Which Pinnacle Dazzle?
Recently I made a video tutorial about how to digitize VHS, DV and Hi8 video.
In my workflow I used Pinnacle Dazzle analog-to-digital converter for capturing the video, and VirtualDub2 for encoding it and saving to a file.
Out of several models offered by Pinnacle, I use a very specific one, and I want to explain why I chose that particular version, and why other Dazzle models are either less attractive or outright not acceptable.
Read on, or watch the video (subtitles are available).
Digital Video Creator DVC 50 and DVC 80
I’ll start with the DVC 50 and DVC 80. These devices digitize, deinterlace and downsize analog video, then compress it even more using a proprietary codec and send it to a computer. This allows transmitting standard definition video over USB 1.0, which has data rate of only 12 Mbit/s. A device driver in the host computer decompresses the incoming USB data and makes it available for capturing software.
The DVC 50 does not have audio inputs; audio must be captured separately through the computer’s sound card. The DVC 80 has two-channel audio inputs in addition to composite and S-Video inputs, and sends audio data over USB along with video data.
DVC 50 and DVC 80 are limited to 352x288 resolution (CIF) at frame rate up to 30 fps and do not support interlaced video. In other words, these are very old devices from the dark ages of Windows 95.
Digital Video Creator DVC 85 and DVC 90
The DVC 85 and DVC 90 differ between themselves only by bundled software. Both devices can capture full D1 resolution, progressive-scan as well as interlaced. I suppose these converters employ the same Philips chip as the DVC 50 and DVC 80 for digitizing analog video. They require USB 2.0 working in Hi-Speed mode, because Pinnacle removed hardware compression and instead relied on faster USB protocol for carrying through uncompressed video.
These devices may be still viable, but I have little information about them, and I don’t own one of these myself. There is no official 64-bit driver.
DVC 100, DVC 130, DVC 170
In 2006 Pinnacle released a trio of teardrop-shaped models: red Dazzle DVD Recorder (model number DVC 100), blue Dazzle Video Creator (model number DVC 130) and silver, or rather platinum Dazzle Video Creator Platinum (model number DVC 170).
DVD Recorder (DVC 100)
The red DVC 100 followed the path blazed by the DVC 85 and DVC 90. It includes a Philips chip for digitizing analog video and an Empia chip for sending it over USB. Another Empia chip handles audio.
The device sends video without compression, which is why it requires USB 2.0 working in Hi-Speed mode.
Video Creator (DVC 130)
The blue DVC 130 is a completely different animal. It digitizes analog video and compresses it into MPEG-1 or MPEG-2. Unlike the DVC 50 and DVC 80, which use compression to squeeze video data into the narrow USB 1.0 bandwidth, the DVC 130 employs hardware compression to relieve capturing program from doing it. This allows using a less powerful computer for video capture and saves time, because the encoded data is saved directly into a file that can be burned to a DVD or uploaded to YouTube.
Video Creator Platinum (DVC 170)
The platinum DVC 170 is almost identical to the DVC 130 except for the added, or rather unlocked, support for MPEG-4 hardware encoding. Video can be compressed with MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 codec and is saved directly into a resulting file without extra processing.
DVC 101, DVC 103, DVC 107
After releasing red Dazzle DVD Recorder (the DVC 100), Pinnacle offered an updated white version, Dazzle DVD Recorder Plus, model number DVC 101. Then Pinnacle marketing department went completely off the rails, mixing and matching names (DVD Recorder vs. Video Creator), suffixes (Plus, Platinum, HD) and colors, so judging model number and technical capabilities by name and color became impossible. In particular, silver Dazzle Video Creator has model number DVC 103, and black Dazzle Video Creator Plus has model number DVC 107. On another hand, the black Dazzle converter that I have bears the name DVC 100 rev. 1.1.
All these models are variations of the DVC 100 and they use the same DVC 100 driver.
Pinnacle re-used black and platinum colors in other models, in particular the version currently on sale online is called Dazzle DVD Recorder HD. It is black, and does not have any model name besides generic “Dazzle USB video capture device”.
