Review: Neuros MPEG4 Video Recorder 2

By Richard Menta 5/28/06

The personal media player (PMP) was invented by Archos back in 2002 and their first PMP had the ability to record from television with the addition of a video recorder module. The reasoning was simple; as there were no Hollywood-approved sources for online movies at the time television offered free content that a user could take on-the-go. Not all portables offer this option, most notably the fifth generation iPod. That's because Apple was interested in such a player only if there was content to sell with it. The content they sell is the same television programming that we record on our VCRs every day, sans commercials.

So what do you do if you wish to use your iPod or Sony PSP to watch recorded programming for free? Neuros has the answer for you with its Video Recorder 1 ($99) and Video Recorder 2 ($150). These recorders are made to serve the portable video set and can be used as a simple PVR when convenient.

Getting Started


Neuros Recorder 2

The difference between the Neuros MPEG4 Video Recorder 1 and 2 is that the Recorder 2 records on memory stick cards for the Sony PSP, while the Recorder 1 records on SD memory for cell phones and other PMPs that utilize those cards. Additionally, the Recorder 2 increases the bitrates for higher quality recording and can record in widescreen for those portable players that have one. It's the updated capabilities of the Recorder 2 that account for the $50 difference.

Both units have a CompactFlash slot and can record video on those cards as well. As for portables that have no direct flash card input, like the video-capable iPod, you can use either one so the cheaper Recorder 1 is the way to go. You will need a PC with a card reader to facilitate the transfer to the player, an annoying extra step but the results are the same.

My first experience with a Neuros product came when I reviewed the Neuros MP3 Digital Music Computer, arguably the most feature-laden audio player I had yet tested back in 2003. The player stood out for me because of an amazing Jekyll and Hyde character that both impressed and frustrated the user. On the plus side, it was the first audio player to handle the Ogg Vorbis codec and the first with a built in FM transmitter. Neuros executed so well on that transmitter that the unit became my everyday player in the car for almost three years. On the downside, I found the Neuros player to be a quite buggy, with an unrefined transfer program which I simultaneously referred to in my review as both very interesting and frustrating. Will the Neuros Recorder be likewise afflicted?

For my review I selected the Video Recorder 2 so I could review the video quality on the Sony PSP. In my opinion, the PSP is the best portable video player on the market today (despite it being a game player first) with a brilliant 16:9 widescreen display that trumps the iPod's and I was excited by the ability of the Neuros to extend the PSP's usability. Holding the unit in my hand I was impressed by the diminutive size of it. Aesthetically, the Recorder 2's sleek black case looked great and the size made it wonderfully unobtrusive when placed by the TV.

The Neuros connects conveniently to the video source using only two connections, an AV-in and an AV-out. The Recorder 2 requires a video source as it has no tuner. A tuner might not be a bad idea for a future version of the recorder, allowing a direct connection to the antenna or cable hookup. Because the Recorder 2 is small it can be easily shifted to other rooms with a TV, but no VCR or DVD. The Recorder 2 can record in the American NTSC standard or the Brittish PAL standard.

Unfortunately, disconnecting the unit from a power source resets the clock. The addition of a small capacitor in future versions of the Recorder could solve this, providing enough charge for the clock to last several minutes.

Controls and Navigation

Poor. Where Apple's products are known for their seamless interfaces, Neuros I am afraid continues the tradition of controls only a tech can love. There are no buttons on the Neuros body itself, so everything is controlled through the unit's remote. Lose the remote and you are out of luck until the replacement arrives in the mail. The remote holds 24 identical shaped and spaced buttons. It worked, but it's not ideal for those of us with five thumbs.

The Recorder 2 menu is a Spartan affair and not the most intuitive to use. Pull up the main menu and the top row shows five icons representing the Photo Tab, Music Tab, Playback Tab, Record Tab, Setup Tab and File Browsing Tab. The user interface is a crude looking thing, but for the most part I found it straightforward in most instances. Still, navigation can be unsatisfying if not downright annoying at times.

Not all of the necessary keys steps are well explained in the manual either and there are some steps that are inconsistent between menus. For example, the Setting Menu button on the remote will open up the Setting sub-menu in all of the main tabs except the "Record Tab". Using that button under the Record Tab requires an additional step, different when performed within the other tabs, but described as being the same in the manual. For the life of me I could not figure it out until a rash of frustrated button pushing finally illuminated the correct keystroke. I didn't like the File Browser tab and chose to work around it.

Recording

As a device for recording television programs for your portable media player the final results of the Recorder 2 were very good. First, the Recorder 2 can record in widescreen to accommodate the Sony PSP. The unit can also record in standard aspect ratio for other players.

In widescreen, recording in the normal mode produced video that overall was pretty good when viewed on the PSP. Even in low quality mode it was OK, which for most people looking to cram as much programming as they can on a flash card is good enough. In Low Q, pixilation wasn't much of an issue for the Sony's display. Colors were dull and washed out, but it played fine. This is why the Recorder 1 is still viable despite the lower bitrates as the lower quality is good enough and the player is cheaper to boot. For those who have players that take SD cards it is a better deal. Widescreen mode also cut off a little of the top and bottom of the picture as it stretched programming that is broadcast in standard aspect ration to fit widescreen. This trimming effect was a minor plus when I recorded programming that was broadcast in letterbox.

What is most important is that the Recorder 2 dramatically extended the capability of my Sony PSP, opening up a whole array of television content for portability. Paying $1.99 for episodes of Lost? I recorded them for free with one touch of the record button and just popped the card into my PSP when the show was finished. One touch recording was how I recorded most of my programs as it was easier than dealing with the on-screen menu. The timer worked fine, but the interface annoyed me enough that I only used it when I needed to. Overall, I was very satisfied with the results on my portable player. The end result is that I used the Recorder 2 regularly, which ultimately is the most important remark I can make in this review.

The Recorder 2 can be used as a PVR, but quality becomes a greater issue when you jump from a 4" portable screen to a 32" television tube. You will be more satisified using a recordable DVD or VCR, but the Recorder 2 did a passable job if you are not picky about picture quality.

Conclusion

Despite all of my complaints if you have a Sony PSP, iPod Video, or other PMP unit I strongly recommend the Recorder 1 and 2. Yes, the user interface is crude, even frustrating, but for the mass transit commuter, the travel warrior, and those restless kids in the back of the car it doubles the capability of you portable media player. That alone makes the Neuros compelling. The video quality was good, the small size of the unit a plus, and the price tag is reasonable, particularly the $99 Recorder 1. Most of the time the user can completely avoid the annoying interface altogether by simply hittting the record button when the program starts and, once completed, pop the flash card in their player. That's what I did and the results were more than satisfying.

Firmware over time will probably correct most of my gripes, though I do wish Neuros was more refined with the details from the beginning. The company repeatedly brings out groundbreaking products that serve a clear market need and for that they score big points. Unfortunately, they products always seem half-finished when first encountered. Despite its flaws, the Neuros Recorder is worth consideration as its best attributes outweigh the negatives.

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