In an unexpected move, Epiphan Systems unveiled its’ VGA2PCIe frame grabber today – a completely internal frame grabber based on the PCI Express bus. This move is unexpected because Epiphan specialized in external USB and Ethernet based devices.
The VGA2PCIe is a fairly basic 1-channel VGA frame grabber. At the same time, VGA2PCIe offers capture rates that are impressive to say the least. Let’s take a look at the advantages and shortcomings of this new device:
- No compression when transferring the from VGA to the PC, meaning that your computer will see the VGA signal in 100% lossless, raw quality.
- Capture rates vary between 35-85 frames per second, making this frame grabber ideal for high frame rate applications.
- VGA2PCIe is able to capture full HD (1920×1080) video at high frame rates.
- VGA2PCIe is based on 1x PCI Express, meaning it will fit in any PCI Express slot.
- For a price of $800, this is lower than other competing internal devices.
- Only one channel for VGA capture, although several VGA2PCIe devices can be installed on the same machine.
- No drivers for Linux or Mac, but Epiphan promises to add them in the near future.
- No audio input capture support, while other frame grabbers in Epiphan’s product line (like the VGA2Ethernet) support a stereo audio input.
VGA2PCIe is a strong contender in the internal frame grabber market. It should definitely be put under consideration if you are shopping for an internal VGA frame grabber. The specifications are impressive an Epiphan’s support has always been great.
What is a VGA Splitter?
A VGA splitter is a device that duplicates a VGA signal. In other words, in accepts one VGA input, and clones it to multiple VGA outputs.
VGA Splitters and Screen Capture
VGA Splitters are often used in screen capture solutions where a VGA signal needs to be captured. Since a VGA splitter clones a single VGA signal into two or more feeds, this allows the user to retain the use of a standard computer monitor, while at the same time sending the VGA signal to a capture device like a frame grabber.
Active and Passive VGA Splitters
Two different types of VGA splitters exist. Active VGA splitters and passive VGA splitters. Passive VGA splitters, pictured below, are also known as simply Y-splitters or Y-adapters:
Active VGA splitters, on the other hand, consist of hardware devices that need to be powered to operate and often have more than 2 ports on the output side. A VGA Splitter from Kramer Electronics is shown below:
When to use a Passive Splitter
A passive splitter has only a few advantages over its active counterpart. Firstly, passive splitters are extremely cheap in price, as they can often be found for under $10. Secondly, they are compact and require no power source.
Unfortunately, passive splitters also have some downfalls. They are not compatible with all equipment, as passive splitters don’t let monitors properly identify themselves to the VGA source. Passive splitters support a maximum of only two outputs and, since there is no amplification of the signal, the outputs are often of inferior quality than if seen without the splitter.
It is suggested to use a passive splitter when you are connecting two of the same model monitor to the splitter’s output, no power source is available, or when picture quality is unimportant to you.
When to use an Active Splitter
Active VGA splitters have countless advantages over passive VGA splitters. Active VGA splitters can clone one VGA port into virtually any number of outputs. Furthermore, an active VGA splitter identifies itself to the computer as a monitor, meaning that there will be no incompatibility issues with the different models of monitors and VGA-based equipment connected to it.
Furthermore, active VGA splitters slightly amplify the signal (not to be confused with VGA amplifiers) which means that the resulting VGA output will be of significantly superior quality when comparing to that of a passive or Y-splitter.
Realistically, the one and only disadvantage of an active splitter is that it requires a power source for it to operate.
If possible, using an active splitter is recommended for all applications. However, since proper active splitters retail for well over the $100 mark, a passive splitter will sometimes suffice.
When choosing an active VGA splitter, always make sure to check its specifications in order to see if it is compatible with the resolution you plan to use it with.
One of the most visited pages on our site is our massive and extremely informative feature comparison table for the world’s best VGA and DVI frame grabbers. Since it was created, some manufacturers have changed the specifications for their devices, while Epiphan Systems introduced the VGA2Ethernet frame grabber, which is now part of the table.
The first thing that you may notice is that the VGA2Ethernet has much higher specifications than any other frame grabber on the market. This is due to the fact that the VGA2Ethernet is a much more sophisticated device and, as such, is not really comparable to the other grabbers.
Why is the VGA2Ethernet different?
You can think of the VGA2Ethernet as a separate small computer equipped with a frame grabber. As such, it is able to function remotely. In other words, the VGA2Ethernet does not have to have close proximity to the target computer, as is the case with PCI or USB based frame grabbers. As shown below, the only requirement for the VGA2Ethernet is that it be on the same network as the target computer, and within proximity of the source that it is capturing the VGA signal from.
The fact that the VGA2Ethernet can be separated from the target computer distance-wise is not the only thing that makes this device different from others, however. By using the Gigabit Ethernet bus to transfer the images and a PowerPC processor paired with an advanced FPGA, the VGA2Ethernet is able to digitize images at resolutions up to 2048 x 2048 and, depending on the change in content from frame to frame, transfer them at up to 120 frames per second, making the VGA2Ethernet significantly faster than other any frame grabber available on the market.
