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Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro Gordon Laing , October 2009
  Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro review

Blackmagic's Intensity Pro is a PCI Express card which allows you to capture footage from an unprotected HDMI source, along with analogue Composite, S-Video and Component footage. Believe it or not, capturing via HDMI could deliver superior quality from certain HD camcorders than a traditional Firewire link, and doing so with the Intensity can also deliver files which are quicker and easier to edit too.

I first came across the Intensity Pro when looking for a device which could capture video from an HDMI source – not protected movies from a Blu Ray player, but for grabbing video and live menu graphics from the latest digital cameras for my reviews and video demonstrations here at Cameralabs.

A search for HDMI capture cards quickly brought me to Blackmagic Design and the Intensity Pro. The Intensity Pro is a short PCI Express card which requires a single lane slot, but also works in 4, 8 and 16 lane slots. It features a pair of HDMI ports which can be used for capturing video from one HDMI source while outputting a signal to an HDMI display. An additional port connects to a supplied breakout cable (pictured lower on the page) with a multitude of plugs for the various analogue inputs; note the cheaper Intensity version dispenses with the analogue connectivity for HDMI alone.

Blackmagic Intensity Pro HDMI Capture card

The Intensity cards can capture unprotected HDMI content at the full 1920x1080 pixel resolution under Windows PCs or Macs using either a Motion JPEG or totally uncompressed recording format, along with grabbing still frames if desired. At this point, my initial requirement was fulfilled. The Intensity could grab HD menus and graphics from cameras like the Nikon D90 and Canon EOS 5D Mark II over their HDMI ports; indeed the menus in my Canon EOS 5D Mark II HD video tour were captured in HD over HDMI with this card. The card was also necessary for grabbing the menu images for my Sony Alpha A380 review, as this camera dispenses with a standard TV output for HDMI alone. Job done, but the Intensity cards offer a number of additional possibilities.

While HDMI has become the standard interface for connecting domestic HD components, you may think the ability to capture it on your PC would have limited use – especially as protected content is ruled-out. HD camcorders playing your own content are a possibility, but most people already employ Firewire or USB ports for getting such footage onto their computers.

Capturing over HDMI does have a very neat advantage though, at least for tape-based HDV models used in a studio environment. Video enthusiasts will know while most modern HDV camcorders feature sensors with 1920x1080 resolution, the HDV format itself squashes it into a lower resolution 1440x1080 frame to save space. Footage that’s already been recorded to tape will be fixed at this resolution whether you capture over Firewire or HDMI.

But most HDV camcorders actually output a live signal over their HDMI ports at the full 1920x1080 resolution and the Intensity can capture it, giving you 33% greater horizontal resolution. Obviously it’s not practical to lug a PC around on holiday just to capture the full resolution from a tethered HDV camcorder, but there’s many studio-based applications which can exploit it.

Intensity Pro analogue breakout cable

In practice this really works. I tried it with the Canon HV30 used for Cameralabs' HD video demos and found live video captured over HDMI had a quality advantage over recorded HDV footage. Note you will need to switch the HV30’s TV Screen option to Off and toggle the Display button to eliminate the on-screen icons though.

The Intensity will also capture a wider colour gamut with 4:2:2 sampling, and you can record the signal with milder compression than HDV, or even none at all. While both will obviously consume more storage than heavily compressed formats, you’ll subsequently save processing time when editing and rendering effects. Indeed high-end video enthusiasts often prefer to re-capture footage in a less compressed format for this very reason, and the Intensity cards let you do this with any HD camcorder equipped with an HDMI port.

Since DVI shares the same video specification as HDMI, there’s also the possibility of capturing a PC’s desktop image with an adapter. This isn’t guaranteed to work, but if you set your desktop resolution to a typical HD mode, such as 1920x1080 or 1280x720 at 60Hz, the Intensity stands a good chance of capturing it. Video editors will also appreciate the ability to preview projects over HDMI to a normal TV set, rather than a PC monitor.

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There are of course a number of things to watch out for. First, you’ll need plenty of fast storage at your disposal. The mildly compressed 1080 capture mode consumes around 12MByte/s, while the uncompressed version gobbles 119MByte/s; in contrast HDV relatively nibbles away at 3.125Mbyte/s.

You’ll also only exploit the maximum quality if you’re capturing the live output from a device over a tethered HDMI connection, although again there’s still speed benefits when editing less compressed footage.

The Intensity cards are certainly very flexible products with some neat features for video enthusiasts, especially the Pro version with its additional support for a wealth of analogue inputs, along with the option to up or down-scale. They've proven invaluable at Cameralabs and both come Recommended.

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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