Meta: Screencasting Using The BlackMagic Design Intensity Pro

blackmagic_design_intensity_pro There’s a new tool in the office and I’m actually pretty excited about it. For several months I’ve had the Black Magic Design Intensity Pro video capture card. It’s a little PCIe card that has a variety inputs, most notably HDMI in and out.

In my currently working life this is part of a video monitoring solution. I take a SMPTE-292M HD-SDI feed from one of our products into a Black Magic Design Mini Convertor ($300) that converts HD-SDI into HDMI. Normally I take the HDMI feed into a consumer HDTV for display. This is dramatically cheaper than a proper broadcast monitor with an HD-SDI input.

While that arrangement works for real-time viewing of the HD-SDI stream, I had hoped for some way to capture the stream to disk. Back in February I tried the Black Magic Design UltraStudio SDI but ran into trouble with the USB 3.0 interface under Windows.

 

In frustration, I returned the UltraStudio SDI, eventually replacing it with the Intensity Procard. This card sells for a rather modest $199.

blackmagic_intensity_pro_with_cable

Beyond the HDMI I/O, the Intensity Pro card comes with a break-out cable that supports a variety of different analog video types. It also handles all common HD and SD signal formats.

For a couple of months the card sat untouched as I didn’t have a suitable host PC. It requires a full height PCIe slot and everything I had on-hand were small form factor chassis that would only accept half-height cards.

In the wake of NAB2012 I came to have a new HP tower, which has proven a suitable host for the Intensity Pro card. Well, at very least it can physically receive the card. In truth, the HP computer is a bit limited. It has just a single 1 TB 7200 RPM disk. That’s nowhere near fast enough to capture uncompressed HD video. A fast RAID array would be required in that case.

The BMD card comes with a software utility to measure drive performance. Here’s what the single 1 TB drive shows.

DiskSpeedTest1TB copy

As you can see the application reports that the disk is only fast enough to support SD (PAL/NTSC) recording or playback.

To get some comparative measurement I added a 120 GB San Disk Extreme III SSD as a dedicated drive for video capture. Here’s how that drive measured.

DiskSpeedTestSSD copy

The SSD’s read performance is dramatically better, but the write performance is actually worse than magnetic media.

Fortunately, the simple go or no-go measurements offered by this tool are purely with respect to uncompressed video streams. The Intensity Pro hardware also supports M-JPEG compression, which reduces the data rate significantly. I’ve since found that I can reliably record both 720p and 1080i to the SSD.

The first use of the new capability was to record the Adobe Audtion screencast used in the recent post about Ooma. I’ve used screencasts before, but those were created using a purely software approach. In the past I’ve used TechSmith’s Camtasia and Adobe Captivate.

While those two applications are pretty good, they are not without their issues. They sometimes require the use of obscure or proprietary video CODECs. They usually record at an arbitrary frame rate that’s much slower than normal video. Finally, they typically require that the resulting screencast be edited within their application. While built to the task, their toolsets are not as full-featured as any decent video editing program.

Since my laptop, and any reasonably decent desktop, can drive its display to 1920×1080 pixels the Intensity Pro card allows me to capture the desktop to a video file, in real-time and at a relatively normal frame rate. That makes editing the file in Adobe Premiere Pro very easy indeed.

The Adobe Audition screencast was recorded to an M-JPEG AVI file at 720p60. I then used Quicktime Pro to create an H.264 compressed MOV file for upload to YouTube. The process was much faster than using the software applications noted previously.

The convergence of common desktop video resolutions and HDTV video standards has proven a boon to this sort of activity. The Intensity Pro card has provided a convenient bridge between the desktop user interface and the video production realms.

The next application I will try with this new hardware is to leverage Telestream’s Wirecast software to put live streaming video online. This software acts like a production switcher, allowing on-the-fly source selection. Available live sources include webcams, a desktop sharing application and the Intensity Pro card, which can be any kind of live video.

This is getting interesting.