Pinnacle’s technical support could not give me a more specific numerical model number, promising to reply by email. The email they sent back did not contain useful information, instead they gave me the product link and then asked me whether there was anything else they could help me with.
Some online stores show the model number as “DVCPTENAM”. It is confusing that the currently sold device has 64-bit drivers only, at least this is what the product page says. If you navigate to Pinnacle’s website you will see that the only Dazzle models to have 64-bit drivers are 100/101/103/107, and they have matching 32-bit drivers as well.
This mystery can be solved by spending $50 on this dongle, but I don’t feel like it, and neither I recommend you buying it. Instead, I suggest you to get a DVC 107 for half the price or a DVC 100 for quarter the price on eBay. If it comes without software, it is even better. You don’t need Pinnacle’s original software, it will only limit you in your, um, endeavors. For example, the original software will not capture video from prerecorded VHS tapes protected with Macrovision.
Plus, Platinum and HD
A quick note about suffixes like Plus, Platinum or HD: they identify different software packages and sometimes they are linked to hardware or software features being locked or unlocked. In particular, HD does not mean that a device can capture analog HD video — for this you need three-connector component video, not single-connector composite. HD simply means that the bundled software can work with HD video files and can render into an HD format, that is it. All of these devices are strictly standard definition.
To recap, DVC 50 and DVC 80 are old devices that employ a proprietary compression to squeeze the video stream into narrow bandwidth of first-generation USB. These devices also reduce frame size and image rate. They are completely outdated and do not work with modern operating systems anyway. Avoid them like a plague.
DVC 130 and DVC 170 compress digitized video into industry-standard MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 format, which is useful if you want to go straight to DVD or upload to pre-2014 YouTube. You need proprietary software to capture the output. The hardware will not deinterlace your video into 50p/60p and will not upscale it, so if you want your videos to look their best on YouTube, you still need to do extra work. In this case why not start with the best possible quality, that is, with uncompressed video?
This is what the DVC 100 and it cousins, DVC 101, DVC 103 and DVC 107 are about. Fifteen years ago their simplistic approach to blast uncompressed digitized video directly over USB 2.0 was considered a cost-saving solution. Today, this can be seen as a capability to capture unadulterated video, as close to the original as possible, having 8 bit per color component and 4:2:2 color sampling, which is more than enough for digitizing VHS or Hi8.
These models are compatible with third-party software and have 32-bit as well as 64-bit Windows drivers. Windows 10 is not officially supported, but many users have positive experience with it. The drivers are available on the official Pinnacle website.
The Philips encoder employed in these devices can handle every known standard definition analog video format, interlaced and progressive. It does not perform hardware deinterlacing, which is great if you want to use advanced software deinterlacer like QTGMC or if you want to preserve interlacing for authoring to a DVD.
Now, the juicy topic of copy protection. The encoder in the Philips chip detects ‘pseudo sync’ pulses as part of the Macrovision copy protection standard and reports the result as flag COPRO within the decoder status byte. The device does not stop digitizing video protected with Macrovision, instead it simply informs capturing software that the video is copy-protected.
What do you think Pinnacle’s DVD Recorder software does when it detects “copy protected” flag in the data stream? Correct, it refuses to capture such a video. But free third-party software does not care for one bit. As a purely scientific test, I was able to capture several VHS tapes published by MGM, Warner Brothers and Paramount.
This is the very first frame before the video has stabilized, you can see four white blocks and a white stripe, these are the Macrovision bars. My DVC 100 had no problem digitizing this video, and VirtualDub had no problems capturing and saving it.
When you are shopping, make sure to get the correct model. If the model number is not shown on the photos, ask the seller for a picture with the model number. As far as I know, all red ones are the DVC 100, and all white ones are the DVC 101. All blue ones are DVC 130, you don’t want that. Black and titanium ones may have different model numbers; stay clear of DVC 170. My black device is DVC 100 rev. 1.1 and it works great.
There you have it: DVC 100, 101, 103 and 107 are the ones to have. They output uncompressed video and can handle Macrovision-protected tapes, which you can capture with free software. ■