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.
What makes software packages like Adobe Connect Pro, Cisco WebEx, and Microsoft Live Meeting useful is the ability to broadcast anything that is visible on the computer screen as long as you have one of these applications installed and running. However, there are situations where one cannot install a web collaboration/presentation software on a computer but still needs to broadcast the image from it. It is also possible that you are using a device or operating system that is incompatible with your favorite webcasting software. Perhaps you would like to broadcast from a document camera pod with a VGA or DVI interface.
Some situations where an external frame grabber is useful:
- When a network connection is lost, the presenters screen is still being recorded.
- There are not enough system resources to run Connect Pro, or the computer does not allow the installation of Adobe Connect Pro.
- Switching layouts- Once a layout has been switched, the computer sharing the screen in the previous layout needs to be activated again.
- Audio – When working with demos, the demo machine’s audio needs to have the Connect Pro audio installed, but muted (through the voice and camera pod) otherwise the session’s audio will echo.
- Bandwidth – Each demo computer needs to be logged into the Connect Pro meeting. When many computers/devices are connected to a Connect Pro meeting, too much bandwidth is “eaten up”.
- Unsupported devices – Since Adobe Connect Pro is normally only compatible with Windows and Mac OS X, adding a frame grabber allows you to use Connect Pro on any device with a VGA or DVI port.
In order to accomplish this, you would need to use a frame grabber connected to a Connect Pro capture computer. You would then launch the application that comes with the grabber on the computer with the VGA grabber and share it with Connect Pro. As long as the VGA source is connected to the grabber itself, then you’re ready to broadcast the image from it!
What frame grabber works best with Adobe Connect Pro?
There is no universal answer to this question and it really depends on what your capturing needs are. If you are looking for something cost-effective and do not need to broadcast an image with as lot of movement, then the Epiphan Systems VGA2USB will be enough. However, if you need to broadcast an HD or other high-quality imagery, then we suggest to look into the NCast DCC3.1, Epiphan VGA2Ethernet, or DVI2USB Duo.
For a detailed comparison and description of the most advanced high-resolution frame grabbers on the market, please refer to our frame grabber comparison table.
ScreenToaster is probably the most exciting, easy-to-use, and feature packed free screen capture applet available. Today, the developers of ScreenToaster have announced that the Beta testing is over and that ScreenToaster 2.0 is available with the following new features:
- Live audio capture
– Embed webcam in screen capture
– Accelerated or slow-motion playback
– Pauses during recording
– Download the completed screencast (experimental)
– Redesign and improved content organization
– Personal profiles
The devs over at ScreenToaster are also promising an API and direct uploads to video sharing sites like YouTube, Veoh, DailyMotion, and others. If these features will be added, then ScreenToaster will be hands down the best free screen capture application available.
You can read our review of the ScreenToaster beta by following this link.
For a while now, Epiphan Systems has been making the popular VGA Recorder and VGA2WEB web-based collaboration and conferencing devices. This month, however, Epiphan has unveiled the VGA Recorder Lite and VGA2WEB Lite, both of which are “light” and portable version of the mentioned devices.
Both the VGA2WEB Lite and VGA Broadcaster Lite are budget-oriented devices which are able to broadcast a VGA signal with a resolution of up to 1600 x 1200 to an Internet audience. Using the Gigabit Ethernet interface to connect to a local area network (LAN) or the Internet, these devices are ideal for those that would like to collaborate, present, or broadcast a VGA signal but do not want to hassle with complicated software or hardware modifications.
Once the VGA2WEB Lite or VGA Broadcaster Lite devices are plugged in and running, the audience can simply access the broadcast using their web browser or media player, such as QuickTime or VLC.
While both devices work with signals of up to 1600 x 1200 and broadcast supplied image in 100% lossless diagnostic quality, the VGA2WEB Lite uses motion JPEG compression, meaning that its broadcast can be accessed via a simple web interface. The VGA Broadcaster Lite’s webcast, on the other hand, uses H.264 or MPEG4 video compression to relay the VGA signal to its viewers, meaning that a media player such as QuickTime is needed in order to view the broadcast that is created by it.
