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Neuros MPEG 4 Recorder

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Recording

But these are peripheral uses - the NMR's really about recording video. The unit compresses video and audio on the fly, using MPEG 4 for the picture and G.726 for the sound. The latter goes from stereo down to mono, encoded at 32Kbps with an 8kHz sample rate. You can't change the sound setting, but the NMR offers a range of video compression settings, from 1536Kbps (aka 'Super Fine') down to 384Kbps ('Economy'), allowing you to reduce the picture quality to increase the recording time. A 512MB card, for example, will yield over 45m of video in Super Fine mode, or almost 178m using Economy.

The picture is reduced to 352 x 240, though you can knock it back to half that to get more video on your memory card. That's why it looks so rough on a TV - that resolution is about half that of a standard DVD picture. But play it back on, say, a Pocket PC and it looks just fine. Take a look at the sample shots on the next page.

I encoded the opening four minutes of Terminator 2: Judgement Day first in SuperFine mode, then again using Normal mode. While the sound's the same dull mono on both - the audio codec was designed for voice telephony, not movies - you can clearly see the difference between the two rates on a TV, but even in SuperFine it's not going to look any better than VHS - worse, in fact.

The results are better when you copy the files over to a computer and run it in Windows Media Player - the NMR saves its MPEG 4 data into .ASF files. WMP under Mac OS X played the files without a hitch, but I had to download the G.726 audio codec from Sharp's website before I could play anything on a WinXP SP 2 box. If you don't like Microsoft's code, the VideoLAN Client (VLC) media player had no problem with either video or audio data.

Codec problems also hindered my efforts to play the video on a Medion Pocket PC. The Windows Mobile version of WMP 9 handled the video flawlessly, but didn't produce any sound because it doesn't support G.726. I was unable to try Windows Media Player 10 for Pocket PC, but I understand the third-party BetaPlayer
handles MPEG 4 and G.726 out of the box.

Verdict

Think of the NMR not as a PVR but as a handy MPEG 4 conversion tool, and you're well on your way to seeing its value. Top-of-the-range PCs may be able to convert MPEG 2 to MPEG 4 quickly, but even encoding in real time is a big step forward for those of us with older machines. With its memory card support, the NMR is potentially one of the best ways of getting video onto a mobile device.

The downside, for now, is the device's choice of audio codec and file format. G.726 doesn't make for good audio quality, and it's not a common codec. That, and the choice of the .ASF, may limit the NMR's applicability, particularly as not only Pocket PC but Palm and PSP users seek to get more video on their handhelds.

Indeed, handheld console maker Gizmondo is preparing to offer the unit for £150 - rather more than the $140 (£74) Neuros is asking - to owners of its WinCE-based device. ®

 

Neuros MPEG 4 Recorder
 
Rating 75%
 
Pros Convenient size; real-time encoding; storage capacity limitless.
 
Cons Files stored in Microsoft .ASF format rather than a more generic one; mono sound only from an obscure audio codec.
 
Price $140 (£74)
 
More info The Neuros MPEG 4 Recorder site

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