Can a super cheap HDMI capture device for about 1,000 yen be useful?

Here's a comparison between the two products.

Engadget JP (Translation)
Engadget JP (Translation) , @Engadget_MT
2020年10月10日, 午後 06:31 in egmt
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This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.


As a result of the impact of the coronavirus disaster, telework has spread rapidly and meetings are now held online, leading many people to rush to purchase webcams out of necessity. However, there was not enough supply to meet the sudden demand. For a while, the shortage was really bad, and it wasn't uncommon to see resale products that were almost twice the list price.

That's when USB-connected HDMI capture devices came into the spotlight as an alternative to webcams. By combining it with an HDMI output video camera, action cam, or digital camera, it could be used as a high-quality web camera, so not only people who couldn't get a web camera but also people who weren't satisfied with the image quality of their existing web camera were interested in it. It's still fresh in our minds that products from classic manufacturers like AVerMedia have been sold out.

A number of products have emerged to meet this demand. Especially increasing are the very cheap HDMI capture devices with USB connections that can be purchased for around 1,000-2,000 yen. Although it supports up to 1920x1080@30fps, it is sufficient if you use it for web camera applications, and its cheapness is attractive above all.

By the way, many products that support 1920×1080@60fps become USB 3.0 connection and the price jumps up to around 10,000 yen. Furthermore, the price of 4K-capable products is often set at around 20,000 yen. If you think about this, you will know how cheap it is to pay 1,000-2,000 yen for 1920×1080@30fps.

However, it doesn't matter how cheap it is if it's not useful. That's why I decided to try it out, so I looked for a very cheap product that looked decent and ordered it. Since it was shipped directly from China, I was waiting patiently for it to arrive in a month or so...

Wow, while I was waiting, the major musical instrument retailer, Soundhouse, has started selling the CHD201 HDMI capture device for the amazing price of 980 yen (excluding tax).

So, I couldn't wait for the item I was ordering to arrive from China and ordered it from Soundhouse. I tried it out, reaffirming the greatness of domestic distribution, which means it arrives the next day, and it works surprisingly normally. Although the unit gets quite hot, you don't need a screwdriver, you can use it as soon as you plug it in, so you don't have to worry about how to use it.

At first, I didn't care about it because I was using it for camera output and video display, but I noticed that the image quality was low when I connected it to my PC to use it as a display for my PC. To be specific, it is symptoms such as blurred characters and color shifts. It is especially noticeable on the PC screen where a thin line is often displayed. However, the price is the price, and I was satisfied with the fact that "that's just how it is".

In the meantime, the product I had ordered earlier arrived from China. I already have CHD201, so I don't need it, but when I connected it to check the operation, the display quality is clearly different. Also, there were some differences in the settings that I was interested in.

So, the preamble has become much longer, but here is the main point. Let's compare what the differences are between these two super cheap HDMI capture products.

I compared these two products! Both are priced at just over 1,000 yen (tax included)

First, let's start with a quick comparison of the specs. The notations were slightly different for each product, so we've matched them up, but there is no difference in the published specifications for either, and they are equivalent in terms of specs.

You can purchase the Y&H CaptureCard from Amazon Marketplace and the CHD201 from Soundhouse.

The only very cheap product sold by the sound house is the CHD201, so you don't have to worry about it. The one that bothers you is the Y&H CaptureCard. It is important to note that even though it is registered as the same product, the contents of the package can often be completely different from different sellers.

In fact, there are cheaper sellers for this product. At first, I thought I'd choose the cheapest one, but I wanted to get a better one, so I chose the one sold by "Shenzhen Yonghui Fashion Co. that claims to be an authorized retailer.

The packaging for the Y&H CaptureCard doesn't have the manufacturer's name or product name on it, it just says "HDMI Video Capture", so I'm not sure what makes it an authorized store product, though.

There are quite a few different types of software that display images if you look for them

There are two main uses for the HDMI capture device: still photography and video recording. Breaking it down as an evaluation factor, it seems to be good to check three things: picture quality, such as color bleeding and shifting, video, which is whether the frame rate is as good as the setting, and sound.

For image quality, we'll use static screen capture to compare, for video, we'll check the recording for frame drop, and for sound, we'll check the device's properties and the sound quality of the recording.

The problem here is what software to use for testing. The standard is to use OBS (Open Broadcaster Software), but since it is a broadcasting software, it has many functions and is not easy to use.

Therefore, I tried to see if there were any other software that I could use on Windows 10, including OBS. The following are the features of each software, miscellaneous impressions, and simple steps to display.

