With the UK still waiting for movie and television content from the Apple Store (at the time of writing), there's still a dearth of content available for owners of the new Apple TV who want to hook their Macs up to their TV set and watch movies in their front room.
Of course, there are plenty of other types of video content on our Macs. For example, if you own one of Elgato's nifty range of EyeTV TV tuners you've probably got a hard drive stuffed full of prime-time video content that you'd like to watch via your Apple TV.
Unfortunately, before you can do that you need to encode it all into an iTunes-compatible file format (only files that QuickTime Player can play can be opened by Apple TV), and for this companies such as Elgato use Apple's tortuously slow QuickTime codecs to encode your footage.
It's not just recorded television that suffers from the slow encoding speed of the QuickTime codecs - they're also used in Apple apps, such as iMovie, and sometimes exporting a finished iMovie project to the Apple TV can take longer than it took to edit the original footage in the first place!
There's another downside, too - all this encoding completely drains the resources of your Mac, meaning your machine is good for little else until the progress bar has finally reached the end of its journey.
Enter the Elgato turbo.264, a handy USB 2.0 stick that acts as a co-processor for encoding video files into the iTunes-friendly and highly efficient H.264 MP4 format, taking the strain off your Mac's main processor, freeing it up to do other tasks at the same, while drastically increasing the speed of encoding.
In our tests on a MacBook Core Duo with 1GB RAM, we found that exporting 19 minutes of camcorder DV footage from iMovie to Apple TV took a staggering one hour and 15 minutes using the standard QuickTime codec. Plugging in the turbo.264 resulted in an encoding time of just 21 minutes and 22 seconds.
When it comes to converting ripped DVDs into MP4 format, the turbo.264 can come to your aid again. Using the popular open source OS X program HandBrake to encode a standard DVD on the MacBook took almost exactly three hours, while the turbo.264 whittled this down to two hours 15 minutes.
The real time-buster however proved to be our 500MHz G4, which (unassisted by the turbo.264) encoded a DVD at a snail's pace, taking a whopping 39 hours and 27 minutes. With the turbo.264 connected this was slashed to just four hours and 35 minutes, making it almost nine times faster!
The stick looks stylish in black, is lightweight, and we were very impressed that it remained cool while in use.
As well as being a hardware dongle, the turbo.264 pack comes with a nice software program, which you can use for encoding video. Unfortunately, while it's easy to use, it lacks features: you can only drag and drop a movie file onto the program and choose what format you want it encoded to.
You have four options - Apple TV (up to 800 x 600), iPod High (640 x 480), iPod Standard (320 x 240) or Sony PSP (368 x 208). We'd liked to have seen a settings screen or two, where we can adjust bit-rate or audio quality, but Elgato assures us that it has got something like this planned for a future update.
As you'd expect, the turbo.264 integrates beautifully with Elgato's own EyeTV software. When you export to Apple TV and iPod formats from within EyeTV, the progress bar glows red when the turbo.264 is connected, indicating it's being used to speed things up. In fact, the turbo.264 works with any app that uses QuickTime and new menus will show up in your Export options.
With more homemade video content on our Macs than ever before, and a fussy solution from Apple that requires it to be in particular file formats before it'll play back on the big screen, then the turbo.264 feels like the right product released at the right time.
With a few more features this would have run away with top marks but, as it is, it'll have to settle for a healthy four stars.