Note – This review uses fairly large video files. You may have to wait a few seconds after pressing “play” for the video to load. I’m probably going to switch these to a different format shortly! :)
The idea is simple. Make a box that will record stuff directly to your memory card. A sleek, magic black box which sucks TV in and spits it out onto your storage card without fuss.
The idea is simple enough, but putting it into practice is a little more complicated. Try doing it without the Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2 Plus and you’re headed for a few hours of fiddling with bit-rates, encoding methods, TV cards, timer settings and copying. The Neuros MPEG4 Recorder however truely does what it says on the box. Sure, I meddled like hell with the thing but that was only for the purposes of this review. For you guys out there it’s simply a matter of plugging into a composite video output (usually on the back of your Sky / Cable / Digital box), powering up and then finally plugging the Neuros’ output into one of your TV’s inputs. The result is a clever box that will record your TV shows directly to a wide selection of data cards. You can even fiddle with the output settings and have yourself a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) without the hard-drive. I found the highest setting to be fine for watching back on even the biggest of TV’s.. but more of this later. To begin we’ve got to have a look at the thing.
Ooohh.. come on. Let me hear you say, “Oooohhh”. That’s a shiny shiny surface isn’t it? Neuros have realised that yes, looks do matter. If this is to sit under your super-stylish minimalistic living room you’ll not want it looking like the back-end of a microwave. Neuros have done a great job in making it look cool yet functional.
The slots on the fron accomodate the CF and an SD/MMC card slot. I’m sure owners of handsets with MiniSD or MicroSD cards will now be saying, “Ohh bugger, mine won’t fit”. Wait – it will! If you buy yourself a MiniSD or MicroSD card you’ll probably get an SD card adaptor to go with it. I’ve used one of these with Em’s Samsung handset and it worked great.
What really hit me about this product is the level of support. I’ve reviewed various bits of hardware in the past and there’s always a “here’s the box and a badly-translated manual” attitude. I’m happy to report that this definitely isn’t the case here. There’s a Wiki with an FAQ, a manual stacked with good info and even the chance to download the latest firmware from their website so you’ll never be out of date. In fact I was going to spend a good chunk of time trying to decipher which is the best encoding method to use, then I was going to see just how much space a 30 minute or 1 hour TV show would take.
However, it turns out that Neuros have already done it for me with this sheet below..
The “recommended” format for the Smartphone / Pocket PC is 320×240-15fps.
That’s 15 frames per second. Now me being me, I completely ignored this and went for the 320×240-30fps setting. I tried it on an SPV M600 because I figured, “This has got a fairly fast processor, it’ll cope”. Turns out that it wasn’t too bad, although during my test video of “Top Gear” did show some judder with the cars skidding around the track. Yes, they’re right – 15 frames per second is fine. The only thing you have to decide after that is the quality of the recording – Economic, Normal, Fine or Super Fine.
If you ramp the quality up to “fine” then expect to get roughly 125Mb sucked up on the card. You can adjust this of course, but it depends on the size of you memory card. As I write this 1Gb SD cards are selling for around £14.99 with MiniSD cards going for around £18.99.
You can also pick up MicroSD cards for £23.99. Don’t forget to grab yourself an adapter if you don’t receive on when you order one. Look out for a “MiniSD adapter” or “MiniSD Adapter” – something like this would be cool.
Connecting everything up is fairly easy. You get two sets of cables which have a 3.5mm jack on one end and phono-style video / audio jacks on the other. I took the “feed” (input) from my Sky box with the help of an RGB to composite-video plug like this…
Then I plonked the “output” cables into the front of my TV like so, although you could feed this into the back of your TV or – if you just want to hit the “record” button you may even choose not to bother as there’s an indication LED on the front of the unit to tell you when it’s recording.
The only other remaining plug is the power. Once this is done you can fire it up and have a look at the interface. This is what you see being output from the Neuros box. Whilst it’s not the most polished interface in the planet it certainly does the job and it reveals some of the hidden bonus features. The video below gives you an overview of the interface. If you ever get stuck the manual is excellent – there’s even a step-by-step recording guide on their website to guide you through a quick recording. I’ve taken some captures of the interface but I’ve had to squish things down a bit to fit here. However, you should be able to see an overview of the interface below (click play to start).
The remote control is a slimline affair which reminds me of those “credit card calculators”. Near the middle there’s some up, left, right and down arrows which allow you to navigate around the menu screen you can see in the video above. There’s also a PAL / NTSC switcher which is great news for readers around the globe. The other buttons should be pretty self explanatory – you should find that the “box” button (just to the left of the up arrow) lets you hop into the settings of each individual screen. For example, if you’re in the recording section pressing this will show you the recording settings. Likewise, if you’re in the pictures screen you just press this button to change things like background music and slideshow type.