A comparison of both devices can be found by going to this page on Epiphan System’s offical website.
Here at ScreenCaptureNews, we like all things that are simple to use and don’t cost an arm and a leg. ScreenToaster is a completely free exciting new web-based Java applet similar to ScreenCast-O-Matic. You can read our full review of ScreenCast-O-Matic here. While ScreenCast-O-Matic was an easy applet to use, we did find some problems, notably the ultra-low capture rate (~2fps), that took away from the usefulness of this application.
ScreenToaster is basically an online applet that records your screen or an area of your screen and then instantly publishes the recording to the web in Flash YouTube-like format for you to share with your peers or co-workers. This can come in extremely useful in situations where you need to demonstrate to someone how to use a piece of software, create instructional videos, or upload a video of your screen for others to see for troubleshooting purposes.
While ScreenToaster is still in Beta, you will need an activation key to use it. The activation key can be requested by going to the registration page of the ScreenToaster website. Once you have registered your user account and logged in, ScreenToaster will bring you to your control panel. From here, you will need to press “Start Recording” to launch the recording proccess. You will also be prompted to install the ScreenToaster Java applet, which you must accept.
Once you have clicked on “Start Recording,” ScreenToaster will display a small info box which explains how the software works. It is rediculously easy to understand and use. First, you must bring forward the application which you would like to record. Then, pressing “ALT + S” begins a recording of your entire screen, whereas “ALT + SHIFT + S” allows you to select an area of your screen to record. Finally, once you are done recording, “ALT + S” must be pressed again in order to publish the video.
Once you have finished recording (after pressing ALT – S), you will be taken back to the ScreenToaster control panel where you’ll be able to see your recording.
Using the three options on the left side of the video preview, you can add subtitles, audio, or change the preview shot of the video.
You must now name and describe your video. When you are done, click on “Publish”
Unfortunately, we at ScreenCaptureNews were unable to publish any videos due to the fact that it gave us an error every time that we hit “Publish”. The developers of the software wrote to us and said that, because the software is still in beta, bugs do pop up from time to time.
What we saw in the preview, however, was fairly decent. The frame rate was pretty good and it even recorded a video off of YouTube at about 20fps, which is a ten-fold difference between ScreenCast-O-Matic. ScreenToaster was also exceptionally easy to use and overall is a promising web applet.
The developers of ScreenToaster claim that the application works with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. ScreenToaster will always be free and will most likely be ad-supported once it is released to the general public. Tentative release date, according to ScreenToaster staff, is “end of October”. We’ll keep you posted with a full review once ScreenToaster is out of beta.
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.
The market is full of applications designed to share, webcast, or broadcast a user’s computer screen over the web. What separates this application apart from the competition is that it’s a web-based applet. Vyew (pronounced “view”) is compatible with all recent browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari etc) and platforms (Windows, Mac or Linux). All that the user needs in order to use this application is Java and Flash installed on their PC.
Vyew is a great altenative to programs like PCAnywhere, TightVNC, that require you to install software on the source and target computers. What’s more, the free version of Vyew does not require you to sign in to the website, allowing the user to initiate the entire desktop sharing proccess in a matter of seconds.
Operation of the Vyew applet is extremely simple. Start by going to Vyew.com. From there, click on “Start Sharing Desktop.”
Save the URL that is given to you and give it to all those that you would like to share your screen with. This is the address that your viewers will use in order to log into your Vyew session. Now click on “start sharing my desktop”.
You will get a warning for allowing the applet access to your computer. Press “Yes”.
Now when any of your viewers enter the URL that was supplied to you before the webcast was started, they will see everything that you are doing on your desktop in real time. The viewers can chat with the broadcaster by clicking on the little tab visible on the left side of their screen.
