Terratec Grabster AV 400 mobile review

Video editing has come to the laptop, but can your humble laptop be turned into a video editing console just like that, without trading it in for a Vaio? We test the Grabster from Terratec to see if the promise lives up to the hype.

For a long time, the notebook has not offered the same speed as a desktop PC and when it comes to power hungry applications such as 3D rendering and image capture, you had to be mad, desperate or have too much time on your hands to try and perform it on a notebook. It’s a testament to how far and how fast mobile technology is developing that AV manufacturers are now designing expansion cards for notebooks.

With the introduction of faster processors and improved bus speeds, it is now possible to perform such tasks from the comfort of your armchair. The first you’ll notice about the Terratec Grabster AV 400 Mobile is how compact it is. External capture boxes have been increasingly getting smaller but this unit is simply a Type II PC Card that slots into your notebook and a connector strip that links to your video source.

With space for the hooking up either S-video or Composite video, as well as stereo audio inputs there is the standard support for all AV needs. With no power cables attached to the card, it draws power from the notebook. If you’re thinking that this will be a drain on battery life, consider this - are you likely to hook up your camcorder to your notebook and try and edit footage on the fly? Possibly, for fun but which battery will die first - your notebook’s, or your camcorder’s?

A common problem with many capture applications that we have tested out, is the lack of support for screen resolutions higher than a standard 1024 x 768-pixel display. Usually, you would have to turn your notebook’s screen down to this resolution in order to get an image. Not so with the Grabster, as it will work regardless of your screens image size.

Capture hardware is only half of the solution, with the choice of software being just as important. Terratec has teamed up with Ulead to offer a complete version of MovieFactory 3 with the card. To make the most of this, you’ll need to also install the Terretec plug-in that allows you to capture footage with MovieFactory. Alternatively, you can use the separate Terratec capture application and then merely edit using MovieFactory, which we actually found to be the easier way to catch footage.

Once up and running, the software is extremely easy to use. However, one problem we found when using the Grabster for long periods was that it would freeze, forcing us to capture in bursts of up to 30 minutes.

Video capture is renowned for the amount of space it can take up, so the capture software can be set up to stop when you are down to your last 100MB if necessary. With notebooks now packing up to 100GB of hard disk space this may not be a problem but these disks are not as fast as those found on desktop PCs, so there may still be a few delays in producing footage quickly.

Verdict

Terratec is exploring new ground with the Grabster 400 and if you are a notebook user it's a neat and tidy solution with a lot to recommend it. The company needs to be applauded for exploiting a new market, such a pity we found the software to be problematic.