Streaming live video from a camera into a computer has never been more difficult than today. Now that cameras rely on HDMI rather than simple composite, S-Video, or FireWire ports, it can be extremely difficult to connect them to a computer. That’s why I was thrilled to see the announcement by Blackmagic Design of two Thunderbolt versions of their respected Intensity video input/output box. But which is the better choice, the Intensity Shuttle or Intensity Extreme?
Introducing the Blackmagic Design Intensity
Blackmagic Design is well known for their inexpensive yet professional quality audio/video hardware and software. I first became acquainted with the company at NAB Show last year, coming away impressed by their broad lineup of video input and output devices. But the one that really caught my eye was the Thunderbolt-enabled Intensity Extreme.
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“Intensity” is Blackmagic’s line of HDMI capture and playback devices. The Intensity Pro (internal PCIe) and Intensity Shuttle (external USB 3.0) have been available for a while. These offer a wide range of video capture and playback connections including HDMI, S-Video, component, and composite. Both are compatible with a wide range of professional editing software, including Avid Media Composer 6, Apple Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premiere Pro.
HDMI capture is critical for the latest generation of cameras, since most do not stream video over FireWire any longer. There is a vibrant market for “new old stock” and even used Canon HD camcorders with FireWire output, since these were the last to reliably stream live video to computers for use with webcasting applications.
The Intensity line opens up a whole world of cameras, including many HD camcorders as well as SLR and mirrorless cameras like my Sony NEX. This will lead to higher quality video for live streams of events like my Tech Field Day and Truth in IT seminar series.
The Thunderbolt Enabled Intensity Shuttle and Intensity Extreme
Although Apple Macintosh computers are widely used for live streaming, they have not been able to take advantage of the Blackmagic Intensity line due to Apple’s steadfast refusal to adopt USB 3.0. All that changes with the introduction of the Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt and Intensity Extreme.
Both the Intensity Shuttle and Intensity Extreme feature HDMI input and output and Thunderbolt connectivity for Apple MacBook Pro laptops. Both also include a variety of alternative input/output options, including S-Video, composite, and component. Both versions are also compatible with a wide range of popular software, include a bundle of Blackmagic applications, and share the same internal components.
So what’s the difference between the Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt and Intense Extreme, apart from a $60-higher price tag for the latter? The most obvious difference is the gorgeous machined aluminum case on the Intensity Extreme, which totally outclasses the two-tone plastic of the Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt. The Intensity Extreme relies on a breakout cable rather than the lineup of connectors along the edges of the Intensity Shuttle. Perhaps the Intensity Extreme is more rugged, but I prefer the light weight and integrated connectors of the Intensity Shuttle.
A quick look at the tech specs for the two devices shows some subtle but, perhaps, important differences. The Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt supports 8 channel audio input and output for HDMI connections, while the Intensity Extreme only lists dual channel support. But the Intensity Extreme is alone in featuring a 2-channel 24-bit SPDIF audio output port. The Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt appears to support a wider range of video formats, including 480p, 525p NTSC and 625p PAL, though this could perhaps be an oversight in the specifications listing.
Both versions of the Blackmagic Intensity require the separate purchase of Apple’s $50 Thunderbolt cable, and both appear to draw power from this port rather than increasing travel weight with an extra power supply.
Overall, I’m thrilled to see Blackmagic bring HDMI video input and output to the Thunderbolt ports found on most Apple computers, and the low price of the Intensity products is certainly welcome. Personally, I will choose the Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt for its lighter weight and no-breakout connectivity, and use the $60 I saved to purchase the Apple Thunderbolt cable. I’m not convinced that the minor technical differences between the 2 devices are a dealbreaker for me, though I can imagine some might demand the SPDIF audio port found only on the Intensity Extreme. Note that neither device is yet shipping, but Blackmagic promises to deliver them this quarter.