So long, old VHS tapes

by Etan Horowitz

The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

13 February 2008


The speed of technological innovation means many of our treasured home movies and videos are locked in formats that are hard to access and becoming obsolete.

And although cell phones, computers, video-game consoles and portable video players are increasingly a favored place to watch TV shows and movies, it’s not easy to move this content between devices, unless you want to pay for multiple copies of the same movie or show.

The Neuros OSD is an affordable Swiss army knife for these problems and more. The curved black device can legally record from any video component that outputs via the familiar red, white and yellow RCA jacks. That means VCRs, DVD players, digital video recorders or TiVos, satellite and cable TV and even video-game consoles and camcorders.

The device records to the digital MPEG-4 format, which is a universally recognized standard that is the equivalent for video that MP3s are for music. Video files are recorded directly onto the external storage location of your choice, be it a memory card, USB flash drive or external hard drive.

Using the highest recording settings on the OSD, one hour of video creates about a 1GB file. That means you could store an entire video collection on a single external drive and get rid of those VHS tapes collecting dust on the shelf. The quality of the recording depends on the quality of your original source, but generally DVD recordings look the best.

Once you’ve got your movie or TV show recorded onto a storage device, you can pop the memory card or flash drive out of the OSD and into a computer where you can watch the video, edit it, post it online or burn it to a CD or DVD. You can also use the OSD and your attached storage to play back recorded video on another TV.

But wait, there’s more. When setting up a recording, the OSD lets you choose if you intend to play the video back on a television or computer, iPod, cell phone or PlayStation Portable, and it automatically records the video with the right settings for your chosen device.

I’ve been testing the OSD for a few weeks and have been impressed by its versatility and power. I used it to transfer TV shows from my digital video recorder to an iPod, to transfer 20-year-old VHS home movies to my computer and to transfer a DVD movie to my computer. Watching the recorded video on a computer, iPod or TV was enjoyable and free of static.

At about $230 (or less at amazon.com or Frys.com), the OSD is an amazing value. It does take some time to get used to the device’s interface and a lot of trial and error to figure out the right combination of settings on the OSD and your different components. The OSD didn’t always respond to the remote and it didn’t always immediately recognize a USB drive after I plugged it in. The OSD’s menu options can be confusing. For instance, if you want to record video to play on your computer, you choose the “Television” setting.

It records in real time, so it takes an hour to convert a one-hour movie. But you can set timed recordings and even pair the OSD remote with your cable box so the channel will change automatically when it’s time for a scheduled recording.

To get another perspective, I brought the OSD to the home of Tom and Linda Brinkmoeller. Tom Brinkmoeller had contacted me a few months ago looking for a way to transfer some of his favorite programs from his DVR so he could free up more space on the recorder.

With a little guidance from me, Tom was able to set up the OSD, record a few minutes of a program saved on his DVR and view it on his computer a few minutes later.

“That’s amazing,” Brinkmoeller said as he watched an episode of the Discovery Channel’s “Planet Earth.” “You can finally digitize everything.”

Brinkmoeller thought setting up the OSD was a little tricky, but he said it would probably get easier the more he used it. He said he is thinking about buying one at some point.

Although Neuros officials said the two most common uses of the OSD are digitizing video collections and transferring programs off of a DVR, the OSD has many other functions that will excite advanced users. One is the ability to connect the OSD to your home network, which allows you to record directly to a computer and to remotely access content from your computer, such as photos, music and videos. I was unable to play back video files that I recorded directly to my iMac, but Neuros’ director of operations told me the problem is limited to Apple’s Leopard operating system and Neuros is working on fixing it.

Two of my favorite things about the OSD (which stands for “open source device”) is that there’s an active community of developers and hackers working to develop cool applications for the OSD and that Neuros updates the OSD via Internet “firmware.”

Neuros awards cash prizes to hackers who develop cool apps for the device, such as the ability to view YouTube videos on your TV when the OSD is connected to the Internet.

The firmware updates allow Neuros to do things such as improve the interface or add new capabilities. So unlike a VCR or DVD recorder, as technology changes, the OSD will, too.

(Etan Horowitz is the technology columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.)

Topics: dvd | neuros osd | vhs | video
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