If you own a PlayStation Portable (PSP), or any other personal portable media device, you've probably discovered that one of the main challenges is finding a way to get video onto the device. How do you rip your movie collection, for example, to a format that can play on the PSP?
The PSP is a really capable portable movie player. It's not just a gaming machine -- although it's very good for games -- it's also a great way to watch videos when you are away from your home entertainment system. You can take a couple of movies anywhere in your carry-on luggage or your briefcase, without dragging along a large device like a laptop.
One of the solutions for getting video onto a PSP or other portable video player is a device called the Neuros MPEG4 Recorder. The Neuros Recorder is a standalone recording device. It's only slightly larger than a deck of cards, and it rips incoming video to flash memory such as CompactFlash cards or Memory Stick Pro duo cards. There's no PC required, no USB connection and no software to install. You simply plug the video and audio into this Neuros device, hit play and start recording.
I've tested the unit extensively. It has some strong points and some weak points. On the strong side, the unit does what it promises to do. It rips video to Memory Stick Pro cards or CompactFlash cards using a highly compressed MPEG 4 video format and the simple protocol-encoding layer. The videos play very well on the PSP if you copy them to the right folder with the right name on the Memory Stick. The audio volume may seem a little low from time to time, but if you use headphones, it usually takes care of that problem. So the unit works, and it does fulfill its promises.
Limitations of the Neuros
What's lacking from the unit ultimately prevents me from giving it a five-star rating. First of all, the unit has its own user interface which is quite clunky. It's a bit difficult to navigate at first and it's not at all visually appealing. In order to see the interface, you need to direct the output of this device to a video monitor.
The remote control that comes with it also works, but I'm not sure how long the buttons will last. I didn't have any problems with my remote, but the buttons didn't have a quality feel. It felt more like pressing membranes on a microwave keypad rather than clicking buttons on a typical remote control, so I think the remote could be improved quite a bit.
One of the things I really like about Neuros is that it comes from a group of developers with an open-source philosophy. There is an entire developer community building up around this device, and the source code is available and always being improved. So this is the opposite of the Sony BMG people, who believe that nothing should be shared and everything should be proprietary. The fact that Neuros is an open-source community product makes it far more interesting.
One of the features sorely missing from this product is a customizable time limit on the recording. There is a feature where you can limit your recording to one hour, two hours, or three hours, but those are the only choices. What if you have a movie that is 97 minutes? I don't want to have to sit there viewing it for 97 minutes so that I can hit stop. Unfortunately, that's what you have to do right now, because the unit does not allow you to set the recording time to stop automatically at a specific number of minutes.
Another problem I've noticed with the unit is that the video encoding is less than perfect when an object is panning cross the screen. It tends to jerk its way across the screen in little hopscotch leaps rather than panning smoothly as in the original video source. Now, this may be an artifact of the MPEG-4 encoding algorithm. It may not be the fault of the Neuros hardware; it could be something that's part of the encoding chip. However, it is still present and still very annoying. That's one of the main reasons I ultimately returned the unit, because I couldn't stand to watch videos with those visual artifacts.
A much smoother recording algorithm I have found is the DivX algorithm, used by the Plextor hardware encoder, which does a much better job but, of course, takes up a whole lot more disk space. So, the Neuros device is really good at making surprisingly small files for decent quality video, but it's not perfect. If you have an eye for detail, you'll notice that there is something wrong.
So, the bottom line is that the Neuros recorder does what it is advertises, but it lacks some features that I think would be important in the future version of the product. The company that brings it to you has a good open-source philosophy and a commitment to improving the product.
The hardware itself is fine. The interface is clunky and the remote needs some improvements, but overall, if you're just looking to rip some movies to your PlayStation portable, this is a solid product. It does what it promises to do and it doesn't even require a PC. Just don't expect it to go beyond ripping videos for portable video devices. I give this device three stars, and I hope to be able to give it more stars in the future as the product continues to improve.
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