Lightning Round: Elgato Turbo.264 Hardware h.264 EncoderS

The Gadget: Although the Elgato Turbo.264 hardware encoder has been around for a while, products have been released that make h.264 one of the most, if not the most important video codecs out there. Not only is it supported by the iPod classic, there's the iPod nano, iPod touch, Xbox 360, PS3, Apple TV, many, many phones (including the iPhone), and even the Zune. It's the perfect time to get into h.264.

The Price: $99

The Verdict: Testing on a 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro with 2GB RAM, exporting a movie to iPhone using the Turbo.264 on default settings with Quicktime Pro used less than 50% CPU and took about 11 minutes, whereas exporting the same movie with the same settings without the device used 100% CPU and took 15 minutes.

To make sure it wasn't just Quicktime's export functionality determining the encode speed, we tested exporting for iPod using Elgato's default encoding app versus iSquint, which does something very similar. iSquint used a little over 50% CPU and took 8 minutes to encode a 22-minute episode of Venture Bros. into an iPod format, and Elgato's encoder (using the Turbo.264) also used a little over 50% CPU and took 5 minutes.

Elgato claims performance gains will be much more dramatic on machines with lesser processing power, so keep that in mind as you decide whether this is right for you. Even on a pretty new machine, we saw speedups of around 50%, which is pretty substantial. For us, it's definitely a good buy if you encode video for your iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV frequently and want to save time (and CPU cycles) in the process. [Elgato]