Vyew tracks the cursor of the source machine, and this is the reason why all cursor movements are very fast and accurate. The free version of Vyew is only able to perform screen capture at a rate of about 1-2 frames per second, thus everything on the screen of the viewer is visibly slow. The person sharing must always rembember this and avoid doing things so fast that the Vyew refresh rate cannot keep up.
The resolution, picture quality, and sharpness in Vyew is very good. Even fine print is perfectly readable and all images are still fairly sharp.
Here you can see a resolution chart that was broadcast to a remote user through Vyew. It is still sharp and retains most of its’ quality. This is great for not just general remote desktop sharing, but also showing presentations, spreadsheets, and Word documents.
Overall, Vyew is a pretty impressive web-based application. There are no intrusive advertisements on the Vyew website, which is another pleasant surprise for a free service like this. There is only a small banner ad in the top right corner. All of the free screen sharing sessions go through the Vyew servers over an unencrypted connection and do not offer the user any options to protect their content. Simulat, the company that makes this applet, hopes that some users will subscribe to their pay service, which offers features like encryption, voice and webcam broadcasting, advanced teleconferencing, and archiving.
While it is unfortunate that more advanced features like audio sharing were not included in the free version and that the refresh rate is so slow that only static pictures and text can be broadcast, the functionality and ease of use of Vyew is still pretty impressive for a completely free service. This applet is perfect for those that need to share their desktop only once in a while and without any hassles.
A Thorough Look at the VGA2USB LR from Epiphan Systems
I needed a quality VGA capture solution but didn’t want to spend a fortune on it. At just under $800, the VGA2USB LR from Epiphan Systems seemed to be exactly what I wanted. In this review, I will look at the good and bad of this tiny frame grabber and explain its features.
The packaging for the VGA2USB LR is pretty standard. Like other computer components, it comes in a simple flip-top cardboard box with specifications and a list of components that should be inside the box. Upon opening the box, the VGA2USB LR is nicely packed in the center with a transparent molded plastic cover over it. It is pretty simple, yet gives off a very good impression. The one thing that catches your eye right away is the “No CD Included” writing. It is actually quite surprising that a product of this price has no installation or driver disks included. This is probably due to the fact that Epiphan issues regular driver and software updates on its website. The box also contains a small instruction booklet to help you get running, USB and VGA cables, and, to my delight, a universal power supply with several plugs that can be used in both Europe and North America. Even though this might not be a big advantage, I found this to be a pleasant surprise.
The VGA2USB LR comes in pretty standard packaging
As soon as you open the box, the device reveals itself. All the cables are buried beneath the cover.
The LR comes with an impressive set of accessories. This includes a manual, USB cable, VGA cable, passive VGA Y-splitter, male-to-male VGA adapter, and a universal power adapter with plugs for North America, Europe, Australia, and UK.
Epiphan Systems makes the only external, portable frame grabbers in the world, so there is not much that they can be compared with.
Overall, the design of the VGA2USB is very sleek and pleasing to look at. It is of a nice orange color and it is made entirely of brushed aluminum, which makes the device feel very solid in your hands. The whole thing is about the size of a credit card in terms of length and width, and about an inch (~2.5cm) in height.
The cables included are what one would expect, including the standard USB mini-B cable and the male-to-male VGA cable. The little plugs included with the universal power adapter seem flimsy at first but clip into the adapter housing very snugly and should not break.
The VGA2USB LR is of a gold/orange color.
It is a fairly small device and is of rectangular shape when viewed from top.
In fact, the VGA2USB LR is about the size of a credit card (width x height).
The serial number, FCC and CE certifications are printed out on the back of the device. The VGA2USB LR is made in Canada.
Installation of the VGA2USB LR on a Windows XP machine is pretty straight forward. Plugging the device in and letting Windows find the drivers through Windows Update did not yield any results. The drivers must be downloaded from the “Download” section on the Epiphan Systems website.
During the installation of the drivers, Windows XP gives a warning of the drivers not passing the “Windows Logo Test.” This happens often with devices of small manufacturers and is not a big deal. Just press “Continue” to finish the installation.