While we’re talking about the pictures section it’s probably a good time to go through the capabilities of the Neuros Recorder one by one. Firstly I tried the slideshow thing, which is pretty damned useful if you think about it. Imagine taking this to your friends or relatives house and plugging it in – bingo! Instant projector.
What I liked about this is that it’ll use the MP3’s on the card to generate some background music too. Splendid stuff!
All I did in the example above was plonk an SD card in. It was out of my Orange SPV M600 and the Neuros Recorder has automatically put the pictures into a slideshow and played some music alongside it. Sure, you may have a few seconds of fiddling trying to find which folder the pictures are in but once you’ve learned how the in-built file explorer works you’ll be laughing.
Now, let’s suppose that I want to just listen to my music. Bear in mind that I can feed the audio output of the Neuros Recorder into a TV or an big sound system for maximum audio bliss. The video below shows me scrolling across to the music menu and playing some of the tunes on my card…
Next up is video. As you may have guessed by now the Neuros Recorder isn’t just a record-to-card device. It’ll play-back videos stored on your data cards too. Again this can be useful if you’ve recorded a bit of video with your phone and you want to see it on your TV at home. You can also use it to playback shows you’ve recorded with the Neuros Recorder itself.
OK, so let’s do a recording. Again I’ve done a video showing you a recording being setup. You can see me scrolling through the various different modes and resolutions plus you can use the timer function too. You’ll notice that there’s a handy bit of info on the top left which tells you exactly how much space you’ve got left. Great idea. :)
So, you’ve recorded your show, you’ve got it on your card. Now all you have to do is pop it into your Windows Mobile device and you’re all done. Ah.. well, no. See, this is where the wheels come off. Unfortunately the “PV Player” that comes with most Windows phones will throw a severe wobbly. It’ll either give you an error about screen size or a general error like this will appear..
Luckily the Neuros CD leaps to the rescue again with a handy link to The Core Pocket Media Player. It’s free but, after you’ve downloaded it and installed it, you’ll soon find a problem with that too. The issue is that Neuros produces MP4 video files – it’ll do 3GP files too but they’re nowhere near as good quality. So, to play the MP4 files in this case you’ll need an MP4 player with the AAC codec. Now, guess what happens when you try and open one of your recorder shows in The Core Pocket Media Player ? Yes, you get this..
Oh. Right. So now what ? Well, stick with me here because we’re going to go all techy for a minute. See, the AAC codec isn’t distrubuted with TCPMP since it’s not posible to upload binaries of it. However it can be downloaded here or here as a plugin. Once you’ve installed that (which is very easy – just a matter of double-clicking while you’re sync’d) everything is done and it’ll work fine. You should then see something like this..
Recorded files end up in a folder called “MP_ROOT”, which I’m guessing stands for “Media Player Root” or something. Within this folder are 5 sub-folders. You’ve got ..
PDA-Smartphone – This folder contains stuff you’ve recorded in 320×240-15fps
PDA-iPod – This folder contains stuff you’ve recorded in 320×240-30fps
TV – This has the higher-quality 640×480 recordings
Mobile – This contains all your 3GP recordings
101MNV01 – I believe this is for PSP stuff in widescreen format.
We talked about the various formats and resolutions earlier. It’s fairly obvious that if you choose “320×240-15fps – Economic” you’re going to fit more video in but you’ll get a naff picture, whereas “Superfine” will give you a great picture but it’ll suck more space.
Sorry ? What’s that? You want to see the results for yourself? Well certainly. I’ve recorded some at various quality settings and they can be downloaded here. Don’t forget that they’re MPEG4 so you’ll need a suitable player on your PC if you want to see them!
You can also check out this 9Mb example showing the 30fps setting which unfortunately doesn’t quite work totally smoothly on my M600 handset.
To finish off I thought I’d just show you the other bits that I may have possibly missed on the control panel / GUI of the Neuros Recorder…
I like this. Sure, the interface could be a bit slicker and if you lose that thin remote-control you’re a bit stuck but still, I like it. This is a simple and ideal solution for people who are stuck on a bus, train or plain regularly. During testing I had the help of a Sky+ box – this is a PVR which will let you easily record stuff from the TV onto a hard drive. The Neuros Recorder 2 isn’t quite as simple to setup for recording your TV shows however it’ll give you some fantastic results and it’ll do it well time and time again. My personal usage for this was to setup my DVD or Sky+ box to play-back a TV show onto the Neuros Recorder. I then whipped out the card and put it into my Windows Mobile handset so I could watch Top Gear on a long train journey the next day. It was ideal and it did the job well. I was able to “time shift” my free time and that’s definitely a bonus.
It’s not just Windows Mobile where this shines – you can record shows onto various different data cards (provided you have the necessary adapter to make it into an SD / CF card) and watch them back on PSP’s, iPods and other handsets too.
Links – We reviewed the Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2 PLUS. Details here at NeurosAudio.com