BitDepth 617 - March 04

Recording shows off your television can be done with company supplied boxes or home-brewed solutions.
Timeshifting television

The Neuros Recorder is almost as small as its remote control and uses Compact Flash and Memory Stick cards for storage. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

How long has it been since you recorded to a videocassette recorder?
The quality was lousy and figuring out how to set the device to record at a particular time was more complicated than figuring out how to set the time.
Most of us settled for hitting record and hoping for the best as we went out for the day, committing hours of video to extended play tapes, hoping as the door closed that there was enough tape to capture our favorite show.
And don’t get me started about dirty tape heads, which needed to be cleaned with irritating frequency and tapes that got eaten by the recorder and had to be sent to a technician.

But the idea of a VCR was a useful one. Recording something you aren’t around to see and setting it aside for a more convenient time makes it possible to get on with work or chores without the nagging annoyance that lingers when you’re sure that you’re missing something special.
Both pay television content providers apparently feel the same way and are marketing recording boxes as part of their premium services.
DirecTV was first to offer the service with DirecTV Plus, which it bills as its premium, VIP service. I’ve had a chance to play with this box and while all the options take a bit of effort to get used to, it works as advertised, bringing the capabilities of ReplayTV and Tivo to local viewers.

These magic boxes use transistors, software and hard disks to create a device that looks like a DVD or VHS player that’s capable of automatically skipping through the channels on a television, recording segments of programming that you can set weeks in advance. Multitaskers can watch one channel while recording another.
These devices became well-known for a previously unheard of feature, replaying live television, a happy by-product of a design which is always recording the signal you’re watching to a buffer on the drive.

Now Flow has launched their own Flow PVR, a personal video recorder for their service. Both boxes are part of promotions geared to drive additional purchases on the companies’ respective services. The Flow PVR adds the option of high definition video recording on the five channels available on their service with a slight increase in fees for the HD service.
What if you want to do some recording today without having to pay a special price for a recording box?
Several years ago I discovered the magic of digital video recorders that take advantage of the horsepower of a computer, the smarts of well-written software and the hard drive you already own to add recording to the neat stuff you can do with a computer.

I started with an IX Micro video card in a Macintosh tower, moved on to a Miglia card in a G4 tower when Mac OSX came along and now use a tiny video recorder from
Neuros Technology that sits between the cable box and my television.
The Neuros Recorder 2 (it’s the size of a stylish bar of soap) is typical of such devices built to run with a computer or independently. It records at half television resolution (320 x 240 pixels) for more than three hours to a 2GB memory card, but you can reduce image size and quality to make more use of your available storage or increase it to capture better quality video.

Unlike ‘corporate’ DVRs, the files created by these devices are standard video files and very portable. I’ve burned them to DVD and transferred them to PDAs, laptops, a smartphone and a video capable iPod.
It isn’t quite as convenient as recording and playing back while sitting on the couch, but you get video you can watch wherever you want.

Most of these devices can be programmed across time, but not across channels,  and their video quality is tied to the quality of the television signal they record. That’s one of the most surprising and ultimately disappointing things about recording television video to a file. Most broadcast video signals are intended for the rather crude resolution of a television screen and end up looking pretty awful when you see the image on a high resolution computer screen.

Local DVR options
DirecTV Plus costs $999.00 per month for a hook-up of one DVR and two l-series receivers. A twelve-month subscription is mandatory on signup.

Standard Flow PVR requires a refundable deposit of $500 and a monthly rental of $120. The package includes the Flow your own package option.

HD Flow PVR raises the refundable deposit to $1000 with a monthly rental of $170. The package includes high definition feeds of the Food Network, HGTV, National Geographic, CNN and Wealth TV.
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