HDMI Grabber: Terratec Grabster Extreme HD

When doing a show, I usually like to record multiple copies of audio and video to make sure nothing gets lost. I have the master signal record to SSD on a Hyperdeck, a secondary H.264 stream goes to a Mac over USB from the TV Studio, audio goes to a dedicated Edirol R4 via SPDIF. One more copy wouldn’t hurt, right?

I tried the Elgato Game Capture HD, which also needs a Mac/PC to record to. In general, this works great, but the client software is a little too heavy performance-wise and cannot be automated as far as I can see. For live applications (except in some countries that are stuck in stone-age) the interface to Flash Media Servers is really great though.

Terratec provided me with a review unit of the recently announced Grabster Extreme HD which performs the same basic function, recording HD video as H264, but in a standalone device. You simply plug in a USB key and HDMI or analog component and hit record. In theory.


The only UI are two sets of LEDs: Sync of HDMI or Analog signal, and 720 or 1080 resolution.

When inserting a USB key formatted as FAT32, the record button will blink green until it’s ready to record. When lit green continuously, you can press the button to start recording. The button will turn red until pressed again to stop the recording. Then it will flash red until the buffer is flushed to disk and it’s safe to eject.



Additional settings, such as time and date, recording bitrate and volume level of the mic input can only be set by a piece of Windows software, which the manual refers to as the “driver”. It seems to be coming straight from the silicon vendor, installs a shady-looking .exe with the stock MFC icon to the Desktop. The capture chip appears to be a IT9910 HD from ITE Tech

Changing settings repeatedly didn’t work, or it would reset to the default values after reconnecting the unit.

The actual driver isn’t signed, therefore yields a Windows Logo noncompliance warning, and needs frequent reinstallations when plugging in the device.


Getting a sync to the HDMI input yields inconsistent results. When daisy-chaining the Grabster, neither it nor the display behind it would recognise the signal. When putting it behind a HDMI splitter, it would sync until adding another display to the splitter, resulting in a loss of sync in the Grabster and the display. Inserting a Dr. HDMI to force everyone involved to 720p50 helps, but adds another $100 to the setup. Admittedly, this is hard to get right, and the Grabster unfortunately fails.

At first glance video quality appears to be decent, when recording at a relatively high bitrate (9Mbit/s), the default is 16Mbit/s.

Unfortunately, the signal for some reason gets a ride through the Gamma Ray Tube. Left is the reference recording, right is Terratec. Turn contrast to 11.



Audio is captured as stereo at 48kHz, encoded as AAC at 192kbit/s. The resulting perceived quality is abysmal. Additionally, a ~4db gain is applied to the audio, which of course leads to clipping very easily.

Audio also is delayed by approximately 140ms, which is way beyond the recommended -15/+45 ms value.

Top is Terratec, bottom is reference, with video in sync. Note the 140ms offset and clipping in the top track.


First is reference, second is the Terratec.

You Had One Job

The device should grab video and audio as provided by the source signal and encode it to H264 on disk.

Audio sounds horrible and distorted, the video signal is all over the place, clipping in the lights, underexposed in the shadows. The driver is a Windows XP-era relic and doesn’t even work right on Windows XP. Why on earth would you design a stand-alone device to be dependent on a PC?

So clearly, this device doesn’t even cater to the most basic professional requirements. Even as a crash recording, the backup of the backup, the Terratec Grabster is of highly dubious value and would require lots of work restoring image and audio to acceptable levels, if at all possible.

But consider this: An additional label on top of the shrink-wrap was added to the packaging: “Records video cassettes on a USB stick or hard-disk – without PC!”


Use this box to digitise your precious analog videos? I’d rather not.


I haven’t tested any other consumer-grade stand-alone devices.

When using a Mac though, for SD content consider the Elgato Video Capture (~$80, amazon.com / amazon.de) and for HD content look at the Elgato Game Capture HD (~$150, amazon.com / amazon.de). The Game Capture HD also supports Analog Component in HD, for grabbing video off a PS3.
If you’re on a newer Mac with Thunderbolt and don’t need analog video, consider the Blackmagic Mini Recorder (~$150 + $30 cable, amazon.com / amazon.de)

Blackmagic MultiDock Thunderbolt 2 SATA Dock

As predicted, Blackmagic just updated the MultiDock to Thunderbolt 2 and SATA III.


At $600, it’s a very affordable competitor to other Thunderbolt storage adapters, providing 4 SATA III 2.5″ slots and a daisy-chainable Thunderbolt 2 interface.

This should enable you to run 4 SSDs in stripe mode to fully saturate 20Gbit/s (2.5GByte/s!) on Thunderbolt. Something like 4TBs of storage including the dock would cost you around $2000. Can’t wait to get my hands on one.

It also gives you the flexibility to ingest a HyperDeck recording from one slot to a software raid on the remaining 3 slots.

