Review: Elgato turbo.264 lives up to its name - Macenstein

Review: Elgato turbo.264 lives up to its name

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

elgato Tubo.264

The best thing about Elgato‘s excellent Eye TV software/hardware solutions is the ease of which you can record and export your favorite shows for the iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. The worst thing about them is waiting for those exports. This is not Elgato’s fault, it is just that encoding using the H.264 codec which Apple’s devices like is a fairly processor intensive undertaking, especially for a machine such as the Mac mini, which many of Elgato’s users (including me) are using as a home DVR.

Well, the slow compression time might not be Elgato’s fault, but that didn’t stop them from coming up with the solution. Enter the Elgato turbo.264. The turbo is a small USB 2 device (about 1 and half times the size of a USB thumb drive) that contains a dedicated H.264 hardware encoder. Simply plug the turbo into an available USB 2 slot on your Mac, and it will automatically kick in whenever any program that uses QuickTime’s API for iPod/Apple TV export is called. That means not only will Elgato’s EyeTV utilize the turbo.264, but even apps like iMovie can now export H.264 files up to 4 times faster. Additionally, the turbo comes with its own turbo.264 application, which provides a near idiot-proof drag and drop workflow for encoding your existing library of QuickTimes, AVIs, WMVs, etc.

elgato Tubo.264Above: Those 4 little dots under the EyeTV export progress bar are the only indication you’ll get that the turbo is working (well, that and the near 4x speed boost!)

Testing the turbo

The turbo worked as advertised in our EyeTV export tests. An export of the 2-hour 14-minute James Bond classic “Never Say Never Again” in EyeTV normally took 7 hours and 35 minutes to export for iPod at the “best” setting on our Mac mini. With the turbo plugged in the results were a near-real time 2 hours and 20 minutes!

elgato Tubo.264Above: A size comparison of the turbo and an 5th gen iPod.

We only noticed two minor differences in our tests. First, the exports done using the turbo come out a little darker than exports done using the Mac mini’s processor. Nothing horrible, but noticeable.

elgato Tubo.264 Above: You can see by looking at Bond’s forehead that the turbo exports come out slightly darker than exports made using the Mac’s processor.

Second, for whatever reason, despite having the same .m4v file extension as a standard EyeTV export, a turbo export’s “Kind” is listed as an M4P file, instead of a MPEG-4 Video File. Not sure what the difference is, but the icon is a QuickTime icon as opposed to the usual iTunes icon Eye TV exports traditionally have. Also, although both exports should have had the same settings, the turbo exports came in about 20MB smaller than EyeTV’s standard exports. When checking them in QuickTime, the original EyeTV exports claim to have a 1411.77 kbits/sec data rate:, while the turbo exports show up with a 1400.75 kbits/sec data rate.

elgato Tubo.264 Above: turbo exports, while sharing the same file extension, come out slightly smaller in size, and with a different icon than standard EyeTV exports made with the same settings.

The Software

Even folks who do not own any of Elgato’s EyeTV products can enjoy the benefits of using the turbo for exports. The included turbo.264 hardware does a nice job of encoding any video types you currently can play via QuickTime into iPod/iPhone/AppleTV-friendly files. The controls are simple (almost too simple). Just drag in your files (the turbo supports building a queue), select your preset for each file (you can choose from an Apple TV preset, 2 iPod presets, and a Sony PSP setting), and hit “Start”. This ease of use comes at the price of not being able to select custom settings, but odds are the settings Elgato has selected for us are the recommended specs for each device. The limiting of options is likely a measure to reduce confusion for the user (and support calls for Elgato).

elgato Tubo.264
Above: The turbo H.264 software interface. Some DVDs work better than others.

DVD trouble

In theory, the turbo.264 application should be able to take any decrypted DVD and encode it for your device of choice. In practice, we had mixed results. Using Mac The Ripper to first decrypt a title, I dragged the resulting Video_TS folder onto the turbo, and hit “start”. The Video_TS was recognized, but the export failed about 3/4 of the way through. I tried 10 other titles. Out of 11, 6 worked. Elgato claims to be working hard on the Video_TS export, and they have already issued one update which addressed some DVD export bugs, so the future looks bright (although it is currently partly cloudy).

