Requirements: USB device for recording, e.g. iPod (including Nano and Shuffle), USB flash drive, USB hard drive.
If you can tolerate a little bit of cheesy acting, a YouTube video demonstrates the simplicity of using the iRecord.
Simple to Use
The iRecord’s packaging states quite clearly, “In one touch…iRecord.” This is one case where the hype that is printed on a product’s package is not a bunch of fluff. The iRecord simply works.
You can attach an iPod to the iRecord and clips are recorded directly to your iPod. Alternatively, you can stick in a a USB flash drive or hard drive to use as the destination of the recorded clips. Only the device’s available capacity limits how long you can record.
Can Videos Move From an iPod to iTunes?
There’s a really good reason for using flash or hard drives for recording. Clips recorded to an iPod cannot sync back into iTunes. I initially thought this was a major problem and defeated the purpose of the iRecord, and I queried the developers about it. They replied:
As far as syncing back to iTunes is concerned, iPod has built-in audio-recording capabilities. Audio recording accessories, like iTalk, just provides an interface to these capabilities. Actual recording is done by iPod itself. Hence, iTunes acknowledges presence of audio files on iPod, that were not transfered by iTunes. So it syncs-back those files.
However, the case of video recording is different. iTunes does not acknowledge that a video file can be present on iPod without iTunes knowing about it. If a video file is present on iPod but not present in iTunes library, iTunes thinks, that user has deleted this file from his library, and this file is no longer needed. So iTunes will delete that particular file while performing sync.
So there you have it. Sounds to me like the iRecord developers would have allowed for syncing back into iTunes if they could have. Instead, they implemented a procedure that might not be desirable, yet is the only way to make sure your clips stay on your iPod after you sync:
To avoid this [the deletion of recorded clips], iRecord disables automatic-sync of iPod. You can re-enable it from your PC/Mac, but re-enabling it will cause iRecord files to be deleted by iTunes, as stated earlier.
From iTunes 7 onward, Apple has added a feature that allows you sync-back the purchased contents. But this sync-back is currently limited to purchased contents only. Maybe in the future Apple will enable sync-back of other contents as well.
While I’m happy that the iRecord takes this manual-sync safeguard so as to not delete recorded clips, I don’t want to use manual syncing. This is why I said earlier that using a USB drive is a very good idea. If you record to such a drive instead of the iPod, you can then copy the files into your iTunes library and they’ll sync to your iPod normally. As such, since the iPod itself is not “influenced” by the iRecord, the sync mode is not changed to manual.
I was also told that a configuration utility is in the works that will allow the clips to be accessible if the iPod disk-use mode is enabled, which would allow you to copy the clips into the iTunes library, but I’m sensing that iTunes will still be switched to manual sync mode to keep newly recorded clips from being deleted. The word I received on November 13 was that this utility would be available in a few days, but as of November 25, it’s still not on the iRecord Web site.
Update Your iTunes
Officially, iRecord supports iTunes 5 or later. Since recordings can’t be synced back into iTunes, the version requirement may seem pointless. However, you cannot record to an iPod fresh out of the box. It must first be synced with iTunes to set up the standard navigation structure on the iPod. It follows that the iRecord requires the structure created by iTunes 5 or later.
But, if you’re using iTunes 7, be sure to update to version 7.0.2 or later. It seems there were issues with the first releases of iTunes 7 that affected many situations—not just using an iRecord. Indeed, my computer was still running iTunes 7.0.1. After recording one clip to my iPod with the iRecord, then syncing, iTunes completely froze up. I was subsequently completely incapable of resyncing my iPod.
So, I bit the bullet and decided to sync it on my other computer (which also had iTunes 7.0.1). Before the message could appear that the iPod wasn’t recognized and the contents would be erased before I synced it, iTunes froze on the second machine.
