This section will describe what the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 does. If you're already familiar with the first generation of this device, you may want to skip down to the next section.
The Neuros MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 is a digital audio and video recording device that outputs to any display that has RCA jacks, and stores video and audio files on Compact Flash (CF) and Memory Stick Duo (MS Duo) flash memory cards. Since memory cards of this type are currently limited to 1GB in size (exception: Hitachi makes a 6GB microdrive with a CF interface that will work with the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2), there is an obviously lower video capacity than more expensive disk-based DVRs like the TiVo.
The Video Recorder 2 is capable of playing back more formats than it can record. For music, the MP3 and WMA formats are supported. For video, the Video Recorder 2 can play back QuickTime (MPEG-4 AAC-LC); and ASF and AVI (MPEG-4 MP3) files. For still pictures, JPEG, BMP, and GIF file formats are supported.
The built-in software on the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 is easy to navigate and use for manipulating the media files it supports.
As for video recording, the device uses three different resolutions: 320x240 (QVGA), 368x208 (WQVGA), and 640x480 (VGA). The recording format is MPEG-4 SP with AAC-LC audio at 30 frames per second. This file format is supported by the PlayStation Portable, the Apple iPod, and the Neuros 442 video players, and can also be played with the Apple QuickTime movie player on a PC or Apple computer.
There are four levels of recording quality for video: economic, normal, fine, and superfine. The higher the quality, the more storage space the video file will require. The QVGA and WQVGA formats can only record in economic or normal quality, which means that longer videos are possible. On a 1GB memory card, you can record almost two and a half hours of video at normal quality -- that's enough time for most Hollywood movies.
Although required for recording, the Neuros MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 does not come with any memory cards. It does come with a small remote, a DC5V power supply, and two RCA-to-stereo cables for audio/video input and output. You can have both a CF and an MS Duo card plugged in at the same time, but there is no function for combining their space for extended recording.
New for version 2Click here for a photo of the Neuros MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2.
The list of improvements since the first generation of this device is huge in terms of software capabilities, but actually reduced as far as hardware is concerned. Here are the improvements:
- More formats supported for playback: WMA audio and AVI video.
- A higher resolution video recording mode: 640x480. This makes recordings watchable on a PC or television.
- A larger, more featured remote control; it has twice as many buttons as its predecessor, and seems to have a better operational range as well.
- Support for the MS Duo memory card.
- Improved menu software. It's much easier to use and navigate.
The MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 does not have a USB port like its predecessor, so it is no longer able to act as a card reader for a PC. In fact, the Video Recorder 2 is not meant for PCs at all -- you won't find the Ulead Video Toolbox software or any drivers included with it like the first generation recorder had. Since you can't connect the device to a PC, such programs would be useless anyway.
While there is now support for Memory Stick Duo cards, it comes at the expense of Secure Digital (SD) cards, which are no longer supported.
One gotcha for those who are upgrading from the first-gen recorder: the device must now be "turned on" in order to get a display. Previously the device powered itself on and went straight to the root menu. The MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 has a power button on the remote (but not on the recorder, so don't lose that remote!) that must be activated in order to get any kind of display at all. I found it best to leave the device on at all times -- all I had to do was get out of the menu system and I could watch TV normally. To get back to the menu, you press a button on the remote.
Putting it to the test
Hooking up the Neuros MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 is easy -- you plug it into the wall, plug the input into your input source (cable box, DVD player, whatever) and the output into your television, and you're ready to go.
The menu system, as I've said already, is easy to navigate. If your memory card contains pictures, you go to the Picture tab; for music, go to the Music tab, etc. Setup is also a breeze. Without having to consult the manual, I set the time and date and the preferred recording quality and screen resolution in a matter of minutes.
Recording a show is also very simple -- just press the record button and the on-screen display (which does not show up in the recording) shows you how much space you have and how much recording time has elapsed.
Transferring the MS Duo memory card to your PSP is easy -- the PSP has a slot for it, so you just plug the card in and your video is right there, ready to play. Transferring to a Video iPod is a little trickier. Since the iPod does not have a memory card reader built in (and I'm not aware of any accessories that have one), you will have to have either a CF or MS Duo card reader for your computer. They aren't expensive and are now standard equipment on a lot of computers, but that's not the point -- the point is, it's much more difficult to get your video file from the Neuros device to the iPod because you have to go through a third party (your computer). A Neuros representative told me that the design specifications for the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 were already complete by the time the Video iPod came out, so the device was made specifically for the PSP. Neuros provides instructions for transferring video files from the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 to the Video iPod. The process is a bit of a runaround, but hey -- now at least you can get your favorite TV shows to your iPod or other handheld device without paying the Apple Tax for them.
The only software included is The Core Pocket Media Player, which is designed for PalmOS, Windows Mobile, and Windows CE. If you check out that link, you might notice something missing: support for the AAC audio format. That means that, while videos created on the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 will play on TCPMP, you will not be able to hear the sound.
Conclusions and developer recommendations
The Neuros MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 is a step in the right direction in some ways, and a step backwards in other, less significant ways. Most of the device's value has been added not by its own features or improvements, but by the explosive growth of the handheld video player market. In other words, what the recorder does at its most basic level -- record videos formatted for small screens -- has become a more important function, so the device itself has more intrinsic value.
Taking out the USB port and the ability to use the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 as a card reader was a mistake. There needs to be some kind of connectivity with devices that do not have card readers. A Neuros representative told me that the company plans to bundle a card reader with the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 soon, along with an improved version of TCPMP (or a different, similar player) which will have AAC codec support. Where does that leave early adopters, though?
I'm left with a similar feeling as the first generation of this device: it's a great idea, but Neuros hasn't quite figured out what needs to go into it yet. It works great with the PlayStation Portable and the Neuros 442, but it's harder to get video from it onto other devices. Here are some suggestions for future versions of the MPEG-4 Video Recorder:
- OGG/Vorbis audio support. Well, in general I'd like to see more file formats supported (like MPEG-2, for starters), but it's a real disappointment to see that the open source OGG audio format has been omitted. It's easy to implement -- it's an open, royalty-free standard. Neuros' digital music player -- the Neuros II -- plays OGG/Vorbis files, and that's part of what makes it a cut above the iPod. Why doesn't the Neuros MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 have it too?
- Connectivity. It doesn't have to be USB, but that would probably be best. One way or the other, it has to be easier for the MPEG-4 Video Recorder 2 to connect to devices that do not have CF or MS Duo card readers.
- The ability to record onto two memory cards. I think it would be cool if you could combine the space on an MS Duo and a CF card for one recording, then concatenate the two files using some kind of software.
- Internal storage. If this device had, say, 5GB of internal storage, it could record and store several files without having to switch cards. If you wanted to record two consecutive television shows, you'd have to have two memory cards to do it. Internal storage would eliminate that need while still allowing file portability through the memory card slots.
|Device||Digital video recorder|
|Device support||Compact Flash (CF) and Memory Stick Duo (MS Duo) memory cards. Will output to the MPEG-4 AAC media format, which is compatible with the Apple Video iPod and the Sony PlayStation Portable. Will connect to any audio or video device that has RCA jacks.|
|Market||Handheld video device owners|
|Price (retail)||US ~$150 Buy it now from Amazon.com|
|Previous version||Neuros MPEG-4 Video Recorder version 1|
|Product Web site||Click here|