Plextor ConvertX PVR PX-TV402U



Author: 2n (Kenn)

12/07/04



INTRODUCTION:

Plextor’s ConvertX PVR is another entry in the steadily growing list of PC PVR hardware solutions. The ConvertX PVR, also known as the PX-TV402U, is a sleek and compact external encoder device that has several novel features, the foremost of which is the fact that it is the first DivX certified PVR.



Plextor was kind enough to provide the ConvertX PX-TV402U, which
I put through its paces over the last month. There are many things to like about the ConvertX PVR product, but there were some aspects that weren’t quite perfect. Before I delve into my own experiences with the product, you should probably have a look at some of the basic specs:



Obligatory Copy-Paste From Plextor’s PX-TV402U data sheet:
( ConvertX Info PDF | Specs | Some Tech Specifications )


DivX® Gives You More

The PX-TV402U captures video in the MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and DivX® formats so choose the format that’s best for you. Recording in DivX® gives you 3 times the number of hours of video in the same amount of space without losing any quality!



Watch, Pause and Record Live TV

Just connect ConvertX to your satellite, cable or broadcast TV signal and you can watch TV shows, pause them and record them to your computer.



Schedule to Record When You Are Not There

Use the integrated electronic programming guide to schedule shows to record at any hour of the day or night. Then watch your shows when you want to.



Connect Camcorders, VCRs and DVD Players

Record your home videos to the PC, cut out unwanted scenes, add titles, transitions and then add special effects. Everything you need for home video editing is supplied.



Author and Burn Interactive DVDs

Choose a DVD menu, background clips and burn a DVD.



Easy to Install and Use

Set up is as simple as loading the software and then plugging the PX-TV402U into a computer and connecting a video source.



Official DivX Certified™ product







As you can see, the device itself is fairly sleek and compact and the girl on the box seems to be having a great time just holding it, but is it really a cool enough device to deserve a name with a capital X in the middle of it?



SETUP



The ConvertX PVR is an external PVR device that relies upon a USB 2.0 connection, which makes it a breeze to set up. I did not even have to break out the trusty screwdriver for installation! (Rampy’s note: no screwdriver?! No dremel?! Bah! =P)



The packaging includes the basic unit, the software, the necessary USB cable, and a variety of cables that would be useful when attaching video devices like a DVD player, VCR, or camcorder.



Once the unit was unpacked, I had to install the operational software and drivers, turn off my computer, and connect my TV cable to the back of the device and the USB cable to my computer and then turn everything back on again. Upon restart, the ConvertX PVR was recognized and ready to go!





SOFTWARE



The ConvertX PVR comes bundled with two main applications: InterVideo WinDVR 5, and InterVideo winDVD Creator 2.


InterVideo WinDVR is the primary program that enables the ConvertX PVR to do its job. Like most software bundled with encoder/tuner devices, it leaves a bit to be desired. For comparison’s sake, let’s consider Hauppauge’s WinTV2000, which comes bundled with their PVR cards (example: WinTV PVR350 Review ). In my experience, the primary issues with WinTV2000 were that it lacked advanced functionality and it was ugly and clunky looking. InterVideo WinDVR, on the other hand, is a bit sleeker and modern looking, but it has only a bit more of the desired advanced functionality.



WinDVR handled the basic TV viewing functionality with aplomb. InterVideo WinDVR enabled me to quickly and easily view live television on my computer screen. It was also a simple matter to figure out how to record the program I was currently watching or just takes a snapshot of the screen.






The program, through a series of sub-screens, allows you to access a TitanTV account if you have signed up for one. I tried this setup for a week and was not impressed. There were multiple errors in recording. Additionally recorded programs were difficult to find. I looked on the net and it seemed that if I paid more money, then I could get a version of the InterVideo software with more bells and whistles. I was unimpressed with the feature list of the “premium” version and opted to pass.



Most users of BYOPVR know that a high quality PVR experience calls for a bit more than the simple time-shifting program elements. For example, a more robust PVR program allows advanced intelligent scheduling such as the option to record a season of a show or an individual specific showing two weeks from now. A more robust PVR program allows easy access to and sorting of previously recorded programs. InterVideo WinDVR falls a bit short in this area. Thankfully there are excellent 3rd party software PVR and HTPC solutions that support the Plextor ConvertX like: GBPVR and SageTV.






Not all of the software was a letdown, however. The InterVideo winDVD Creator 2 actually looks like a rather useful bit of software. It is primarily a video editing and DVD creating program. WinDVD Creator 2 is the program that you would use primarily if you were using the ConvertX PVR to capture some analog video media like VHS/camcorder tapes to digital. The program has a sleek look and is laid out in a easy to understand manner.







As your can see from the primary menu, this program allows you to use the device to capture video straight to the hard drive, create a DVD from already existing files, or even to record straight onto a DVD disc. Unfortunately, I do not posses a DVDR drive, so there was no way I could try out the full functionality of the program. In the bit of experimentation I did do, the program seemed to have potential. (editors note: we’ll have to get 2n a DVD burner so he can investigate further and post his findings)






VIDEO QUALITY/STRESS TESTING:



When it comes to video quality, the ConvertX PVR offers a great variety of options. There are eighteen available recording quality profiles. Included in these are the standard MPEG-2 DVD formats such as standard play, high quality, medium quality, and so on. In addition to this, you can choose to record in MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and (drum roll please) DivX®.



I chose to record primarily in the medium quality MPEG-2 format because I already had many files from my pvr-250 that I could use for comparison. My modest computer, an Athlon XP+2000 with 512MB of RAM, had no problems processing these files. The ConvertX PVR itself acts as the primary workhorse for the encoding process so little strain was put on the main CPU. The resulting files looked nearly identical in quality when compared on my MediaMVP hooked up to my television. On my computer screen, however, the ConvertX PVR files looked a tad grainier than the pvr250 files. I also occasionally encountered some sync issues between sound and picture when fast-forwarding theses files on my MediaMVP. This has never occurred with my PVR250 files.



The ConvertX PVR has a trick that my PVR250 just can not do. This trick, of course, would be that it encodes directly into the DivX® format. For you neophytes out there, this means it can record to a file format that takes about 1/3 of the disk space for a similar quality. When I record a half and hour program in decent quality MPEG-2 format, the file can be as large as 1.4 gigs. In the long run, that means you need to have a huge hard drive in order to store/archive many programs. Recording into DivX® means that you can have about three times the hours of television programming stored on your hard drive.



When recording into DivX® format, I was rather impressed by the quality of video for the much smaller sized files. When I played the files on my computer screen, the quality was very respectable and comprable to my larger MPEG-2 files. My main issue is that the encoding seemed more labor intensive on my computer than recording MPEG-2. I was consistently seeing the encoding process use 30-40% of my computer’s processing power.



If you’ve read my previous article, Building a PVR in 3 steps and around 200 dollars, you’d know that my “media server” doubles as my main day to day PC. I sometimes surf the web, type documents, or play games while GBPVR records programs in the background. The encoding failed a few times when I was playing more graphics intensive games (i.e. dropped frames). In general it’s probably best to NOT play games while encoding DivX, both for the good of the capture and for the effect on frame rates in game. I don’t fault the Plextor unit for this, but wanted to mention it for those of you who don’t run dedicated PVR boxes. Note: I only encountered the higher cpu usage with DivX encoding, MPEG-2 encoding was less cpu intensive.



I had some issues with audio sync when playing back the files on the MediaMVP, but local playback of the files were fine.



THE BOTTOM LINE



The ConvertX PVR is an interesting piece of hardware with a lot of potential. There are certain circumstances in which it would be on the top of my list of encoders, such as if I were a laptop user looking for a high quality external encoder, or if I was (Mac user), or was just interested in saving valuable disk space by employing the DivX® format. On the other hand, if you are on a tight budget and are not afraid of mucking about in your computer case, then other solutions out there that are a little easier on your wallet.




The Pros

• It is a piece of cake to set up.

• You don’t have to open up your computer to install it. This could be a big selling point for laptop users or people who are chicken and are afraid of voiding their warranties by opening up their computers.

• Multitude of encoding options

• It has lovely and easily accessible front ports to connect to If you want to hook up additional VCRs and other video gizmos for encoding purposes.

• InterVideo DVD Creator looks to be a valuable program if you are looking to make DVDs.

• DivX® BABY! YEAH!

• There’s a Mac version TV402UMac with Elgato EyeTV bundled



The Cons

• It requires a somewhat robust computer. A 1.8 gHz processor is required and a 2.4 GHz processor is recommended. My computer barely qualified. (minimum specs are 800mhz NOT 1.8ghz as previously posted)

• It needs USB 2.0. (No USB 2.0? No ConvertX PVR for you! )

• Some of the higher compression video recording takes up a substantial chunk of processing power.

• The bundled DVR software is mediocre. This can be remedied by any number of commercially available programs including SageTV 2.1 or GBPVR ( which is free )

• It is also a bit pricy - the suggested retail is just around $200 dollars. You pay a little bit more for the convenience of external and portable devices.




Overall Score: 8 out of 10




Thanks again to Plextor for providing the ConvertX PVR TV402U unit for review.



If you have questions or comments about the review please post them in the Plextor ConvertX Review thread



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