Neuros MPEG 4 Recorder 2
The no-frills PVR is revamped for the PSP and iPod
Given my TV's aspect ration is 4:3, that's how I have my DVD player set. Switching it to 16:9 mode yielded better results, though not perfect ones, depending on your point of view. Recording from a 16:9 source to WQVGA eliminated the odd cropping, but the 2.35:1 was stretched vertically to fill the 16:9 frame - the classic anamorphic look. My TV can operate in quasi-16:9 mode, and setting it so immediately produced a correct-ratio picture, but as the MPEG 4 file was encoded in anamorphic form, viewing the MPEG 4 file on a computer gave me just the stretched picture. A 16:9 ratio DVD looked less stretched but suffered from some cropping.
Cropped or stretched? Ultimately, it's up to you and how the video looks on your preferred playback device. WQVA produces or eliminates the letterbox look, but you risk losing some of the frame and/or getting a stretched picture.
If that sounds more of a problem than a solution, it's worth bearing in mind that it digitises in real time. Re-encoding a DVD for playback on a mobile device is typically a two-stage process - rip the disc then re-encode the MPEG 2 files - and while it might be a quick process for anyone using a top-of-the-range system, for the rest of us it can be a chore, or something you need to leave running overnight. My system's just under three years old, and while ripping a DVD doesn't take long, converting it to MPEG 4 does. By contrast, with the MPEG 4 Recorder I can record a DVD while I'm watching it. And 'tape' TV shows, too - and for $150, it won't take long to save what I might have spent downloading programmes from iTunes.
As before, Neuros bundles Ulead's VideoToolbox, which provides a handy way of converting MPEG 4 files to other formats and some basic splicing and stitching tools. You'll also find a copy of the open source Core Media Player for Windows Mobile and Palm OS devices: a good move, and an improvement on the previous version which effectively left PDA users - Palm fans in particular - hunting around for something that would play video they'd sync'd across.
Neuros' MPEG 4 Recorder was a great product for getting movies and TV shows onto a PDA, and the Recorder 2, with its more widely supported video and audio codecs, PSP-friendly encoding settings, and near-DVD quality TV recording, is a big step forward. It's still not the last word in PVRs, of course, but the new version does a better job than its predecessor.
It's a shame Neuros felt it necessary to drop the unit's USB 2.0 support, particularly since the unit's support for the iPod video format puts Mac and PC connectivity at a premium. Fortunately, USB-based card readers are very cheap these days, but it's still a disappointing omission.
PSP users will be less concerned about that than owners of other mobile devices, and for them the MPEG 4 Recorder 2 costs less than eight pre-recorded UMDs, always a galling purchase when you own the content in other forms, such as DVD. The same goes for anyone who has a fifth-generation iPod - users benefit too. And it also makes a pretty decent VCR replacement. ®