The Epiphan VGA2USB software gets automatically installed with the drivers. Unfortunately, Epiphan did not give the user the choice of installing the drivers and software separately. What’s more, the drivers can only be downloaded with the new version of the software and vice-versa. This is surprising as the VGA2USB LR does not need specific VGA2USB software in order to be able to function via other WDM-capable software such as Windows Media Encoder.
VGA2USB LR appears as a high-resolution video camera under My Computer
The software included with the VGA2USB LR seems pretty simple at first but actually has a lot of settings and various “tweaking” capabilities to provide the user with the best possible picture. In most of the capture environments that I was testing in, I found that, most of the time, the software does a good job at capturing the picture.
The software displays the capturing resolution, update rate, and monitor refresh rate in the lower right corner of the window.
In order to start the capturing process, one must simply plug the USB, power, and VGA cables into the VGA2USB LR. The VGA and USB cables need to be plugged into the source and target computers. The power cable is also required. Once everything is plugged in and the software is started, the VGA2USB software automatically “tunes” the resolution and frame rate to the output of the VGA source.
When the VGA, USB, and power cables are connected to the VGA2USB LR, the LR automatically tunes to the source signal.
The USB and VGA cables must be plugged into the target and source machines, respectively.
The VGA2USB LR can be configured in several locations. A “VGA2USB” icon now appears in the Windows XP Control Panel. Selecting it will display a list of all VGA2USB devices connected to the computer along with the devices’ respective serial numbers. Once a VGA2USB device is selected, you will see that the “Use default configuration parameters” radio box is selected. You may configure advanced settings of each frame grabber by selecting the “Maintain device-specific configuration” radio box and then clicking on the “Configure Device…” button. Here, expert users can adjust sampling phase, PLL adjustment, horizontal shift, vertical shift, offset, and gain of the captured picture. As the VGA2USB LR comes with DirectShow (also known as Video for Windows) drivers, the device appears as a high resolution camera and can be used with virtually any capture software. If you are using DirectShow software instead of the included program, several settings may be adjusted under the “DirectShow” tab.
Several configuration settings also exist within the VGA2USB software itself. Selecting “Options..” from the Tools menu lets the user set the codec or image compression to be used during the recording. The user has the ability to limit the captured frame rate, which is useful when the file size of the captured output needs to be reduced. This screen also lets the user choose the display format randing from black and white to 24 bit RGB. There are also other options like flipping the image vertically or inverting the colors for printing (see screenshot).
The VGA2USB software also has a built-in broadcast/webcast option, and the quality settings of the compression can be configured under the “Sharing” tab. In that tab, you will notice that there are two sliders – “Lossless” and “Lossy.” These two options are not explained anywhere and can be confusing for those that do not have experience with video compression. Increasing the “Lossless” slider will yield higher sharpness in distinct parts of a frame, such as small text or complex diagrams. Increasing the “Lossy” slider will yield to higher sharpness in less distinct parts of the image, such as in blank areas or pictures with low details. The sharing/webcasting feature of the VGA2USB LR will be discussed later in this review.
The Epiphan VGA2USB icon now appears under the Windows XP Control Panel
Clicking on the VGA2USB icon will reveal a list of connected devices and allow you to configure the device settings.
An array of adjustments is found under the “Configure Device” option.
More options, such as those for broadcasting, are found within the VGA2USB software itself.
Recording through Epiphan’s VGA2USB software is very simple. As soon as the VGA2USB LR is powered on and connected to the VGA source and the USB on the target computer, just fire up the software and press on the round “Record” button near the top of the window. The software will ask you where you would like to save the video to and will start recording once you give it the location. Wasn’t that easy?
Below is a short video clip captured by the VGA2USB LR at a resolution of 1280 x 1024. The XVid codec was used to compress the video at medium quality. Note that the resolution chart at the beginning and end of video is of ideal quality. There are no visible artifacts in the fast-motion YouTube video, and the captured image looks like a 1:1 copy of the VGA output.