One final note on DVD ripping. The turbo.264 app will not allow you to choose specific chapters and titles from a DVD to rip. The software attempts to find the main feature, and that is what you get. So if you need more flexibility in your rips, you may want to stick with Handbrake for the moment.

elgato Tubo.264


Aside from the so-so DVD exporting abilities, the turbo is a solid performer. The faster the machine you own, the less of an impact the turbo will make, but Mac mini/MacBook/iMac owners in particular should see huge speed benefits. The only real issue I faced was that many of the applications I wanted to take advantage of the turbo can’t. For instance Handbrake, as mentioned above, would be a fine candidate for the turbo. Unfortunately, Handbrake doesn’t use the QuickTime API to perform its exports. Same goes for Visual Hub, any Roxio Product (Toast, Popcorn, etc.) and even Apple’s Compressor. (We’re told a fix for Compressor may be in the works.) Again, this is not really something Elgato can change, it is up to the developers of these apps to take advantage of the turbo, and I certainly hope some of them do (cough.. Handbrake…cough).

A smaller issue I found was that once a queue has been set up and the turbo.264 export is going, you cannot add more files to the queue. This was slightly annoying, as in EyeTV this is no problem. Something else I noticed, if you are using EyeTV and exporting using the turbo’s hardware, and then open the turbo.264 standalone app and set up an export, the app waits until EyeTV is done using the hardware before it begins to do its export. This is not really a bug or a problem, per se, just something I noticed. So despite its power, don’t expect the turbo to be a multi-tasking compressing machine.

elgato Tubo.264Above: If the turbo hardware is already being used by another app, you’ll apparently have to wait 999 hours.


Anyone who owns an EyeTV and uses it regularly to record shows for iPod and AppleTV viewing should definitely check out the turbo.264. The turbo means an EyeTV recording of a late night movie will have completed exporting for your iPod by the time you wake up in the morning. Similarly, anyone with a large library of QuickTime compatible videos they have “acquired” over the years who wants to play them on the Apple TV or iPod should also seriously consider the turbo. Those people hoping the turbo will be a speedy way to put their DVD collection on their Apple TV should think twice, however, as you must first decrypt each DVD, and even if successful, not all titles will successfully export from the turbo.

Price: $99.95

Pros: Dramatically speeds up exports to iPod and Apple TV friendly formats, supports Sony’s PSP as well, works seamlessly with Elgato’s EyeTV and many QuickTime-based applications, turbo.264 software is extremely easy to use.

Cons: Slightly dark exports, DVD ripping should be improved, not all iPod-exporting apps can take advantage of the turbo’s speed boosts, no custom export settings.

7 Responses to “Review: Elgato turbo.264 lives up to its name”
  1. TK421 says:

    Looks cool. I really think Apple should build this type of chip directly into their boxes. Should be cheap at a high volume.

  2. Jeep says:

    I bought one earlier this week and have been using it to transcode files for my Apple TV. Yes, it’s fast — but my main problem is that files it creates are huge, on average about 70% larger than H.264 files created using VisualHub, yet the quality is probably inferior. (Example: a 350Mb Xvid file turned into a 394Mb VisualHub H.264 file, but a 672Mb Turbo.264 file.)

    It’ll be fine for bashing out H.264 files that will be watched and discarded, but for anything you want to keep it’s not a good option (at the moment?).

  3. MacDoc says:

    Saw this on MacInTouch:

    “The latest MacBook Pro uses nVidia’s new GeForce 8600M GT graphics controller (GPU). Based on an entirely new architecture, this laptop version of the 8600 chipset should out-perform the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 used in the previous MacBook Pro, but our test results were inconsistent. The 8600 series also include an H.264 decoder, but we don’t know if Mac OS X takes advantage of this.”

  4. Jason says:

    New Turbo.264 software (beta for the next week or two) will allow for better DVD conversions AND custom presets. Here are a couple screen shots and a video.