Please click here to go to our complete VGA frame grabber review and specification page. Do not hesitate to contact us should you wish another product to be added to the table.
When an organization, company, or individual has an idea for a VGA capture-based product, such as a webcasting system, a recorder of VGA signals, or any other VGA-related hardware product, a separate frame grabber is purchased, mated with a PC with software, packaged, and sold.
Solutions for capturing, broadcasting and recording presentations and seminars are often rediculously expensive ($10 000+) due to the fact that the original cost of the hardware (frame grabber + capture card + PC + peripherals) runs at half the retail value of the actual product. Not only did this make VGA capture-based solutions unaffordable to some, it also meant that educational institutions such as school and colleges had to spend an arm and a leg if they were to outfit every single one of their classrooms with such devices.
In order to solve this problem, Epiphan Systems has announced and is now shipping a new product aimed at capturing the market of developers, power users, and integrators – the VGA2LAN Development Kit. With a fully open-source architecture, a custom Linux build environment, access to all drivers and ports, the VGA2LAN is poised to create a revolution in the industry.
What is it?
The VGA2LAN platform is based off of a Motorola PowerPC chipset and comes preinstalled with a custom build of Ubuntu. The basic specifications are as follows:
- 1 VGA input with integrated frame grabber
- 1 VGA output
- Integrated Gigabit Ethernet hub
- 5 USB 2.0 ports (4 external + 1 internal)
- No moving parts
In other words, the VGA2LAN is effectively a small PowerPC-based computer with an integrated frame grabber.
Of course, what interests us most is the quality of VGA capture that this device can achieve. Does it really make sense to develop products using the VGA2LAN platform or is it still better to use an internal or external frame grabber paired to a PC? The basic specs are listed below and a full list of specifications can be obtained at Epiphan Systems’ web page:
- 2048 x 2048 maximum resolution
- 120 frames per second maximum capture rate
- Lossless quality
- 270 Mpixels/s pixel rate, 532Mpixels/s if interlaced
The specifications of the integrated frame grabber are comparable to those found in high-end devices costing upwards of $2000. A detailed comparison of VGA frame grabbers can be found here. And, since the price of the VGA2LAN Development Kit is under $1000, it makes sense to use it instead of a computer + frame grabber combo often costing 5 times that amount.
A Platform for Next Generation Internet Appliances
The VGA2LAN does not come with any internal memory. However, USB 2.0 flash memory drives can be purchased for pennies on the dollar and are sold in all capacities up to 128GB, meaning that you have plenty of buffer space to work with. Furthermore, the 4 external USB ports can be used to connect external hard drives and other storage media, such as CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray burners, infinitely expanding the VGA2LAN’s storage capacity.
Since the VGA2LAN is an open source platform, devices such as USB Wi-Fi antennas can be connected in order to provide wireless communications, should the integrated Gigabit Ethernet network card not be sufficient for your application. Furthermore, the presence of USB 2.0 ports means that peripherals suchs as keyboards, mice, AMX/Crestron control units, and others can be interfaced with the VGA2LAN, making it perfect for virtually any application that involves the capture of VGA signals.
The VGA2LAN Development Kit is a great way to build, use, and sell hardware products for a company or organization that doesn’t have the resources, finances, or expertise to manufacture their own capture hardware. And, at a price of $999 US, it is most definitely a bargain.
Whether your application involves creating IT instructional manuals, recording from high resolution security systems, sharing a presentation with people from around the world, or printing handouts directly from any computer screen, you are looking at VGA video capture or VGA signal capture as a mean to achieving these goals. This article will explain in-depth how VGA signal capture works and what you need to know in order to capture such a signal.
The VGA Plug
Unlike DVI or HDMI, which are both digital standards, a VGA signal is purely analog. The differences between VGA, DVI, and HDMI are described in detail in this article.
“VGA” is short for Video Graphics Array and has been the most common connector/plug for analog video on computer equipment and various electronics with an analog video output since the introduction of personal computers (PCs). VGA carries a RGB (red-green-blue) signal and is sometimes referred to as “D-Sub” due to its’ 15-pin “subminiature” connector. The term “VGA” also refers to the VGA standard graphics resolution – 640×480 pixels.
A detailed VGA pinout is shown below to help advanced users understand how VGA works. Source.
VGA Video Connector Pinout
|Pin #||Signal Name|
VGA Frame Grabbers and How They Work
The only true way to capture and record a VGA signal is through a VGA-compatible frame grabber. A VGA frame grabber can be defined as a device that proccesses analog VGA signals and converts them into digital signals readable by computer equipment. While frame grabbers are described in slightly higher detain in this Wikipedia article, these three main internal components determine a VGA frame grabber’s performance:
- ADC (analog-to-digital) converter. This is the circuit that transforms the analog signal coming from the source VGA signal into a digital stream that can be read by the target computer.
- RAM (random-access memory). Also referred to as buffer memory, this memory is vital in storing the captured image for a short period of time on board the actual frame grabber.
- FPGA (field-programmable gate array). This is the heart of the frame grabber and is analogous to a processor inside a PC. It is a part that is entirely programmed by the manufacturer of the frame grabber.