Windows 10 Standard Camera App

Although the latency is small, it can't display 100%, so looking at the real-time display screen can feel like it's blurry. Also, audio monitoring is not available as standard, making it a bit difficult to use as a display replacement. The settings are limited to resolution, and there are no settings for bit rates or other factors. Instead, it's simple and easy to use, and if you're just checking the operation, this may be enough.

How to set up:

Just click on the camera icon in the upper right corner to switch between the two.

OBS

The latency is small and the screen can be displayed 100%. Since this is a broadcasting software, there are many functions that are not necessary to use it as a display, and the settings are a bit difficult. For first time users, the bar is a little higher, but if you want to record and compose videos, this is the one for you. Since it is standard software, there is a lot of information on the web, and you can solve most of the problems by searching.

How to set it up:

Add "Video Capture Device" to the source and select "USB Video" under Device.

MPC-BE

This is a derivative version of the MPC-HC multimedia player that supports a wide variety of formats. By opening the device directly, you can view video from an HDMI capture device. However, only the first time you need to set the options. It's easy to project, but the picture quality is terrible, so it's best to avoid it.

How to set it up:

Set the "Analog Settings" in the "Capture" option. Play from "Open Device.

VLC media player

This is another multimedia player that supports a wide variety of formats. While it supports the display of capture devices, it doesn't remember the settings and has to be manually reconfigured each time. Most importantly, the latency was the biggest among the ones we tried this time, making it difficult to operate while looking at the screen.

How to set it up:

Set "Select Device" from "Open Capture Device". Enter the video size.

Enter the aspect ratio and frame rate in "Advanced Option".

The one I felt was the most practical is still OBS, but the settings are complicated and can be quite cumbersome if you don't know how to use it. If you don't want to have real-time audio, the standard Windows 10 camera app is easy to use, so you can try it out at first.

So this time I decided to compare the ones I captured with OBS because I wanted to look at a lot of details.

Comparing still images for line bleeding, color shift, etc.

Let's first take a look at the overall image quality of a 1920 x 1080 screen reduced to 960 x 540 pixels, assuming the screen is kept small at the edge of the screen.

CHD201

Y&H CaptureCard

There is no significant difference in image quality between the two when they are compared. If you look at it closely, you may find that CHD201 is slightly blurred.

Let's return to the original size and cut out a part of the image to see the details. Please pay attention to the text part in one and the icon part in the other.

Text part

If you look at the text, it's obvious, the CHD201 has blurred and smudged lines; the Y&H CaptureCard is also somewhat blurred, but it's sharper than the CHD201 and the readability is completely different.

Now let's take a look at the photo and icon part.

Icon part

The pictures don't seem to have much of a difference in image quality, unlike the text, which is mainly thin lines. However, if you look at the solidly separated color-coded areas like the icons, the CHD201 has a noticeable color shift and looks like a nostalgic analog TV. Of course, the Y&H CaptureCard also has some color shift, but only slightly.

Verify that it can record properly at 30Hz (30fps)

I then checked the video capture performance to see if it could record without dropping frames.

The method is simple, record the screen playing a full HD video at 60fps. I only have to open this file with video editing software (I used AviUtl this time) and check it frame by frame. Note that the OBS recording settings are fixed at 1920 x 1080 @ 60fps. Both the CHD201 and the Y&H CaptureCard are at 30Hz (30fps) on the specs, so I assumed it was OK as long as it was updated approximately every 2 frames.

One thing I was a bit concerned about here is that the Y&H CaptureCard's capture settings allow you to choose 60fps... I've also checked the standard Windows 10 camera app, but it has an option for the "1080p 16:9 60fps" setting. There's also a slightly higher resolution, "1200p 4:3 60fps".

I was a bit hopeful that if this was more capable than the specs, but when I tried it out, it could only record at 30fps normally. It is disappointing, but well, that is about it.

Now, as far as the main topic of frame dropping, as long as I tried it with a short video of about 20 seconds, I was able to confirm that both of them could record well without any problem.

What is the input and display latency?

Then let's take a look at the display latency. This is likely to vary greatly depending on the PC environment, but I did a test run. The PC I used for the test was a laptop with Intel Core i7-8565U and 8GB of memory.

I plugged the laptop's HDMI output to the capture device and set it to a duplicate display. The display then loops, and the display is delayed by the amount of latency and appears like a mirror, so you can measure the latency by displaying a clock here. I used this site, which runs in the browser, to display the stopwatch on the screen.

