software can be tested for free before purchasing, by the third-party developer does seem to be the only game in town, so if you don’t like it or don’t run at least Mac’s 10.7 OS, you’re not going to want the HD PVR 2.

Okay, all of that nonsense out of the way, does the HD PVR 2 do what it was intended to do?  Absolutely.  Superbly.  Unquestionably.  We recorded a couple of 30 minute tests (and the embedded item here, which was recorded at the “good” level, a few levels down from “best”), and those 30 minute tests ran about 650 megabytes.  There do appear to be some compression artifacts, but not too many – the end result is certainly something with which we are very happy.

One other important bit of note – although the HD PVR 2 does run out to a computer and with no-delay to your TV, there is a delay on your computer as it processes the video (and it is your computer, not the HD PVR 2 which does the processing).  That is to say, you cannot watch off of your PC, and you certainly don’t want to have the PC screen somewhere that will be distracting to you as you try to perform your super-awesome feat because you won’t wind up performing your super-awesome feat, you’ll wind up falling flat on your face instead (we totally blame that fact for our crash in the embed).

Bottom line – the Happauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition is about 90 percent of what I want in such a device.  The device currently has a $170 list price (Amazon has it for $150), which certainly isn’t cheap, but if it fits without issue into your home theater setup it may be worth it.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.