Some frame grabbers, like the PixelSmart VGA Master have no on-board RAM buffer memory. This fact alone, besides leading to a lower-quality image, lowers the maximum possible capture rate (also referred to as frame rate) achievable by the frame grabber. Frame grabbers without on-board RAM are sufficient for the capture of presentations with lots of static slides or any other static imagery, like capturing screenshots from the computer’s BIOS. On the other hand, if you are capturing a high-resolution image and/or are capturing from a source with a high frame rate, like a video game console (ie XBOX 360) or medical equipment (ie: ultrasound), a frame grabber with at least 16MB RAM would be preferred. The VGA2USB Pro by Epiphan Systems, for example, has 32MB RAM memory and is able to capture at a whopping 60 frames per second in some resolutions.
PixelSmart’s Internal PCI VGA-Master
Epiphan Systems’ external USB-based VGA2USB Pro frame grabber
While RAM is important in defining the characteristics of a frame grabber and the quality of the image it outputs, another important factor is the way that the FPGA, or processor, is programmed. You will notice that the higher-end frame grabbers, like the VGA2USB Pro pictured above, have built-in features that some of the more basic frame grabbers, like the PixelSmart, do not have. A quick look at the Epiphan Systems webpage reveals the following features programmed via the FPGA processor: On-board cropping, Color space conversion, USB Transfer Accelerator™, Compression Booster Filters™. All of these software/firmware features allow the frame grabber to achieve extremely high quality and transfer rates without increasing the frame grabber’s size.
Please refer to our complete Frame Grabber Specifications Comparison Table for detailed and complete specifications on every VGA frame grabber on the market.
Applications for Frame Grabbers
Frame Grabbers, while being a niche product, have many practical uses in today’s IT-oriented business environment. The five most common and prominent uses are described in detail in our Top 5 Uses for High Resolution Frame Grabbers You Should Know About article. From the gaming industry to the military, frame grabbers are used accross many fields related to computer technology. To give you a general idea, some industry-specific uses for high resolution VGA frame grabbers are described below.
Computer Console Gaming
Microsoft’s X-BOX 360 gaming console has the ability to output its images via VGA or DVI. This means that a VGA frame grabber can be used to capture and record the gameplay from this game console, and even broadcast the gameplay live over the internet for other viewers to see.
The diagram above explains how to connect an X-BOX 360 to a frame grabber for recording and broadcasting the gameplay. The X-BOX’s VGA cable is connected to a VGA splitter’s input, from which one VGA output goes to the TV, and the other to the frame grabber-equipped computer. The image can then be broadcasted to the internet using the computer.
Presentation, Conference Broadcasting and Recording
In today’s globalized business world, businesses often have partners in many different countries. When conducting an online meeting or presentation, the presenter often has the need to share his screen with viewers around the world. For this exact reason, VGA frame grabbers are useful. They allow the presenter to not only share an image from a projector, but also from a BIOS screen, an ATM machine, a RADAR device, a medical ultrasound device, a security system, or even an electronic microscope. Most of these VGA sources are not able to be broadcasted in real-time with the use of traditional software sources, and frame grabbers are the only way to properly create diagnostic-quality images and videos from these devices.
In the diagram above, the VGA source is connected directly to a frame grabber-equipped PC with access to the internet. Using any web broadcasting software, the user is able to relay the images and video captured by the frame grabber to his or her audience.
Security System Surveillance Recording and Broadcasting
Today’s security systems and cameras are able to support digital formats as well as high resolutions required for complex security solutions. Of course, as solution is needed to record the outputs from the security system, store it in a digital format, and provide access to the files from remote locations. All of this can be accomplished with VGA frame grabber-based technology, such as the VGA Recorder, which have ample space for recording video files (up to 500GB), are able to directly transmit recordings to a remote FTP location, and give access to the recorded files through a web interface.
The diagram above, borrowed from the Epiphan Systems website, shows how easy it is to hook up a security system’s VGA output to the VGA Recorder. Everything can be set up in minutes, and the VGA Recorder is able to archive hundreds of hours of digital compressed video data to its internal hard drive.
Telemedicine and Remote Guidance
Telemedicine, also known as Remote Guidance, is an expanding field in which doctors are able to, through the internet, diagnose patients and provide advice. Telemedicine has many practical applications but some of the more notable ones are the delivery of expertise to areas in which it is not practical to have a qualified doctor at all times. For example, lets suppose that a player on a sports team gets a knee injury. Through telemedicine, the coach can use a portable ultrasound device like the Logiq Book XP and, with the aid of a frame grabber, relay the images from the Logiq Book directly to a qualified radiologist who can then make a decision on the severety of the injury.
The diagram above shows how any equipment with a VGA output, such as the ultrasound device, can be connected to a frame grabber, and the a computer. The images are then relayed to the qualified radiologist or doctor through the internet or a satellite uplink. If you would like to find out more about the field of remote guidance, then this website is a good start.
The VGA signal is the most common format used on today’s electronics and computer-based equipment. When this equipment is coupled with a VGA frame grabber, the possibilities are endless. Using a frame grabber, which is a relatively inexpensive device, organizations can not only significantly cut costs, but can also improve their productivity.