  5. It’s a very nice hardware video converter but has a major issue!, the resolution limit is 800*600 so, no HDVD here!!!

  6. zahadum says:

    “… the future looks bright although it is currently partly cloudy.”


    u must have been dreaming of san francisco … wake up: the Turbo is in seattle!

    the correct weather forecast for the Turbo is more like constant rain, interrupted by a few moments of tentative sunshine 🙂

    here’s why: compatibility, quality, features.

    * compatibility: handbrake devs categorically insist they will never support the Turbo.

    Why would a reviewer not contact the subject of his comments? (not that it would do him any good in the case of the handbrake devs – they can be publicly hostile & rude to people outside their little clique, going so far as to threaten banning people from their website who ask certain _forbidden_ questions – not me, but i have seen them do that to others).

    the main excuse, er reason, the handbrake devs give for their extreme aversion to supporting the hardware encoders, is that their project does not actually control the underlying h264 libraries – these are derived from other projects & the handbrake team disclaims any responsibility, interest of need to modifying them.

    this arrogance is one of the unfortunate side-effects of open-source culture – which can easily become insular … being “customer-driven” is kinda difficult when you dont have or want any customers.

    indeed the handbrake devs have a manifesto on their website in which they declaim that user-based features will never be inherent priorities in their development plan: the only features the handbrake devs are committed to supporting are the ones they themselves personally care about (this is the “scratch your itch” theory of feature evolution). If you want a feature then you are expected to write the code for it or else STFU!

    so you can dream on if you seriously expect that crew to give a damn one way or another about what you – as an outsider – want from their private toy.

    * quality: the reviewer does not clarify why the Turbo does not have a double-pass option … and whether this software feature is supported in the underlying hardware.

    as El Gato (nor their competitor Miglia) does not actually make this encoder chip it is unlikely that they have spec’d that feature into the first rev of the silicon; AFAIK mobilygen designed the chip for low-power real-time applications (ie cell phones) not for off-line desktop batch mode applications like transcoding.

    the most we can hope for is that maybe the chip vendor (mobilygen) will hurry up with a 2nd release that improves the quality of the hardware.

    * DVD features: elgato makes a mess of VOB based source material … you are too kind when you describe them as “so-so DVD exporting abilities”.

    The plain and simple fact is that El Gato (and Miglia) have both taken the easy way out — i suspect that their indolence is the result of having the grunt work already done for them by a reference driver from the chip vendor (Mobilygen).

    You understate the case when your review states that “The turbo.264 app will not allow you to choose specific chapters and titles from a DVD to rip.”

    The fuller truth is that El Gato (and Miglia) have made a conscious choice to discard most of the structured data in the video_ts (VOB) format.

    They have NO PLAN to include all the closed captions, subtitles or audio tracks that come with the dvd.

    This means that we are S.O.L. ….

    a) they dont care about the integrity of your source data and/or

    b) they probably dont have the technical knowledge to capture the full complexities of the dvd format (see my reference driver surmise, above).
    “Elgato claims to be working hard on the Video_TS export,”

    Thus, I suggest that there is a common reason why El Gato has trouble with Main Titles and Ancillary Content: if they cant or wont handle ALL the content (cc, subs, dubs, angles etc), then perhaps it is not a surprise that they cant handle SOME of the content (correctly guessing which element is the Main Title).

    Conclusion: it is sad to see supposedly “mac” centric vendors (El Gato & Miglia) offer mediocre products worthy of the windoze marketplace.

    They are taking us for granted.

    Recently Apple’s customer satisfaction ratings have slipped remarkably from the mid 80’s heading towards the low 70’s (albeit still holding first place in the pc industry) ….

    I think that the recent renaissance in the mac marketplace is making all the vendors – from the platform maker to the peripheral makers – lazy & indifferent to what their customers need.

    They seem to riding high on the axiom that if ‘windoze succeeded by being “good enough”‘ then all they have to aim for is to merely be better than ‘good enough’.

    It seems that the original passion that sustained the mac community through its dark days is now being dissipated upon the arrival of all these switchers (who are like thirsty men in the dessert – so desperate that they will drink anything, even if it is fouled water).

    Ironically, “success” might actually be a sign of failure!

  7. hotel17 says:

    justy bought it.

    the dark export is totally unacceptable,

    I don’t understand how this product is being praised.

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