Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Video Editor review: Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Video Editor

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MSRP: $249.99

The Good Hardware-based MPEG encoding and Dolby decoding; every audio/video port you'll ever need; excellent analog video-capture quality; doubles as a four-port USB hub.

The Bad A few setup hassles; video capture works only with bundled applications; no TV-capture capabilities; no printed manual.

The Bottom Line Though definitely a product that only select users will need, it's a generally stellar prosumer solution for analog video capture.

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7.7 Overall

Need an easy way to capture video from a camcorder or a VCR? Want to upgrade your PC's audio recording and playback capabilities at the same time? Creative's Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Video Editor provides all the ports you need and them some, packing a wealth of audio/video input and output options into a compact breakout box.

About the size of a Harry Potter hardcover, the Audigy is a wholly external solution. That makes it ideal not only for notebook users, who stand to gain a profusion of previously unavailable features, but also for desktop owners who prefer not to tinker with the insides of their machines. Plus, it puts everything at your fingertips, meaning you never have to venture behind your PC (except once, to plug in the Audigy's USB cable).

Even so, setup is a bit more complicated than it should be. Creative's quick-start guide instructs you to connect the Audigy before installing the drivers, then to click Cancel when Windows detects it. This results in a "New hardware problem" error message, which seems both confusing and unnecessary. Why can't you install the software first, as is common with many USB devices?

Another minor wrinkle cropped up with our analog 5.1-speaker system. The quick-start guide illustrates the necessary connections for digital speakers, but we had to consult the electronic user guide to find the correct option for our set. As it turns out, they plug into the three line-out jacks on the back of the Audigy. But because the jacks are numbered, not color-coded, you do need the manual to determine which plug goes where.

You'll also need to delve into the manual (which, because it's a Windows help file instead of a PDF, can't easily be printed) to learn about the Audigy's core capabilities: what they are, how to use them, and so on. We think a product of this complexity, in this price range, should come with a printed manual.

That said, those who take the time to learn the ropes or who possess sufficient A/V savvy will find the Audigy a superb accessory--particularly for video capture. (To learn about the Audigy's audio capabilities, see our review of the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum.) Its hardware-based MPEG encoding takes most of the strain off your PC during the capture process, greatly decreasing the likelihood of dropped frames; we encountered none during our tests. It also enables the Audigy to work with older, slower PCs, not just high-end systems.

High end definitely describes the box's features, which include 24-bit THX audio, Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES decoding, and Creative's EAX Advanced HD effects processor. Its abundant selection of ports includes ins and outs for DV, S-Video, and composite video and for optical and RCA-stereo audio. It also includes S/PDIF out, the aforementioned line-out jacks, microphone and headphone jacks, independent microphone and volume dials, and four powered USB 2.0 ports--two in front, two in back.

In addition to the usual complement of audio utilities, Creative's software bundle consists of Ulead's DVD MovieFactory 3.0 SE, DVD Player 1.5, and VideoStudio 8.0 SE. These are solid programs for creating and playing DVDs and capturing and editing video, but there's a hitch: MovieFactory and VideoStudio are the only video-capture programs the Audigy supports. If you prefer, say, Pinnacle Studio, you're out of luck--it won't recognize the Audigy as an available source. That's a fairly major annoyance, but not a showstopper; you can always capture the video with one of the Ulead products, then import it into your favorite editor.

We connected a VCR to the Audigy and used MovieFactory to copy some old VHS tapes to DVD--a fairly automated process thanks to the software's direct-to-disc option. The resulting video looked surprisingly good when we played it back on a TV--at least as sharp and colorful as when played from the VCR directly. This should come as good news to anyone seeking to resurrect a library of worn tapes.

Indeed, the Audigy 2 ZS Video Editor is a good-news product all around, save perhaps for a few setup hassles and the lack of support for other video software. Though definitely a niche item, something only select users will need, it's a generally stellar prosumer audio/video solution.

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