I calculated the latency on average of the three times and found that the CHD201 is about 0.165 seconds and the Y&H CaptureCard is about 0.129 seconds.

There's a clear difference in the numbers, but in terms of the feel of the device, both feel a bit slow. It's hard to tell the difference. The same is true for both of them, that it's tough to display game screens where the response is important.

Check the audio format in the sound properties

I wasn't sure about the sound quality when I listened to it, so I'll compare the two just to see what settings are available.

I opened the recording device from Sound in the Control Panel and went to the Advanced tab under the properties of "Digital Audio Interface USB Digital Audio" and all I saw was "1 channel 16 bits, 96000 Hz". This is the same for both the CHD201 and the Y&H CaptureCard.

As far as sound quality is concerned, both are mono, and the 16-bit/96 kHz seems to be the same.

Check to see if the video input supports 4K

Both devices have a 1920×1080@30Hz capturable screen in their specs, but the input itself supports 4K as well. I checked to see if they really do support 4K, and both devices showed a reduced screen when inputting 4K@30Hz output.

This screen shows 29Hz, but of course, you can choose 30Hz as well.

Incidentally, "MACROSILICON" is the manufacturer of the controller for capture, and both the CHD201 and Y&H CaptureCard had the same name.

By the way, a chip called MS2109 seems to be used in many cases, and this is almost the one used in the product of about 1000 yen.

What is the difference between YUY2 and JPEG that was in the video format?

One of the things that are interesting about the specs is that the video format was listed as "YUY2, JPEG". To put it bluntly, YUY2 transmits images with brightness and color difference information, and JPEG transmits images by compressing the screen like a photograph.

YUY2 has less deterioration in image quality, but the frame rate is lower (5 fps in the product tested here) because of the larger data, while JPEG has lower image quality, but can increase the frame rate to 30 fps and so on because of the data compression.

If you want to record video or use it as a display, the frame rate needs to be high, but if you want to simply capture an HDMI screen, then theoretically the YUY2 will provide a higher quality image.

So I checked to see how much it changes.

In OBS, all you have to do is change the resolution/FPS type to "Custom" and choose "YUY2" as the video format.

However, the setting information may be slightly wrong, or it appears strangely bright. So I reduced the brightness to "-28" in "Configure Image".

The following is the result of testing how much the image quality changes between JPEG and YUY2 with this setting. I've lined up only this one because the icon display part was easy to understand.

From top to bottom: CHD201/JPEG, CHD201/YUY2, Y&H CaptureCard/JPEG, and Y&H CaptureCard/YUY2.

At first glance, "What's changed?", you might think. However, if you look closely, you can see that the graininess and detailed mosquito noise that was visible in the iconic areas are reduced in both YUY2.

That said, the CHD201 still has the same color shift and is generally blurry, so I don't get the impression that the image quality has changed that much.

In contrast, the Y&H CaptureCard shows an improvement in image quality, with an overall reduced sense of the noise. If you want to capture still images at the highest quality possible, the YUY2 seems to make sense for you to choose it.

Let's take it apart and compare the boards inside

The last item of comparison is a physical one. Yes, let's take a look at the board inside. The backside had no components and wasn't interesting, so I'll just lay out the surface.

On the left is the Y&H CaptureCard and on the right is the CHD201 board. It is similar, but if it looks closely, details are different, and CHD201 has considerably reduced the number of parts, whether the noise countermeasure of the signal is lax. Did the difference in picture quality appear by this?

By the way, the heat sink is glued tightly and I did not remove it because I was not confident that it could be taken off cleanly.

Conclusion: if the image quality is as good as the Y&H CaptureCard, it will be quite usable.

In this comparison, the Y&H CaptureCard has better image quality than the CHD201, but we can't rule out the possibility that we received the best unit by chance. The product name and packaging may be the same, but what's in it changes from one distributor to another, and it's a complete gamble.

The picture quality of CHD201 was disappointing in some parts, but it is sufficient if it is a use that wants to use it temporarily instead of a display because it is not impossible to read the text or cannot bear to see because of severe color shift. The best thing is that it's a very cheap product that can be purchased from a shop in Japan. It arrives quickly and surely, and even if it was defective, it is safe to be able to expect support such as replacement.

Because a PC becomes a display for 1,000 yen, there is no harm in having one. Especially if you have to use more than one PC, and if you have the experience of having trouble with the lack of display, it will surely be useful.


In addition:

The audio seems to be a bit special, even in mono, and it's a composite of the original stereo one. Some people have tried separating it out and returning it to stereo, so if you're curious, you might want to try it.


This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.


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