Review — Sony Clie Digital Video Recorder

by Reads (11,915)

Sony has been great for PDA owners for one primary reason; they push the limits of the operating system and hardware to create great devices. This time they’ve innovated with an accessory that not many people really need, but most would love to have…if you have $300 (MSRP) burning a hole in your pocket.

I have a digital video recorder as part of my cable service. It’s become an important part of my entertainment, as I often do not have time to watch all my favorite shows when they’re on. So, I’ll set up the series to be recorded and catch up on CSI, Scrubs, Alias and my other favorites over the weekend.

What I had never tried prior to Sony’s device, was recording these shows to a Memory Stick for viewing on my UX50. While it seems like a fun concept, it really wasn’t worth the trouble it would take to record the program and convert it to an appropriate size for viewing on the Clie. Sony has now simplified the process with their Clie DVR, which works with the UX, NZ, NX and TG series Clies.


My Clie DVR in the process of recording the Bengals win over the 49’ers this past weekend.


The DVR has rubber feet and comes with a stand if you choose to use it.


The top of the unit has the manual buttons needed to record and set the date/time.


The back of the unit has a cable in, line in and out and power cord ports.

Setup of the Clie DVR is very simple. It can be as simple as giving the unit power and a coaxial cable input, but it can also take input via RCA cables. The unit also has a set of RCA cables out, so it can sit in between the cable in and your television. Through an intuitive process you then set the date and time on the unit, then you’re done with the hardware itself. The rest of the programming is delivered through the Clie.

The DVR ships with a small application for the Clie called, “Video Utility.” Right, not the most descriptive term ever, but this program serves as control center for the DVR. To complete setup, the video utility program will ask the user to define the channels that are available and whether the connection is air or cable. Once the channels are selected, the memory stick needs to be inserted into the DVR to program its channel memory.

Now that everything’s set up, you may record television a few ways. First, the memory stick may be inserted into the DVR to record on the fly. That’s best for grabbing a currently running show or starting a recording on your way out the door. The other methods are set up through the Clie.

When setting up a recording on the Clie, there are a number of options to select.


Recording setup screen

 Date — This opens the Palm OS internal calendar to let users select the date for recording.
 Time — Users need to specify the start and end time for the recording. Note, the maximum length of a single recording regardless of available space on the memory stick is 2 hours.
 Channel — Channel selection is made via a menu of available channels based on the initial setup.
 Repeat — There are a number of options within this menu that allow for no repeat recordings or a number of other variations including: daily, daily (over write), Mon — Sat, Mon — Sat (over write), Mon — Fri, Mon — Fri (over write), Weekly, Weekly (over write). So essentially you can record a show as a one time event or select from any of the recurring options. The recurring options with over write are great for weekly shows like Alias, or a daily show like your local evening news, where you want the new version to replace the old one.
 Rec Mode — There are four record modes to select from; High Quality, Standard Play, and Long Play 1 and 2.
 Sound — Based on your rec mode selection, there will be an appropriate selection for audio.
 Title — Each recording may be given a title to help differentiate it from other recordings.

Here’s a more detailed description of the recording modes and what they have to offer.

 

High Quality (HQ)

Standard Play (SP)

Long Play 1 (LP1)

Long Play 2 (LP2)

Bit Rate (Video)

384 kbps

218 kbps

96 kbps

64 kbps

Frame Rate

15 fps

15 fps

15 fps

15 fps

Frame Size

320 x 240

320 x 240

160 x 112

176 x 144

Sampling Rate

24 kHz

24 kHz

24 kHz

24 kHz

Sound

Stereo

Stereo

Mono

Stereo/Mono

Bit Rate (Audio)

128 kbps

64 kbps

32 kbps

64 kbps

Once a recording is set up, the details will be saved on the handheld and the memory stick if it’s in the slot. If it’s not, you can add the recording information to the memory stick later. When viewing the list of recordings, there are three views to select from depending on how you wish to look at the data. All three show the date, day of the week and whether it’s a one time recording or a recurring series.

 Rec Time — Simply shows the start and stop time along with the channel selected.
 Rec Mode — Shows the repeat option, video quality and sound setting.
 Title — Lists recordings by the title assigned to them and the total recording time scheduled.


Rec Time view


Rec Mode view


Title view

Along with these views there is a useful tool that shows how much space you have on the memory card and how much time is able to be recorded. In general, a 512MB card can hold two hours of high quality recording with stereo sound. Here’s a grid from Sony with guidelines as to how much you can fit on the different size cards at each quality level.

Quality

128MB

256MB

512MB

1GB

High Quality (HQ)

30 min

55 min

120 min

250 min

Standard Play (SP)

60 min

105 min

220 min

460 min

Long Play 1 (LP1)

130 min

230 min

490 min

1,000 min

Long Play 2 (LP2)

130 min

230 min

490 min

1,000 min

Then all it takes is the insertion of the memory stick into the Clie DVR and you’re recording will take place as scheduled. A few notes to consider though. Make sure the DVR is turned off when recording on a schedule. Just like VCRs of old, they cannot record a scheduled event if they are powered on. Also, you cannot record two events at once, so make sure your start and end times do not overlap. If the end time of one recording and the start time of a second bump against one another, the program will suggest ending the first one two minutes earlier. After the recording is complete, the video player that comes with the Clie is suitable for the task.

I’ve been using this device for a number of weeks now and really enjoy it. The video quality is great on HQ, but the audio leaves a little to be desired. I found my recordings were not strong enough to enjoy through the speaker, but using headphones or external speakers worked well. Here are a few screenshots I took during playback. Notice, these are HQ, but they lost a little quality in the screenshot process.


Alias with menus hidden


Alias in full screen mode – minimal quality loss


Alias in standard viewing mode

Pros:
 Excellent video quality
 Fun enhancement for the Clie line
 Great way to kill time if you’re a commuter
 Ultimate “cool factor”

Cons:
 Expensive unit ($300 MSRP)
 Really needs a 512MB Memory Stick to be effective

Bottom Line:
The Clie DVR is a really fun device to play around with. In my life though, it doesn’t serve enough purpose to justify the $300 price tag. The decision on whether or not to buy should hinge on your amount of usage, unless money is of no issue. The quality is excellent, but will you use it enough to justify the price tag? If I were in a situation where I rode the train/bus/subway to and from work, I think this would be an amazing device to let me catch a show or two that I missed the prior day. In the end I’m glad to see Sony innovating with this device, I’m sure everyone who uses it on a regular basis will be quite pleased.

Purchase Information:
The MSRP for the Clie DVR is $300, but there are merchants now offering it as low as $255 after shipping [price compare this product].

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