MPEG4 Recorder 2

One common complaint users have about encoding video for their fifth-generation, video-capable iPods is that it takes a lot of time. Another issue is legality: Although there is software available that can rip your DVDs and convert them to an iPod-compatible format, doing so is legally suspect.

Targeted toward video iPod and Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) owners, the MPEG4 Recorder 2 from Neuros aims to tackle both of those issues—and succeeds for the most part. However, the product’s obtuse interface and limited recording quality make it less than ideal.

A mini digital VCR

For all intents and purposes, the Neuros Recorder 2 is a digital VCR: It records MPEG4 video from most sources onto Compact Flash or Memory Stick Duo cards. Neuros originally developed the device for Sony PSP users (thus the Memory Stick Duo), but later realized the unit’s potential for video iPod users and started marketing the device as such (at least on the Web site—the actual packaging makes no mention of the iPod).

The Recorder 2 is stylish and small. It connects easily, via composite RCA cables, to most video devices (TV, cable box, camcorder, DVD player). Recording a TV show is just like using a VCR. Hit Record via the remote control to start recording immediately, or set start and stop times to schedule a recording. Notably missing from the device is an analog cable tuner, which means that you cannot change channels as you can on a normal VCR. The unit does come with a video out cable, though, so you can connect it to a TV—useful for monitoring recordings, playing back audio, video, and photos, and accessing the user settings.

Because it records analog video, users can make legal copies of DVDs they own. In fact, that’s one of the Recorder 2’s biggest perks. Another plus is speed: Since the device records MPEG4 video in real time (so one hour of video takes one hour to encode), it’s faster than traditional QuickTime Pro encodes.

Less than perfect

The Recorder 2 has no onboard memory, so you’ll have to insert a Compact Flash or Memory Stick Duo card before you can record anything. If you own a Sony PSP, the process is easy: The Recorder 2 lets you quickly encode video (in a format that fits the PSP’s wider screen) to the Memory Stick Duo. You can then insert that card directly into the PSP. For iPod users, though, transferring video from the Recorder 2 is a three-step process: Record to Memory Stick or Compact Flash, copy into iTunes via a USB memory card reader, and transfer from iTunes to the iPod.

Currently, the Recorder 2 can encode incoming video at 320 x 240 resolution in MPEG4 format at either Normal or Economy quality. The Normal setting produced acceptable-quality video although it looked blockier than what you would get if you were using QuickTime Pro or Podner ($10) to encode video. The Economy setting, which aims for a lower data rate, is not at all useful, producing blurry video that’s full of artifacts.

Sadly, there is no High quality setting, nor is there an option for a larger frame size, which would be useful since the iPod can play video up to 480 x 480 resolution in MPEG4 mode. While the large pixel count wouldn’t improve direct iPod viewing, it would increase the quality when viewing iPod video on a TV.

Another issue: The menu navigation is not always intuitive. For example, the record quality settings are not located within the main video recording menu, where you’d expect to find them.

Macworld’s buying advice

The Neuros MPEG 4 Recorder 2 is useful if you’re looking for the fastest, easiest way to make legal iPod or PSP-compatible recordings from DVDs or most other video sources. However, you can get better and more-customizable results by using software encoders, although you’ll be in legal limbo with DVD sources.

[ Anton Linecker is a technical video consultant and writer based in Los Angeles. ]

MPEG4 Recorder 2

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