Screenshots can also be made by going selecting File>Save As.. Similarly, a screenshot can be instantly printed by selecting File>Print.
The image above was captured from a laptop running Windows Vista.
As stated earlier in this review, the VGA2USB LR can be used to broadcast a VGA signal. One way to do this is to use a webcasting program like Windows Media Encoder or QuickTime Broadcaster. This option is best for power users as this allows for lots of customization and quick integration into websites and applets. Using a third party webcast software is also the only way to simultaneously broadcast VGA and audio over one stream.
For those users, however, who just need to share the VGA signal captured by the live VGA2USB LR over the web and do not want to deal with any confusing settings or configurations, Epiphan Systems included a simple one-click “Web Broadcasting” option which can be accessed from the Tools menu.
This has got to be the simplest broadcasting feature that I’ve ever used. As soon as the “Web Broadcasting” option is selected, the program provides the user with an address that should be given to those who the webcast is being shared with. The viewers then go to the address provided to view the broadcast.
No configuration is involved, which is what makes the broadcast feature so nice. On the other hand, the broadcast feature is labeled as a “Demo,” even though no software limitations seem to be present. Unfortunately, there is no way to schedule your broadcast or encrypt the data. In order to get these features you would either have to purchase the VGA2WEB or use a third party broadcasting solution (a few tutorials can be found one Epiphan’s web site).
The quality of the broadcast is pretty good. The picture is sharp and the refresh rate is fairly high, depending on the amount of movement in the original VGA source image. Of course, as stated earlier in this review, the user does have a limited amount of control over the trade-off between speed and quality, but that is as far as configuration goes in the VGA2USB software from Epiphan Systems.
This is what the http://vga2usb.epiphan.com interface looks like for the viewer. Clicking the magnifying glass icon in the top left allows the viewer to zoom in on the picture.
For those power users who want to know exactly what they are working with, I ventured to disassemble the VGA2USB LR to have a look at the components that make this device work.
At the core of the VGA2USB is a XILINX Spartan-3 XC3S400 programmable FPGA. This FPGA is part of the new and most recent Spartan-3 family of “Field Programmable Gate Arrays” and is programmed by the manufacturer. It has 400 000 system gates and 8 064 logic cells.
The on-board ADC (analog to digital converter) is manufactured by NXP, a former division of Philips Electronics. It is the TDA8754HL model, which is a very capable triple 8-bit ADC and runs up to 270 Msample/s. It is optimized for RGB/YUV signals (also known as VGA) and supports resolutions of up to 2048 x 1536 at 85 Hz, even though the VGA2USB LR handles resolutions of up to 1280 x 1024. Detailed specs are listed below:
- 3.3 V power supply
- Temperature range from -10Cel to +70Cel
- Triple 8-bit ADC:
- 0.25 LSB Differential Non-Linearity (DNL)
- 0.6 LSB Integral Non-Linearity (INL)
- Analog sampling rate from 12 Msample/s up to 270 Msample/s
- Maximum data rate:
- Single port mode: 140 MHz
- Dual port mode: 270 MHz
- 3.3 V LV-TTL outputs
- PLL control via I2C-bus:
- 390 ps PLL jitter peak to peak at 270 MHz
- Low PLL drift with temperature (2 phase steps maximum)
- PLL generates the ADC sampling clock which can be locked on the line frequency from 15 kHz to 150 kHz
- Integrated PLL divider
- Programmable phase clock adjustment cells
- Three clamp circuits for programming a clamp code from -24 to +136 by steps of 1 LSB (mid-scale clamping for YUV signal)
- Internal generation of clamp signal
- Three independent blanking functions
- 700 MHz analog bandwidth
- Two independent analog inputs selectable via I2C-bus
- Analog input from 0.5 V to 1 V (p-p) to produce a full-scale ADC input of 1 V (p-p)
- Three controllable amplifiers: gain control via I2C-bus to produce full-scale peak-to-peak output with a half LSB resolution
- Frame and field detection for interlaced video signal
- Parasite synchronization pulse detection and suppression
- Sync processing for composite sync, 3-level sync and sync-on-green signals
- Polarity and activity detection
- IC control via I2C-bus serial interface
- LQFP144 and LBGA208 package:
- LBGA208 package pin-to-pin compatible with TDA8756
The USB communications are handled by a Cypress Semiconductor CY7C68013 chip. The on-board buffer memory is comprised of a single 16MB RAM chip (Z9DNC) from Micron.
