Salvaged: Canopus EZDV PAL PCI Card

Canopus EZDV PAL PCI Card

Another one of my salvages. It’s rare that I see one of these – this is a Canopus EZDV PAL capture/encode card. You would think that with a miniDV camera that it would be as simple as plugging it into a Firewire port and doing a capture and encode using software – and for modern machines, you would be right.

In the early 2000’s when this would be used, it was more than just a Firewire card. In fact, this wasn’t even a full-fledged Firewire card in that it wasn’t OHCI compliant so you couldn’t just plug in Firewire hard drives. It had a 4-pin port on the back – the only port on the card, but for higher spec models, there was also analog out and in (not populated as you can see on the bottom left side of the card).

There’s a Firewire transciever, and there’s a Philips PCI video bridge of some sort – but what’s most interesting is the Altera Flex FPGA and the associated OKI RAM. While Canopus doesn’t exist anymore, in fact, they’re now part of Grass Valley, some documentation still exists which suggests this card had onboard MPEG-1, MPEG-2 encode ability. This almost certainly would have been performed on the FPGA – and would be one reason why these boards costed so much.

In fact, around that time, I was toying with (Conexant, Rockwell, Brooktree) BT878 based TV Tuners and Capture Cards, struggling to produce VCD video (352×288 MPEG-1) without dropping frames or filling up my hard disk. With the computational power of my AMD K6/2 300Mhz machine, it took hours to compress just 1 hour of footage – a hardware based solution was almost a given for the computers of those days.

Unfortunately, the software wasn’t salvaged along with the card, so ultimately, it’s not really usable. But as computing hardware had progressed so much, MPEG-2 isn’t even a challenge, and MPEG-4/AVC is now becoming easy to handle as well. How times have changed …

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2 Responses to Salvaged: Canopus EZDV PAL PCI Card

  1. rasz says:

    afaik Firewire connected cameras streamed MPEG2 encoded video, so no reencoding on the card

    • lui_gough says:

      Only newer HD DV cameras stream MPEG2 because they had to squeeze high definition onto the same 25Mbit/s bitrate used by Standard Definition DV. This card is way before the HD “revolution”, and as such it would not have been able to handle this format.

      Standard Definition DV cameras encode in a visually lossless way but it’s not MPEG2 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DV and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firewire#DV

      As a result, full standard definition to MPEG2 encoding was challenging for the Pentium II 300Mhz or so machines of the day – hence this card.

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