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Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2 review: Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2

Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
6 min read
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.


Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2

The Good

Records TV shows--or any video source--to CompactFlash, SD, MMC, Memory Stick flash media; relatively easy to set up; connects to any cable/satellite box, DVR, VCR, or DVD player; recorded MPEG-4 files play back on a wide variety of mobile handheld devices, including the PSP, many PDAs, mobile phones, portable media players, and--after a PC file transfer--the video iPod; doesn't recognize Macrovision copy-protection flags, so recording VHS and DVD movies isn't a problem; can also be used to view JPEG images and to listen to MP3 audio stored on your cards.

The Bad

All video recording is done in real time, which will frustrate anyone used to ripping DVDs or downloading video files. The recorder lacks S-Video connectivity and an IR blaster for cable/satellite box control.

The Bottom Line

The Neuros MPEG-4 Recorder 2 Plus provides a straightforward way to get video content onto your portable device without the need for a PC.

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.

The video quality at the Economy setting is pretty sketchy, but we found the Normal setting quite watchable, especially for TV shows such as Entourage and The Colbert Report. There's a bit of pixelization in faster motion sequences, but all in all, the video is smooth and its sound is loud enough. If you have the memory card space for it, watching movies ripped at the Fine setting is preferable on the PSP, though less essential on the smaller iPod screen.

All in all, we had no major complaints about the Recorder 2 Plus, although at this price, we'd like to see both S-Video inputs and outputs, and we wouldn't mind if the box had to be slightly larger to accommodate that connectivity. Not only would recording quality slightly improve with the addition of the superior S-Video connection, but it would hopefully sharpen what you see on your TV when watching through the Recorder 2 Plus. For example, while the Neuros can display images stored on your memory card (as well as MP3 audio files), they look pretty bad on large-screen HDTVs. That's partially due to the quality of the composite connection. And when we called up our list of recorded shows, we had a hard time reading program descriptions because the print was fuzzy.

The bigger issue with the Neuros Recorder is simply that of individual preference. Those who enjoy video on the go but can't stand dealing with arcane video transcoding programs on the PC will find a lot to like in the VCR-like "just press record" simplicity of the Recorder 2. On the other hand, PC-centric users who have thrown legal and ethical concerns to the wind and are adept at ripping DVDs and downloading entire TV series via Bittorrent likely will find real-time recording on the Neuros to be a tedious deal-breaker. (That crowd probably has a video tuner card or a Media Center PC anyway, which pretty much obviates the need for a Neuros.)

It's worth noting a few important admonitions for prospective Recorder 2 owners. Anyone looking to record to a Memory Stick Duo (for the PSP) will need an adapter to plug those smaller cards into the Memory Stick slot of the Neuros. Likewise, MiniSD and MicroSD cards will need their respective full-size SD adapters. By comparison, the SanDisk V-Mate--a Neuros competitor with similar features and operation--offers dedicated MiniSD and MicroSD slots (no adapter required) in addition to SD, MMC, and Memory Stick ports, but it lacks the Neuros' CompactFlash compatibility. Furthermore, the SanDisk models one-ups the Neuros with a better user interface and the addition of an IR blaster that lets your timer recordings switch channels on your cable/satellite box, a feature not found on the Neuros. (Neuros has come out with an even more advanced mini digital VCR, the Neuros OSD Linux Media Recorder ($230), but its reliance on the open-source community means that it's a "geek-only" product for the foreseeable future.)

Those caveats aside, the Neuros Recorder 2 Plus does what it says it will do and does it well. It's not the quickest or most ideal way to get content for your portable device, but if you have a lot of programs stored on your DVR or just want to record straight from your cable or satellite box, the Recorder 2 Plus is competent solution to build up a collection of MPEG-4 videos. Some additional tweaks via firmware upgrades and a price tag closer $99 would make the little black box even more attractive, but we're pretty sure Neuros knows that already.

Editors' note: This review has been updated from its original version with to properly reflect the fact that the Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2 Plus can record Macrovision-protected movies.