The Sandisk V-Mate is a unique device in the field of PC accessories because it's designed to record video specifically for mobile devices. While the rest of the electronics world is waiting for the portable video explosion, Sandisk is simply catering to users who want to watch their favourite show on the train or the tram.
For a device that's so powerful it certainly is small -- no bigger than your average memory card reader. And though it's made from plastic, it's certainly hard wearing enough to tote around in your bag.
The back of the V-Mate is sensibly laid out, and consists of a power switch, power input, AV in/out, PAL/NTSC toggle, USB port and an IR emitter port.
Despite how it seems, the unit doesn't need to be plugged into a PC to work. It operates independently, with all the necessary software embedded onboard -- though you can use the USB port to transfer video to a computer or use as a standard memory card reader.
The device will accept most flavours of SD, MMC and Memory Stick natively -- bar the Memory Stick Micro (M2).
After turning it on you are greeted with the Main Menu, which gives you the option of playing prerecorded movies, recording a new one, scheduling a future recording or altering settings.
The menu system is easy to follow, and provided you can angle the remote properly (the IR has a very narrow field of reception), the pages are easy to navigate.
The only problem we would have is that if you lose the remote, you can't operate the V-Mate, as there are no buttons on the device itself.
In order to assist with scheduling, the V-Mate comes with an IR repeater which, when programmed with your TV/VCR type, will turn on the source and set it to a channel at the correct time for recording. However, despite including a dozen codes for Sony, we were unable to get it to work with our Sony HD tuner.
Using the aforementioned tuner as our source we hooked the V-Mate up and recorded several hours of programming to both a MS Pro Duo card and an SD card. We recorded in the default "Best" mode for all three possibilities: mobile phone, PSP and PC.
The results were varied. For example, while recording to PSP format, one problem we experienced was that the bottom edge of the screen would corrupt when copying.
This was most noticeable with 4:3 TV content as the bottom quarter of the screen would intermittently flicker and jump. This happened regardless of which memory card type we used or which source.
On 16:9 DVD content, it was still there, but showed as a small flickering white line over the "black bars". Updating to the latest firmware helped a little, but the effect was still evident. The rest of the image, however, was quite watchable on a PSP screen, and the audio was flawless.
Despite our initial concerns about the effect of Macrovision (an older technology designed to prevent recording DVD's to VCR), we were able to record from DVD as well. Using our King Kong test disk we were able to transfer content at near-DVD quality (640 x 480) in mp4 mode, and without any of the corruption problems we had with converting PSP content.
One quirk of this device is that while you can watch content as it's being recorded in PSP mode, you are unable to watch PC-formatted content recording -- all you'll see is a red, rectangular "REC" in the corner and a blank screen.
In conclusion, this is a potentially time-saving device, and certainly better than many of the software converters available. However, limited compatibility and some image quality issues are the only things preventing us from recommending it wholeheartedly