Machinima Artists Guild

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After experimenting with Fraps, PlayClaw, and the Hauppauge HD-PVR, I've bought a Blackmagic Intensity Pro video capture card and after a lot of fiddling with settings this morning, I finally have it working.  I haven't done any real shooting yet, just testing, so what follows are just first impressions, in case they help someone else.

I'm using a two computer setup, with SL running on one computer in full graphics mode and the Intensity Pro in the second computer.  Both computers are Windows 7 64-bit, dual core Intel 3.0 CPUs; the SL computer has an NVIDIA GT260 and the capture computer has an NVIDIA 9800 GTX. 

The Intensity Pro comes with a DVI-HDMI adapter cable that I'm using to connect the two computers.  The DVI end is in my SL computer's video card (NVIDIA GT260) and the HDMI in the Intensity Pro.  The SL computer is set for dual monitor output, with duplicate displays.  I'm using the NVIDIA control panel to set resolutions.

EDIT: The DVI-HDMI adapter cable doesn't come with the Intensity Pro.  When I wrote that, I forgot that I ordered the adapter separately from Amazon.

With this setup, I can capture at the following resolutions (I didn't test lower resolutions):
  • 1080p 30
  • 1080i 60
  • 720p 60
Blackmagic recommends against using the Intensity Pro with a single standard hard drive and instead recommends using a RAID with two disks for SD or with at least 8 disks (!) for HD.  I'm using a single fairly fast SSD (OCZ Vertex 2) which looks to me like it will be barely adequate. 

The Intensity Pro comes with speed test software for testing your capture hard drive; I've attached an image (it's after the end of this post) showing the results for my Vertex 2, showing the fps for various resolution and recording formats.  Blackmagic recommends leaving a very large margin below this.  For example, if the speed test shows that I can record at 56fps, I probably should aim for shooting at a substantially lower fps.  Blackmagic recommends allowing a 100% margin with a two disk array and a 30% margin with an 8 disk array.

The Intensity Pro comes with Media Express for video capture and playback; I've been able to capture with it and also with Premiere Pro CS5.

I'll post more after I've actually used it for a while.  In the meantime, I hope this helps someone. 

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I've just set up my two OCZ Vertex 2 SSDs as RAID 0 (using the Intel IOCH10R RAID controller). The Blackmagic speed test utility reports a write speed of about 415 MB/s and a read speed of 485MB/s. These numbers are averages of four speed tests I've run. The performance should be good enough to handle pretty much anything I'm likely to throw at the Blackmagic.

The choice of RAID controller is critical. I initially bought a Vantec PCI-E RAID card with a Marvell controller because of its easier setup, but after reading reviews that reported it as being too slow I ran the Blackmagic speed test on it, and found that performance was indeed dramatically slower.
I agree. I felt I should mention the Hauppauge for the benefit of others reading this more than for you, but I agree that the Blackmagic is a superior unit for anyone with a computer that can handle its more demanding requirements.
Here the link to the thread on the Hauppauge. [I am finding that the SEARCH function on the NING platforms has become very unsatisfactory.]

Apollo Manga said:
I agree. I felt I should mention the Hauppauge for the benefit of others reading this more than for you, but I agree that the Blackmagic is a superior unit for anyone with a computer that can handle its more demanding requirements.
My first attempt to use the Intensity Pro in actual shooting was a dismal failure and an example of one disadvantage of using two computers.

I was shooting for about ten minutes. Everything seemed to be going ok. At first I kept glancing over at the monitor on the capture computer. It seemed to be capturing OK, and so I turned my attention totally to my shooting on the SL monitor. However when I finally glanced back at the capture monitor, Media Express had frozen. The file that it generated is corrupted and unusable. Damn. I think I had some good footage, and it can't be reshot.

I reinstalled Windows and all software on the capture computer last night, so it's possible that the problem is just a configuration issue. I may try again later today at another event. If I do, I'll try capturing with Premiere Pro instead of Media Express.
After a lot of experimentation, today I did some shooting in the Burn 2 sims (I am a Ranger and Lamplighter there). Other than some problems with stuttering during pans and zooms and mostly problems with my inexperience, it went well. I used Premiere Pro for capture, which worked much better for me than Media Express... although PP did crash twice.

I encountered a major problem after I finished shooting, when I tried editing my footage. It was OK on the computer on which the Blackmagic is installed, but when I tried editing on my other computer, PP didn't recognize the footage as video. I assume there's a Blackmagic codec that's missing on that computer. Hoping to solve the problem, I installed the Blackmagic software on that computer, but it didn't help. I ended up having to edit on the computer with the Blackmagic installed.

The other computer is my video editing computer, so I have to find a way to solve this problem, but at least things are moving in the right direction.
I spent the last half hour on the phone with Adobe, trying to figure out why I can edit capture files generated by Blackmagic on one computer but not on the other. I'm missing certain files I need on that computer and I get an error every time I try to do an update to get them. The reason, according to Adobe support, is that I initially installed Adobe Master Collection CS5 on that computer as a trial download and then entered my serial numbers after I bought it. Apparently it's necessary to uninstall and reinstall everything, a two hour process!

There was no problem on the other computer because I installed Master Collection CS5 directly from DVD.
Call me a noob but I dont understand the sense of a video capture card for machinima. I mean - fraps delivers me exactly the quality I have on my screen, and more is not to get. So what advance does a capture card offer for me? Please explain, this is not an ironical question, I am just too dumb to understand that...
It's not a dumb question at all. A few months ago I would have asked it myself.

I needed the video capture card because I was finding it impossible to get smooth zooms and pans at 1920x1080 with graphics set to maximum using either Fraps or PlayClaw. I tried a number of solutions, but moving video capture to a second computer was the only way I was able to manage it. If it weren't for wanting smooth zooms and pans, either Fraps or PlayClaw would have been more than adequate.

I know that a simpler solution would have been to shoot at a lower resolution and graphics settings, but visual quality is important to me. I've only produced one machinima so far but I have two more in progress and am fairly satisfied with the visual quality in my footage in both.

I'm preparing to build a new computer (i7 quad core 3.06ghz with probably 12gb RAM). It will be interesting to see how this affects performance and whether the Blackmagic is still necessary.

After seven years of reliable use, my Blackmagic Intensity Pro seems to have died. The timing is horrible - I'm in the middle of my first paid machinima gig.  I've ordered a new one from Amazon with one day delivery.

I really like this card. It allows me to get much smoother dolly shots than I can get using software capture.

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