The circuit board is easy to remove as it sits on rails within the VGA2USB LR housing and is held on by two long screws.
The VGA2USB LR board is pretty standard. It looks like there is a location for another RAM chip but it is not used. The quality of the soldering is what one would expect for such a product.
The large aluminum foil-like pad is a thermal pad which is used to cool the NXP ADC. It functions similarly to a heatsink, but is not as effective. The circuit board also contains the year of manufacture, revision, and serial number. Surprisingly, the revision of my LR board had “VGA2USB Pro” written on it, which makes me believe that the same PCB is used in the PRO version of the VGA2USB. This would also explain the empty location for RAM memory.
Why frame grabbers?
A question that may arise is why use frame grabbers at all when there is plenty of great screen capture software on the market? There are several good reasons why an external frame grabber like the VGA2USB actually works best in most situations.
Firstly, I need to take screenshots and videos of obscure screens such as a computer BIOS screen and boot screens. Images from these screens cannot simply be grabbed using a pure software solution, as no software can be running at this point.
Secondly, in order to capture images off of embedded devices that have a VGA output but do not run any operating system, such as GPS, radar, ultrasound, electronic microscopes, video game consoles and high resolution cameras, a frame grabber is required in order to record the VGA or DVI signal from the output.
Finally, a frame grabber is the most secure screen capture solution available. It requires no modification to the source device as it simply taps into the VGA stream (often using a VGA splitter). This means that no security issues are raised, as no additional software has to be installed on the source. What’s more, the captured recording is a 1:1 copy of the signal.
Why VGA2USB LR?
Some may be wondering why I chose to purchase the $800 VGA2USB LR over the cheaper $300 base VGA2USB model, or even over the VGA2USB HR. The reason is that I found the VGA2USB LR to be the better “deal” out of all of the frame grabber models that Epiphan offers. The $300 VGA2USB model has an interlaced image grab (results in artifacts and poor quality) while the VGA2USB LR has all the features of its more advanced siblings (VGA2USB HR and VGA2USB PRO) such as integrated buffer memory, proprietary precompression, and a lossless progressive image grab. At the same time, the VGA2USB LR is half the price of the better HR model. The only limitation that the LR model has is that the maximum capture resolution is 1280 x 1024, which happens to be enough for all of my VGA capturing and recording needs.
Quality of VGA2USB LR
The capture quality of the VGA2USB LR is as expected from an $800 device. The images are lossless and of very high quality. Video is captured at rates of around 30 frames per second and is also of extremely good quality. Overall, this product does exactly what the manufacturer describes – captures lossless images and videos at resolutions of up to 1280 x 1024.
The only problems that I’ve had when testing the LR’s video capture is with lots of movement in the picture. As soon as there is lots of changes in the picture from frame to frame, the capture rate can fall as to as low as 10 updates per second. While the frame sharpness and quality is still at a very acceptable level, this makes the video appear choppy and “slow”. Thus, the VGA2USB LR would not be a good choice if you are planning to capture, for example, an HD movie with lots of action scenes.
See below for example captures:
A BIOS screen is simple to capture with the VGA2USB LR frame grabber.
VGA2USB LR at 1280 x 1024 resolution. Capture of resolution chart.
Original resolution chart. Note how quality of the original is almost identical to the chart captured by the VGA2USB LR.
Jing Project is a free screen capture software package that is distributed online by Techsmith, the creators of SnagIt and Camtasia Studio. It is available for Windows and Mac OS X.
