An extremely reliable and portable PVR that is better than your standard PVR.
Let's start this review by saying that I am a total noob when it comes to anything related to capture cards or PVRs, video recording or capturing, rendering and posting it on Youtube. Sure, the idea has always fascinated me and I always wanted to try it myself, but budget (and being a cheap bastard!) stopped me from actually trying to get into it. Luckily for me, the guys over at Hauppage were nice enough to send over a HD PVR Rocket for review.
So is it any good or worth the money? The short answer is yes and yes. However among the good things this piece of tech has, there are also some minor annoyances which I will get into more down below. But let's start with the good things first.
The HD PVR Rocket is not just your standard PVR that requires a power plug to work. Nope, the Rocket is way more than that. First, it is portable and what that means is that it doesn't need to be plugged to a wall outlet to actually work. It is USB powered and that is an extremely nice feature. The second thing that's awesome about the Rocket is that it can work either connected to a PC or totally standalone and what the last thing allows you is total freedom. Now there are a couple of other great things about the Rocket which I'll explain in detail later, but for now I am going to focus on these two (three) great features of the Rocket.
As I said being able to work standalone and also being USB powered make the Rocket a fantastic piece of tech for journalists like me, but also for you, the next big Youtuber. As you might already know by now, big game publishers like EA or Activision etc. host private events where they show to selected people from the press or to big Youtubers their latest games. So where does the Rocket comes into play into all this, you might ask? Well, since to record gameplay it only requires two cables and a USB memory stick, the Rocket is perfect for these types of events. It is extremely small, very compact, and really reliable. It is extremely easy to use since there is only one big red button you press to start and stop recording. It is also easy to set up, HDMI or component cable from your console goes into the PVR, HDMI from your PVR goes into the TV and the USB from your PVR goes into your console or PC and that's it, you are ready to record your amazing gameplays.
Now I tested the Rocket on both my PS3 and Xbox One for quite a while and I am really impressed by what it can do. As you can see down below the quality of the footage is fantastic, especially that captured from Xbox One. Ryse: Son of Rome is a gorgeous game and you can clearly see that the videos down below and the same is for Forza 5. The PS3 footage in the other hand well, it doesn't look nearly as good, but that is not the Rocket fault. You see, the PS3 has this "stupid" feature that prevents the users to record anything coming out through the HDMI output. They do that in order to stop piracy for Blu-Ray movies and we all know how good is that working for them... The Xbox One and I believe the PS4 don't have that so your gameplay will look as sharp and as beautiful as you see it on the TV. So in order to capture gameplay from the PS3 you have to use the component cables, or you can get an HDCP splitter, but I am not going to recommend doing that, and the quality they output is nowhere near that coming out from the HDMI. It still looks good, but it is more blurry and kinda fuzzy around the edges as you can clearly see it in the Assassin's Creed Liberation HD or GTA V test footage. And also if you are like me who lost his PS3 component cable, don't worry, there is one inside the box along with a HDMI cable.
To check all of the test footage I captured with the Rocket, click here.
The Rocket can record up to 1080p in 30fps, 720p and lower with a higher fps up to 60fps. But is that important? Well, let's take any Call of Duty game as an example. As you might know (or not), every Call of Duty game runs at 1080p in 60fps or frames per second giving you that smooth movement and shooting no other game gives you in the old gen, Xbox 360 and PS3. So when you record your gameplay with the video output set at 1080p, yes you get the correct size, but you don't get you frames per second. You only get 30fps and believe me when I tell you that 30fps vs 60fps is a very big gap and it is very noticeable. However that is only when you watch the raw footage playing on your PC, because when you upload them to Youtube, they look exactly the same. The 720p is way way smoother running at a europian soap-opera 60fps while the 1080p at 30fps just causes motion sickness, but somehow Youtube fixes that and I have no idea why... hey I said I am a noob when it comes to video recording!
