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Within the Creative surround mixer, the analogue audio inputs all exist on the same slider. This means that it’s not possible to individually control the output or input levels of the line, microphone or video in connections. This is perhaps the weakest aspect of the whole device as the level of background noise when the analogue audio inputs are live is substantially higher than a regular Audigy, to the point where there’s a noticeable hiss when listening on headphones. This could impact on the quality of the sound recording, particularly if the incoming levels are low. The extra electronics responsible for the video features or the layout of the board must be responsible for the noise. Quite frankly I found this surprising from a company such as Creative.
The video features then, are clearly the selling point for the device. While I can see the convenience of having audio and video hosted on the same device, Audigy 2 ZS cards currently retail for around £65 with budget PCI video capture cards, such as Leadtek’s Winfast VC100 retailing for as little as £20, although clearly the picture quality of these budget cards won’t be of the same level as the Audigy.
The software package includes ‘SE’ versions of Ulead’s DVD Movie Factory 3 and Video Studio 8. (Given the disturbingly manic grins of the images of the women featured on the discs SE must stand for ‘Smiling Enhanced’). A word of warning though, only these applications can be used for video capture, a restriction difficult to understand. Whilst any program can be used for the editing process, it would be bizarre if audio could only be recorded through a single program rather than the application of your choice so why should video be any different?
Providing that the USB bus speed is fast enough, the hardware MPEG encoding offers excellent results, perfect for converting video footage to DVD. A comparison with the Winfast VC100 card at similar bit-rates easily shows the advantage the Audigy has over the cheaper card: images are sharper with fewer compression artefacts.
In the examples above, one image has been recorded using the WinFast card, while the next one is courtesy of the Audigy. The compression settings can be altered within the Ulead software but I did miss a frame drop indicator. Problems in the recording process with dropped or corrupted frames will only evident once the footage is played back and a volume level meter would also not go amiss.
Despite the impressive quality captures the just-above average review score reflects the issues that I have with the audio quality and the inherent unpredictability of USB. Restricting video capture to the supplied software is also less than satisfactory. Where the Audigy 2 ZS Video Editor makes sense is if you have a specific set of requirements that necessitates using an external box for audio or video capture from a non-DV camera, (for example if only a laptop is available). If that’s the case then the Audigy is a fairly priced solution that gives excellent picture results but with a less convincing audio performance.