Neuros likens its MPEG-4 recorders to mini digital VCRs. While that description may not be entirely accurate, these little black boxes do take video that's output from just about any copy-protection-free analog video source and convert it into a MPEG-4 video file that's suitable for viewing on portable devices such as the iPod with Video, the Sony PSP, and various smart phones and handhelds. Whereas the earlier Neuros MPEG-4 Recorder 2 ($150 list) was limited to recording to CompactFlash, MicroDrive, and all forms of Memory Sticks, the Neuros MPEG-4 Recorder 2 Plus ($160 list) lets you record to SD and MMC memory cards as well. (The two models are otherwise identical.)
At just 0.75 inch high by 4.75 wide by 3.5 deep, the Recorder 2 Plus is smaller than the PSP itself. It comes with two sets of camcorder-style composite A/V cables--yellow, red, and white RCA jacks on one end, with minijacks that plug into the Neuros on the other. The Recorder 2's inputs attach to the outputs on your video source of choice. The Recorder 2's outputs, of course, run to your TV--you operate the recorder via its onscreen menu. Plug-in the AC power adapter, set your TV to the correct input, and press the power button on the included credit-card-size remote, and you're good to go.
We tested the Recorder 2 Plus the way we felt the majority of people would use it. We hooked it up to a digital video recorder (DVR), which, in our case, happens to be a Scientific Atlanta 8300HD. (The 8300HD can record programs in high-def, but using its composite output normalizes everything to good, old-fashion standard-definition video.) But again, you can hook it up to any video device with analog outputs--everything from a cable or satellite box to a VCR, a DVD player, or even a camcorder. We had several unwatched episodes of Entourage and The Colbert Report on the DVR, and we picked a few to convert into files for playback on the PSP and iPod with video.
Turning to movies, we dubbed some of our favorite VHS and DVD titles to take on the road. Interestingly, the Recorder 2 Plus doesn't recognize the Macrovision copy protection found on most Hollywood titles. That means you're free to convert your movie collection for digital playback without having to re-buy your favorite titles on, say, the iTunes Store. Nice.
The biggest shortcoming of the Neuros Recorder 2 Plus is that it records in real time, which means that if you have a 26-minute episode of Entourage, it will take 26 minutes to record. Moreover, what you see is what you get--if you pause, rewind, or change the channel while recording, that error will be dutifully recorded by the Neuros. There are some automatic recording capabilities built into the latest firmware (both the Recorder 2 and Recorder 2 Plus are easily upgradeable, but a PC and a card reader are required to do so). However, if you want nice clean start and stop points on your "homemade" videos, it's best to go with the manual recording approach: hitting the record button when you want your file to start, and pressing it a second time to end recording.
The interface of the Recorder 2 Plus could be simpler, but after some menu surfing and a couple of glances at the manual, we were able to get everything set up properly to record at the resolution we wanted. Conveniently, Neuros includes a little cheat sheet that tells you which of the various resolutions are optimal for your portable device of choice. As you might expect from a mini digital VCR, you can choose from a few recording modes, including Economy, Normal, and Fine. The Fine mode offers the least amount of compression but jacks up the file size. To give you an idea about size, in the recommended Normal mode for the PSP setting, a 26-minute episode of Entourage came in slightly larger than 175MB. We had no problem storing four episodes on a 1GB Memory Stick Duo card.
One nice touch that PSP owners will appreciate: The Neuros automatically records the video file in the correct folder on your Memory Stick Duo, so long as that card was originally formatted for use with the PSP. That allows you to place the memory card directly into your PSP and play the videos without taking any further action. Of course, because the iPod with Video lacks a card slot, owners must transfers recorded files from the memory card to a computer, then onto the iPod.