Having examined all of these encoders in depth, it is clear that there's no mediocrity: every product is either a clear winner or loser.

Hardware Encoders are Dead

Of the many pure hardware MPEG encoders originally reviewed here, only the Hauppauge WinTV PVR remains available. (And that has since been replaced by later models.) When I did the original reviews, a 1.2 GHz CPU was smokin' fast, and software encoders just couldn't manage real-time encoding on anything slower. Now that CPU speeds have gotten so much faster, the need for hardware encoders is much less compelling.

The only reasonable use for the original WinTV PVR is to turn your home PC into a cheap Tivo-wannabe; if you also want to toy with MPEG you can do that, too. The PVR is completely unsuitable for serious amateur work, such as encoding your home movie collection to video CD. You'd be better off with a cheap AVI capture card and TMPGEnc, which will get you better results and cost less. If you have $250 burning a hole in your pocket, you could get a $50-100 capture card and one of the cheaper software encoders mentioned below to get even better quality and faster encode times. Professionals shouldn't even consider this card.

In the case of the hybrid encoders, I can only recommend the ATI All-in-Wonder, unless you're using such an old machine that you need the superior hardware assistance offered by the Vitec DVD Cut Machine. I suppose you could also justify going with the DCM if there was some reason you couldn't replace your current video card.

The Best Software Encoder

In the software arena, cost isn't so clearly indicative of quality. Since Ligos' LSX-MPEG is no longer available, I nominate two winners: TMPGEnc and CCE Basic. They cost the same, so it comes down to a question of speed vs. versatility: CCE Basic is fast but has no frills, while TMPGEnc is slower but has lots of neat features and tools.

CCE SP is far more expensive than the Basic version, but for some people this will not be a problem. It encodes a touch faster than even the speedy CCE Basic, has excellent quality across all of its modes, and has the best predictable-bitrate VBR mode of any encoder in the roundup. I imagine the only people who can justify the $1950 price tag for these features are video production houses. Everyone else either does not need these features, or they can tolerate not having them.

It's impossible to justify using Vitec's MPEG Maker. If you have a modern NLE video editor, you probably have an MPEG encoder that is faster, less buggy, and gives quality at least as good. If you are in a position to buy an encoder, either CCE Basic or TMPGEnc will serve you better.

Studio DV isn't very interesting as an MPEG encoder, but as a DV capture card and editing bundle which also happens to have basic MPEG encoding, it is interesting. It's not the right product if you want high quality at a low price. You can do much better with CCE Basic or TMPGEnc, for less money.

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Updated Mon Sep 22 2008 12:15 MDT Go back to MPEG Encoder Reviews Go to my home page