But since most of the games on the old gen and some on the next gen (Xbox One mainly ;p) run at 720p, you will not have any problem capturing smooth and beautiful HD footage with the Rocket if you change the output settings first. When I say beautiful HD footage, I really mean it. The Rocket, when used as standalone, records at a bit rate of around 18Mbit/s, which is typical for high quality videos recorded in the H.264 format meaning that you will not see any artifacts on your captured footage. That also means that the file size will be kinda big, like around 135Mb per minute of footage. But since the format is MPEG-4, which is the most user friendly format to use in editing programs, that means that you can lower the size by encoding it without losing any quality. I didn't encode or edit any of the footage you see embed here, cause to render just a minute of footage in my sh*tty laptop requires a hour so, yeah...
Another thing that is great about the Rocket is the built-in audio mixer which allows you to record game commentary while you record your video gameplay. You just have to plug your microphone or headset into the 3.5mm jack and you are set. While your gameplay is being recorded, your voice also will and you can control the voice volume with the touch based mixer on top of the PVR itself. You can increase/decrease or boost your voice volume in real time without any problem and it really works. However the voice quality depends on the microphone or headset you are using, the better the mic the better the quality. Sure finding the right balance between game and voice volume might take a few tries, but since the whole recording is so easy basically you just press one big red button to start/stop recording, it is very easy to find it.
As I previously mentioned, the Rocket can be used as a standalone or connected to a PC. When connected to a PC you have to use the Hauppauge Capture software which is free to download. The software is really basic as you can't really do much with it. However it has some nice features like: you get a real time preview of the gameplay and you can take screenshots using a button on the UI. You can also change some of the recording settings like you can set a manual bit rate or you can change the contrast/brightness and add a little color correction to the footage pre-recording and it will record in real time using those settings. Another cool thing while connected to a PC is that since you record directly to the hard drive, there is no size limit. You can keep recording till you fill your entire hard disk and it will only be one file, not 2GB files or "chunks" like when using it in standalone. The software also has a "Upload to Youtube" feature which is nice I guess, but since the file sizes will be ginormous, you wouldn't want to use that. Another great thing about being connected to the PC is that you can actually use the Rocket to capture footage directly from your PC, if your PC has a HDMI out port. Yeah, sure you can capture footage using software like Fraps or whatever, but these software eat a lot of resources on your PC making it slower dropping the fps in your game. Using the Rocket eliminates that as video compression is done inside HD PVR Rocket so you can record your PC game play in HD without slowing down your PC.
So that's about it for the good things, I think. Now onto the bad ones. Well, using the term "bad ones" doesn't feel right since these "problems" or better call annoyances, are bonus things I wish they had included in the first place. The first thing I would have loved to see would be an encoding or render setting in the software to lower the size of the file to be uploaded on Youtube. The second thing I would have loved to see is the inclusion of a dim lights slider or option. The Rocket has a light bar with three different colors, red, blue and green, showing you the different "stages" of recording and that's really helpful. But it is also annoying, at least for me it was. When I play on my PS3 or Xbox One, I like to sit down away from the TV in the dark and having bright vibrant colors in my line of sight is annoying and very distracting. That's why an option to dim the lights would have been great. Also a dedicated button on the PVR itself to take screenshots would have been nice. And the last thing I think would have been awesome if it was included is a remote. Having a remote to start/stop the recording without getting up to click the big red button would have been fantastic
Lastly, some of you might ask by now "What about streaming?" and the short answer is no. Streaming it is not supported at the moment. But I think there is a way to do it using the live preview from the software and one of XSplit's screen regions, but I haven't tried it and I don't really know for sure if it works. So as you see, these are not really problems of the Rocket (apart from the streaming), just things that would have made it a tab better.
To sum up everything, Hauppauge HD PVR Rocket is an amazing capture device that is well worth it's price. Being very small, portable and able to work without being connected to a PC make the Rocket the perfect device to take to gaming events. But it also works extremely well as your standard PVR capturing beautiful and smooth HD footage from every console or PC out there. My advice, if you want a reliable small portable yet powerful PVR, the Rocket is the way to go!