Jing takes screenshots or video of your screen and then stores them or uploads them. Jing is also able to record voice from the computer’s microphone input while videos of the user’s screen are being recorded.
This critical review will look at this piece of software to try to determine its usefulness and functionality.
If installing on a Windows machine, Jing will prompt you to install .NET Framework 3.0, if you do not already have this installed. At the end of the installation, Jing will ask you to create a username and password. The software will not work without the creation of this account.
The software will start as soon as it is installed. You will notice a small yellow semi-circle at the top of your screen. Dragging your mouse over it will reveal Jing sharing options.
Start by dragging your mouse over the yellow bubble and then clicking on the capture crosshairs.
You will now be able to select what area of the screen is to be captured/shared.
Notice how a rectangular option window pops up in the lower left corner. This allows you to choose the capture format (image or video).
After the video or image is recored, Jing will show a preview (if it is a video) and will prompt the user as to what to do with the recording.
Unfortunately, Jing Project is only able to save the video as a flash .swf file, which means that there are no easy ways to share the recorded content. SWF flash files are great for webmasters who would like to post the recording to their site, but video sharing sites such as YouTube, Veoh, and others do not accept this as an upload format. For many, this makes the saving feature quite useless. The recording that was made via the Jing save feature is shown below:
Note that scrolling was very slow, meaning that the capture rate of Jing project is only a few frames per second. The image resolution, on the other hand, was exactly the same as the capture. Jing does not provide the user with an option to resize the output, which makes embedding high resolution flash videos into websites a pain. The video above had to be cropped on both sides due to the fact that the width of the recording made by Jing Project was unable to accommodate the width of the actual webpage.
Screencast.com Functionality and Review
The other thing about Jing Project is that it gives you access to Screencast.com, TechSmith’s content sharing portal. Think of it as a YouTube-like site for people sharing their captures. Clicking on “Send to ScreenCast: URL” will automatically upload the recording to the ScreenCast account that you signed up for earlier. Once the upload is finished, Jing Project will automatically paste the URL of your uploaded video into the Windows clipboard. You must paste it into a browser (press Ctrl + V) to reveal the link.
This is the capture that was made by ScreenCaptureNews.com: http://screencast.com/t/lCZwmjS5. Notice how there are no options to embed or share the video (like on popular video sharing websites such as YouTube or Veoh). Another disappointment is the fact that there is no option anywhere that will allow you to resize the video being viewed from its original size. This means that your audience must have monitors of your size or bigger in order to be able to view the recording in all its size and glory.
In fact, even a video of the same laptop screen did not fit into a full browser window when later being viewed on the laptop that was used to make the recording.
There is one thing to be happy about, however. Even though it looks like ScreenCast.com is an oversimplified and not fully worked out website, the absence of advertising (except for ScreenCast themselves) is always a welcome thing for a free product like Jing Project.
Jing Project is an easy to use software with a very clean and intuitive interface. It does a pretty good job at capturing the area of the screen that it is told. The user is also given the option to record voice over the recorded video using a microphone. This, however, is where the good ends and the bad begins.
Videos can only be saved locally as an SWF file, which severely limits the user in options as to where to upload the video. Of course, the user can always use a 3rd party software to convert the SWF video to a format like AVI, but that complicates the proccess.
What’s more, the ScreenCast.com player is just that – a simple player. There are no options for the viewers to resize the resolution of the recording to fit the screen, and our tests showed that a bigger screen (or a higher resolution) is required to properly view a screen capture uploaded to ScreenCast.com. There are also no visible options for sharing or embedding, although this has become a standard amongst today’s content sharing websites.
The Jing Project seems like a piece of software created by TechSmith in order to get users that require more functionality to look into their other products. Specifically, Camtasia Studio, a $300 software program that pretty much extends Jing Project’s functionality and is also made by TechSmith.
Overall however, Jing Project is a decent software for those wanting an easy way to share their screen contents and store them without paying a cent. At the same time, those users that are serious about webcasting the content of their computer monitors are advised look elsewhere.