Larry Jordan correctly points this out: Thunderbolt has long outrun the transfer speeds of spinning hard drives. Spinning 3.5″ disks deliver around 120MB/s. If you stripe four of them, this would give you about 500MB/s of transfer speed. If you go for a larger 8 disk unit, this would max out at about 920MB/s.

So now the tradeoff is storage size vs speed vs price vs weight vs dimensions. Choose what fits your needs best. Granted, the MultiDock really belongs in a rack and will look a little odd sitting next to your shiny new Mac Pro on the desk.

As the new MultiDock also supports daisy chaining up to 6 MultiDocks, you can get a setup with up to 24TBs of storage at 20Gbit/s for “just” $12k (cables not included).

Another first notable first in (my) zoo of Blackmagic devices: the power supply is built in and doesn’t take up precious space on the bottom of the rack and on the power strip.

Thunderbolt / SATA-SSD Adapters


I use a Blackmagic Hyperdeck to record ProRes video to SATA SSDs and was looking for Thunderbolt adapters to ingest the files into FCPX.

Buy on amazon.com, amazon.de

The obvious choice is the Blackmagic Multidock, which comes with 4 SATA II slots at 3GBit/s and one Thunderbolt 1 port. It’s around $500 and delivers a combined read/write rate of up to 10Gbit (out of theoretically available 12Gbit) on all ports simultaneously. Not bad at all, but my guess is that a Thunderbolt 2 / SATA III version with 20Gbit (out of 24) should be just around the corner, possibly at NAB in April.

Update 2014-03-19: It’s available now in a Thunderbolt 2 version!

Buy on amazon.com

Another choice is the Seagate GoFlex series of products. But I wish everyone good luck finding out specs and availability for the multitude of different models, in 3.5″, 2.5″ with and without included hard drives. I gave up.

Don’t buy it anywhere. They don’t want you to.

The third candidate is the LaCie eSATA Hub with two eSATA II ports and two Thunderbolt 1 ports to daisy-chain it. Again, I’d love to see an updated version of this with (e)SATA III and/or Thunderbolt 2. This wouldn’t profit as much from Thunderbolt 2 as the Multidock, but it could squeeze out 2 extra Gbit/s at the top end. At under $200, this would have been my first choice, if I wasn’t waiting for a new Multidock and I wouldn’t have discovered the Delock adapter.

Buy on amazon.com, amazon.de

The only readily available adapter I could find that has a SATA III port is the Delock 61971, a sorry little generic aluminium box. One drawback besides looks and mechanical stability: despite the minute size it requires an external 12V power adapter. On Mac OS, it just works. Windows users get a Mini CD with a driver. Data transfer rates on an Sandisk Extreme and an Intel 335 SSD are way under their respective data sheet specs, but close enough to 3GBit/s. It’s currently priced at about $100.

Buy on amazon.com, amazon.de (Availabilty varies)

Update: New version with closed case now on amazon.com / amazon.de

The device appears on the Thunderbolt bus:


  Vendor Name:	Delock
  Device Name:	61971
  Vendor ID:	0x52
  Device ID:	0x6
  Device Revision:	0x1
  UID:	0x000000000
  Route String:	3
  Firmware Version:	7,2
  Port (Upstream):
  Status:	Device connected
  Link Status:	0x2
  Port Micro Firmware Version:	2.0.7
  Cable Firmware Version:	0.1.24

and an SSD connected to it will appear under the Thunderbolt AHCI Controller

Thunderbolt AHCI Controller:

  Vendor:	Thunderbolt
  Product:	AHCI Controller
  Link Speed:	6 Gigabit
  Negotiated Link Speed:	6 Gigabit
  Physical Interconnect:	SATA
  Description:	AHCI Version 1.20 Supported


  Capacity:	240,06 GB (240.057.409.536 bytes)
  Model:	INTEL SSDSC2CT240A4                     
  Revision:	335t    
  Serial Number:	###  
  Native Command Queuing:	Yes
  Queue Depth:	32
  Removable Media:	Yes
  Detachable Drive:	No
  BSD Name:	disk1
  Medium Type:	Solid State
  TRIM Support:	No
  Partition Map Type:	GPT (GUID Partition Table)
  S.M.A.R.T. status:	Verified

Performance in FCPX looks promising as well: With ProRes 422 720p50 footage on the external SSD, rendering and transcoding a 3 hour program to ProRes 422 720p25 to the internal SSD on a current MacBook Pro takes just under 20 minutes.

YouTube: Your videos will process faster if you encode into a streamable file format.

When uploading long-form video to YouTube, I always get this warning message:

Your videos will process faster if you encode into a streamable file format.

From what I can gather from around the web, this means that YouTube will try to encode chunks from the video as it is still uploading. This also allows them to spread out this single encode job to multiple machines, optimizing load across their nodes and speeding up the process.

