I had read about SanDisk's new method of selling memory cards: the V-Mate. It looks like a larger-sized memory card reader, it is a memory card reader (but not for CompactFlash), but it also records video direct to the memory cards. Hence the "V" in V-mate
(I was suprised to see London Drugs selling it so soon, because Canada tends to be a backwater for new technological devices. For example, it took a year for Sony M2 memory cards to show up. Anyhow, I snapped up the V-Mate for CDN$140, before the RIAA and MPAA could rule the device illegal and halt sales.)
You buy a memory card (SD, SDHC, miniSD, microSD, MMC, or MemoryStick), stick it in, and then attach the V-mate to any video RCA plug. That would include your tv, VCR, DVD, and camcorder. You can set it up to record at a specific time (like a VCR) or start recording manually.
When the V-mate is connected to your tv, you can use the included remote to set it up: the current date, time, and which formats to record in (more later). At first, the tv image of the V-mate menus rolled and rolled. I finally clued it that the V-mate was set to PAL -- the European tv standard. Sliding the switch to NTSC solve the problem.
Channel Changing Cludge
The hitch is that the V-mate does not contain a tv tuner, so you have to preset the correct channel on the tv, or else use the kludgy workaround: the V-mate comes with an IR transmitter (an IR diode at the end of a wire). You plug the wire into the V-mate and then attach the IR end onto your tv or VCR, at the IR (remote) receiver.
Problem is that some industrial design is so sleek, you don't know where that IR receiver is -- such as on our VCR. And then you have to code into the V-mate a 4-digit number that tells it the brand name of the tv/VCR, so it know which codes to use to change the channel.
It would have been much better if SanDisk just included the tv tuner -- which can be had for under $100 these days.
The V-mate records in MP4 format only, which can be a problem. For example, Microsoft's free MovieMaker doesn't support MP4, so you will need to get software that converts MP4 to AVI or MVA. Even if you can find the software for free, it can take hours and hours to perform the conversion.
The V-mate lets you manually set the resolution and quality, and provides some preset options:
* MP4 compatible with Sony PlayStation
* MP4 compatible with cell phones
* MP4 suitable for PC playback.
The V-mate names the recorded file by the date and time that the recording starts, like this:
07-0306-20.00.00.mp4 = year-monthday-hour.minutes.seconds.mp4
(Note: a firmware update is available from Sandisk. Unfortunately, there is no info on what it fixes.)
Viewing the Recording
When I recorded a 1-hour tv show at 640x480 in best quality mode, it took up 1.6GB of the 2GB SD card I was using. Plugging the memory card into my computer, I was able to watch the tv show using the QuickTime video viewer (free from Apple).
I plugged the memory card into other devices. My Samsung NV3 digital camera plays back movies, but only in its own format. The camera comes with movie format translation software, but the estimated conversion time was over 3 hours,plus it stopped after 12 minutes. However, I was able to watch the first 12 minutes on the camera's 2.5" screen.
I next plugged the memory card into my Palm TX. The free TCPMP played back all the different variants of MP4 recorded by the V-mate, but without sound. Still, no translation needed! That was great.
So I paid for and downloaded the Core Player software (US$25) -- the commercial version of TCPMP, and now the recordings played back with sound.
A video recording of 640x480 overwhelmed the TX, however, with stuttering sounds and jerky video. But videos recorded at 320x240 worked just fine. The TX can playback videos fullscreen on its 3.8" screen. The Core Player has nice feature that boosts the color on otherwise bland-looking video.
Newer video cameras come with FireWire plugs so that you can copy the tapes directly onto your computer. Older ones do not. I used to record from my old video camera onto the new one, and then use the FireWire connection. I plan to try recording from the old video camera direct to the V-mate, and then copying the MP4 file onto the computer. I'm hoping that will cut 2 hours from the process.
Here's a conversion tip: resolution and frame rate are not important for watching tv shows. I find that 15fps is good enough, and it has the added benefit of cutting the filesize in half. Similarly, 320x240 resolution is sufficient for viewing on small screens, such as 2.5"-4" screens on cameras and Palms. An even lower resolution is good enough for watching on cell phones.