Review: Turbo.264 HD

As a video editor, converting and transcoding videos is a big part of my workflow. But it comes with one big drawback: it takes FOREVER. There’s a million tools on the block to do it, including built-in conversions in Final Cut Pro and a wealth of transcoding options provided by Compressor, but they take a really, really long time, even on really fast, souped-up Macs. That alone is the reason why I consider Elgato’s Turbo.264 HD to be a godsend.

What the Software (and optional Hardware) Does
Turbo.264 HD is software that is designed for the purpose of converting videos into the popular MPEG-4 H.264 format really quickly and really easily. (For reference, H.264 is Apple’s preferred format in the latest versions of QuickTime and iTunes, and is the video format used on Blu-ray discs. It’s also a great format to use for online video publishing.)

There’s actually two components to Turbo.264 HD: software and hardware. The Turbo.264 HD program is a very simple-yet-powerful program that lets you dump videos into it to be converted. It specifically takes advantage of the hardware and graphics capabilities of your Mac to push them to convert the videos fairly quickly.

But optionally, you can also get a Turbo.264 HD stick, which looks like an oversized black rubber USB stick that you plug into your computer. This stick is a hardware accelerator that increases the speed of Turbo.264 conversions to be dramatically faster. Elgato claims that it makes conversions more than twice as fast as without it, but in my testing this has been an understatement–although this statistic certainly varies depending on the speed of your Mac. The difference is significant on a powerful, souped-up iMac, but it’s even more incredible on much slower computers.

Using the Software
The software provides a fairly simple drag-and-drop interface to deposit videos for conversion. You can drag-and-drop multiple videos for batch processing, and can specify the settings of each individually. Alternatively, you can even tell Turbo.264 to combine all of the videos that you’ve dropped in into a single video on output. This has been incredibly useful for ATV as we can use Turbo.264 to combine the individually-exported segments of our shows into a single video for web.

Turbo.264 provides a discreet means for editing source clips as well. Clicking on a clip’s thumbnail expands it, allowing you to preview the clip right in the app, and allows you to trim a selection of the clip to be used in the conversion.

Turbo.264 includes a number of format presets for the export, primarily based on specific Apple products (iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, iPad, Sony PSP, etc.). You can also export to HD 720p and 1080p formats, or opt to export directly to YouTube in either standard or HD formats. Exporting to YouTube gives you a “You” button that opens a window letting you login to YouTube and provide the metadata for the video; Turbo.264 uploads and publishes the video direct to YouTube after completing the conversion.

Turbo.264 can also read clips direct off select camcorders (including AVCHD camcorders) and convert them accordingly. I usually don’t have any direct-to-web footage off camcorders, so I haven’t tested this feature.

Advantages and Drawbacks
Turbo.264 HD is fast. As part of my Final Cut Pro X testing, I tried using FCPX’s built-in Share Monitor to convert a 720p HD source movie of approximately 14 minutes length straight from the FCP timeline for an upload to YouTube off of my MacBook Pro (2.26 GHz Core 2 Duo, 8 GB of RAM). Final Cut Pro took over ten hours to convert the video, and even then, the upload failed. I then exported the video uncompressed from Final Cut and added it to the Turbo.264 queue. Turbo.264 finished the conversion in 30 minutes without the accelerator stick and proceeded to upload the video direct to YouTube successfully. Not bad, eh?

Turbo.264’s outputted videos do have a little bit of a noticeable “softness” in its outputted video, and very rarely little conversion hiccups can be found in the video. Particularly when I am using the accelerator stick, I’ve found not to move or jolt the hardware around much during a conversion, which seems to help keep things running smoothly. Once in awhile during conversions, Turbo.264 can also get stuck on a frame completely, making it suggest that it will take till next week before the conversion is finished. Usually this happens at the beginning of a conversion when it does happen, so it’s not too big a deal to stop the conversion and start it over again.

Elgato also claims that Turbo.264 can support any video format, but I’ve occasionally come across a more obscure video format that Turbo.264 doesn’t like to work with. (Usually, though, it’s not the only app on my computer complaining about that video.) In those cases, I prefer to turn to Compressor to transcode it into a more likable format, since Compressor seems to be able to handle anything, albeit slowly.

If you’re looking for a really powerful app that can handle all of your needs for compressing videos for publication, you could go with Apple’s Compressor, especially now that it’s only $50 on the Mac App Store. But for the same price, you can get Turbo.264 HD, which is significantly faster and simpler to use. If you’ve got a lot of video conversion to do (like we do at ATV), double your investment and pick up the hardware stick to go with it. Turbo.264 HD is an incredible application that has made our lives at ATV much easier, and can certainly be credited with giving us video editors just a little more free time in our lives.

The Nitty-Gritty
Turbo.264 HD Version 1.1.4 by Elgato
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Price: $49.99 (software only); $99.95 (software+USB hardware accelerator*)
Download: Elgato Website or Mac App Store
*The USB hardware accelerator is not sold separately.

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About Douglas Bell

I live in Washington, D.C., and work as a Broadcast Technician at WAMU 88.5 FM, the local NPR affiliate in the Washington metro area. My primary shift is to engineer the local feed of NPR’s Morning Edition, including local news and weather, long-form features and station breaks… and yes, the shift starts at 5 am, so I’ve got the whole quasi-nocturnal thing going on. I am also the Coordinating Producer for Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie, an independently-produced podcast and public radio program. Extracurricularly, I play cello, and participate in a church choir and a handbell choir. I enjoy discovering new places, and am constantly searching for the perfect cheeseburger. I am also known as a frequent teller of puns.