In order to do that, they need to know how the data inside the file is laid out. This information is stored in the moov atom of the video container. When locally encoding the file, this information only becomes available at the end of the encode and is therefore appended at the end of the file.

To move the moov atom to the front of the file, one may use the “Fast Start” option of the encoder. QuickTime and others do this in their GUI, ffmpeg users can use the -movflags faststart option, and one may use the qtfaststart script after encoding.

But: YouTube still gives me the warning with properly formatted files, there is no thumbnail during upload, and processing takes hours. Is there anything else I’m missing?

Update: I got a note from someone who should know, thanks!

Moving the moov atom to the front using qtfastart should do it.

There could be a youtube bug.

There could be an issue with [you] doing it wrong.

Stick h.264 + aac in an mpeg 2 transport stream or a mkv file, and try that?

So for now I consider YouTube’s MP4 ingest to be buggy. And indeed, using MKV files or MPEG2 Transport Streams containing H264 + AAC works much faster and yields no warning from YouTube during upload.

Here’s a sample ffmpeg command to losslessly copy streams from an existing MP4 file to MKV. There’s no re-encoding involved and therefore this file “conversion” runs at ~100.000 fps on my Mac.

ffmpeg -i video.mp4 -acodec copy -vcodec copy video.mkv

Fastspring für digitalen Vertrieb

Ich habe für den neuen englischen Lightroom-Workshop (wieder) nach einer Lösung gesucht, die den Vertrieb etwas erleichtert und bin auf Fastspring gestoßen.

Ich hatte die Lösung wohl schon einmal ins Auge gefasst, ich hatte noch einen fünf Jahre alten Account, wie mir der Support mitteilte. Mac User haben vielleicht das Frontend schon einmal beim Kauf von iStat Menus oder anderer Shareware gesehen. (Sagt man noch Shareware?)

Und soweit ich das nach der Einrichtung des Produkts und den ersten verkauften Workshops jetzt beurteilen kann, bin ich ziemlich begeistert von Fastspring:

  • Wahlfreiheit, den Shop selbst zu machen, und nur den Checkout zu nutzen, oder komplett alles von Fastspring machen zu lassen
  • Fastspring ist US-basierter Reseller und kümmert sich um die richtige Besteuerung aus US-Sicht. Für EU-Kunden wird die jeweils lokale MwSt. berechnet und abgeführt
  • Eigene Preis- und Rabattskripte in Javascript
  • Darüber z.B. auch Zahl-was-du-willst-Modus umsetzbar, mit Minimalpreis
  • Runde Preise für Fremdwährungen
  • Kreditkarte, Paypal und Banküberweisung als Zahlungsweg
  • Flexible Coupons
  • Fulfillment: Ein oder mehrere Downloads können an das Produkt angehängt werden.
  • Downloads können geupdated werden. Sofort. Kein Bergwerk.
  • Ebenso Lizenzcodes, die on demand erzeugt werden oder als Liste hochgeladen werden.
  • Webhooks sagen dem eigenen Server auf Wunsch bescheid
  • Fairer Preis: 8,9%, inklusive Zahlung und Download

Und vieles mehr – Fastspring macht da unter der Haube viel richtig, leider sieht die Website aus wie 1997 und so gar nicht nach Next-gen E-Commerce.

Print Serialized Coupons With LaTeX

Get really random coupon codes

from random.org, save as coupons.csv. First line needs to be column title, “Coupons”.

Create PDFs with LaTeX


There are a ton of modules to mail merge documents in LaTeX, but they’re overkill. csvtools simply supplies every column as a macro with \insert<Columnname>

My coupons are only 12x12cm in size, which the printer would not accept, so I set paper size to A4 and padded the paper tray with a little bit of cardboard.



Quick and Dirty HyperDeck Studio to H.264

ffmpeg -f concat -i files.txt -map_channel 0.1.0:0.1 -map_channel 0.1.1:0.1  -filter:a "aformat=channel_layouts=0xFFFF" -vcodec libx264 -preset ultrafast -r 25 -pix_fmt yuv420p -y output.mp4 

This will discard 14 of the 16 audio tracks, join the Capture000?-chunks, reencode ProRes to H.264, work around a bug in recent ffmpeg versions and is really fast (4x real time on a recent laptop).

Bus Push 2.0

Bus Push

Herbstputz auch bei den internen Apps: Raus mit der Leinentextur und rein mit ein paar neuen Funktionen. Mit dem heutigen Update der Bits und so App läuft jetzt der Push auch über Parse.com und kann bequem über die Bus Push App angesteuert werden. Ein paar von euch haben beim Test heute nachmittag unter Umständen eine Nachricht bekommen…

Oh, und ein neues Icon hat sie auch bekommen: