"Two weeks ago, I dropped by my Local Frys Electronics to pick up the Creative Labs Video Blaster Digital VCR. I picked up the card for the lovely price of $99. I felt at the time that the days of a PVR was upon me. I hooked it up into my modest system and got started right away. My modest system includes:
- Pentium III 1Ghz System
- 512 MB of PC-133 SDRAM
- 1 40 GB 7200 WD Drive, on ATA-66
- 1 60 GB 7200 Maxtor Drive, on ATA-100
- ATI Radeon VE
- LG 24x CD Burner, on ATA-66
- Running Windows XP Pro
Now, at home, I don't subscribe to any digital video services: I get pretty good reception over an old-fashioned antenna. I primarily wanted the card so I could capture my tape collection of Enterprise episodes to MPEG-2, so I could burn VCDs for my DVD player. I also wanted to begin my trek down the PVR road, and eventually do away with VHS forever.
I spent an evening a couple of days ago, playing with settings on screen-size, capture quality and file sizes. One thing I noticed quite quickly is that the Digital VCR system does not encode directly to MPEG-2. Creative sets up many segment files on your system, each in 32mb blocks, to store your recorded shows and timeshifting buffer. It is essentially a filesystem on top of a filesystem. In order to get the MPEG-2 files out of the Digital VCR, you use a 'File Converter' that they provide in the Creative Menu. The results of this setup is that when you setup the system, you specify how long you want to record (19 hours in my case) and it takes up the appropriate harddrive space (45 GB in my case) for use for future recording. The tool works pretty well overall, even going so far as to create new MPG files every 650 MB. The problem with this is that its possible that your recording could be sliced mid-sentence in your show. The other problem though, didn't occur until last night.
I recorded the episode of Enterprise last night, as well as I had some previous shows of 'Friends' in my 'Saved Shows' menu. After watching the episode again, I pulled up the file convert tool to convert Enterprise to MPG, and flipped onto Live TV, so I could watch the news. Then, the unspeakable happened. Digital VCR froze. I tried to kill it from the Task Manager (which worked perfectly well), but to no avail. There was no killing this app at all. This crash spread like a bad flu across the rest of my system and I was forced to hard reboot. Returning to Windows, I brought up the convert tool to start again, this time not to make the mistake of watching television at the same time. There was only one problem: All of the shows recorded in the last 2 days were wiped out. No data on disk, nothing.
In the end, there were very few positive points that I would give to the Digital VCR product: it just doesn't seem ready for primetime. All in all, the issues I found were as follows:
- Jerky on startup
- Processor Intensive during playing (I'd recommend at least a 1.5 Ghz)
- Menu System is slow
- No Linux Drivers
- Instability in proprietary filesystem
- Mpeg Splitting (what about 700mb CDRs or DVDS)