Ultimately I had to dig out my previous copy of the iPod update software (before it was rolled into the iTunes application), reset the iPod, and completely resync it back on my computer that holds my library. Makes me glad I kept those standalone iPod update applications. Upon the developers’ advice, I then updated to version 7.0.2 and all was well. Unfortunately, I have no way to say whether updating iTunes sooner would have saved me from having to completely resync my iPod.
Here’s my completely unscientific guess as to what happened: the iRecord must be placing some sort of instruction on an iPod when it is used as the recording device. I don’t know if it’s a separate file, or a portion of an existing file, or something I’m not even thinking of, but once an iPod is used with the iRecord, it then has to “tell” iTunes to switch to manual sync mode. My conclusion is that this little step was the “malfunction” that invoked whatever problem iTunes 7.0 and 7.0.1 had.
Another minor caveat is that the iRecord places a logo splash screen on the first five seconds of every video. I have no words for why this bugs me. It just does. You don’t get overlaid logos at the beginning of records made on a VHS or even a DVD recorder. Why should there be one on the iRecord?
On the positive side, the quality of the recordings is very nice. H.264 compression is used at 320×240 resolution, resulting in more than three hours of record time per GB of capacity. This one-minute clip from a local production in which I am involved (about 5 MB) contains a mix of computer graphics and standard video. I found no noticeable compression artifacts and the video plays smoothly. The sample clip includes the aforementioned splash screen at the beginning.
The last caveat to point out is that if you are connecting the iRecord to a device that only has a single audio/video output, you won’t be able to see what you’re recording. The iPod only shows the typical “Do Not Disconnect” screen as if it were connected to a computer and the iRecord box only has inputs, not outputs. You’ll want to either pick up some RCA plug splitters or use a source device that offers multiple outputs so you can send the audio/video signal to both a monitor and the iRecord at the same time.
I briefly searched online for alternative products and mostly found software-based recorders that required a computer. The only two hardware devices I found in my admittedly quick and non-exhaustive search were the iLuvTM and the iSee. Both, like the iRecord, cost around $200 which seems a bit high, although we are talking about a hardware encoder that works in real time. I suppose that technology still has a bit of a price tag to it.
In regard to the recording resolution, the advantage goes to the iSee for recording at 640×480. But since there is currently no software support for the Mac, the iSee suddenly drops out of the running.
The iLuvTM, on the other hand, is like the iRecord in that I saw no mention of any special software requirement. So it, too, seems to work on both Macs and PCs. Unfortunately, I could find no mention of the iLuvTM’s recording resolution. What I did find, however, is that the iLuvTM only records to an iPod—not to any USB device like the iRecord.
The iLuvTM also uses the MPEG 4 codec. At the same bitrate, videos from the iRecord’s H.264 encoding would look much better. The iRecord always uses 768Kbps. The iLuvTM can be set between 512Kbps and 1.5 Mbps, which means you can get even more video per gigabyte at the expense of low quality, or you can get video that looks as good as what the iRecord produces, but at the expense of more space required.
The part about the iLuvTM that confused me was that, in addition to this bitrate quality setting, there’s also a 30, 60, 120, or 180 minute time setting. Surely this doesn’t mean that even on an 80 GB iPod, you can only record up to 180 minutes, does it? Maybe that’s a timer recording setting.
The iRecord will also save audio-only recordings, but does so in 192Kbps MP3 format. Since the audio portion of a video recording is done at 128Kbps AAC, I would’ve preferred audio-only files to be encoded that way, too. I suppose keeping them as MP3 format makes them more compatible for people who aren’t using iTunes and iPods. Perhaps a small switch on the back to choose one or the other would be prudent.
The Bottom Line
The iRecord is probably the simplest of all the devices in this category. There’s no futzing with recording quality settings, there are no menus or other adjustments, and you don’t even need an iPod to make recordings. Given the iRecord’s $200 price tag, it’s not likely the kind of device a casual/curious shopper might pick up on a whim, and there are certainly better-suited (and better-priced) solutions for people who are more interested in recording high quality video to their computer.
Yet, for the iRecord’s simplicity and ability to record to most any USB storage device, $200 might not be so bad a price.