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Plextor ConvertX PVR

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Apple prides itself on its digital-lifestyle devices like the iPod and AirPort Express, but when it comes to TV viewing, its products lag far behind Windows XP Media Centers, many of which have built–in TV tuners. Plextor’s $229 ConvertX PVR (personal video recorder) for the Mac effectively fills this gap. The unit provides an excellent TV–viewing, –recording, and –editing experience at a good price.

The ConvertX PVR requires a G4 or G5 processor and OS X 10.2.8 or later. Despite its billing as a USB 2.0 device, you can also use it if your Mac has an older, USB 1.1 connection.

Essentially, the ConvertX PVR is a slightly larger, USB 2.0 version of Elgato Systems’ FireWire EyeTV 200 (   ; July 2004 )—except it doesn’t include a remote control and it costs $100 less.

Setting up the ConvertX PVR is a snap. Just connect the unit to a cable or TV antenna with a coaxial cable, and plug the USB 2.0 cable into your Mac. The ConvertX also has S-Video and composite-video connections for recording VHS and camcorder footage. For satellite or digital cable, it requires a digital decoder box to convert the incoming video to analog. In this configuration, the ConvertX can’t change the channel on satellite or digital cable boxes, as it can with analog cable.

Once the unit is connected, Elgato’s EyeTV software, which Plextor has licensed for the ConvertX, takes over. When you first launch the program, a setup assistant guides you through autotuning channels and establishing an account with TitanTV, a TV-listing Web site.

The ConvertX encodes video to MPEG-1, MPEG-2, or MPEG-4, suitable for VCDs and DVDs (on PCs, the unit also supports real-time capture of DivX video, a feature notably absent in the Mac version). The MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 encoding quality is excellent, especially when using the Standard and High settings. Macs with only USB 1.1 connections are limited to recording at Long Play quality, which is also decent, though we noticed some MPEG artifacts. However, the VCD-compliant MPEG-1 files that the ConvertX creates are not very good quality (even by MPEG-1 standards). The MPEG-1 streams produced by Elgato’s USB EyeTV unit (   ; November 2002 ) look noticeably better and are less blocky.

The EyeTV software lets you quickly trim out unwanted material, such as commercials, from recorded programs. It also lets you export TV shows to Roxio’s Toast 6 Titanium (   ; December 2003 ) to quickly burn DVDs. EyeTV is remarkably stable—it’s usually possible to edit or watch previously recorded programs while recording a new TV program.

It’s also effortless to schedule recordings via the TitanTV Web site. You can even schedule recordings remotely by setting the software to check with the TitanTV site at certain intervals. That way, you can schedule a recording of Everybody Loves Raymond even when you’re away from home.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

Plextor’s ConvertX PVR for the Mac is a great way to watch and make high-quality video recordings of TV programs, especially if your Mac has a USB 2.0 port. With the maturity of EyeTV software, there are few drawbacks to this unit.

Plextor ConvertX PVR

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