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Review: Plextor ConvertX PVR for Mac

by on September 6, 2005

In the last few months, we’ve looked at a few PVR products for Mac OS X. So far, the Miglia EvolutionTV was a USB 2.0 product, while the ElGato EyeTV 200 was FireWire-based. The ConvertX PVR for Mac by Plextor combines features from both.

Priced less than both, at $230, the ConvertX might seem like a steal. It uses the same EyeTV software as the EyeTV 200, which means that it has a lot of features and is easy to use. It also connects with USB 2.0 and can encode in DiVX, like the EvolutionTV.

ConvertX PVR Front

ConvertX PVR Back

Peyton Manning Goes Bowling (WISH-TV’s News 8)

Different Recording Formats

The On-Screen Remote

Recordings Window

Just like the other products, the ConvertX turns your Mac into a video recorder and TV, like a TiVo, but without the subscription costs. With a price tag just slightly higher than a TiVo, the ConvertX is quite an attractive deal once you consider that there are no subscription costs.

The ConvertX comes with just about everything you need to get started recording things from any source. The box includes the ConvertX unit, a device identical to its PC-compatible sibling, but is $30 to cover the licensing for the EyeTV software (the software requires a license key when used with the ConvertX, so you cannot get the PC version and download the software). Also in the box is an s-video cable, an RCA video cable, a separate RCA audio cable (L & R), a USB cable, and the AC adapter. Unlike the EyeTV 200, the ConvertX must be plugged into the wall to function.

The ConvertX looks more like a PC product that just happens to work with Macs, although it doesn’t look bad. Encased in silver plastic, the ConvertX is a bit flatter than its competitors, but has a bigger footprint. USB, coax, and power cables are connected to the back of the unit. The front of the unit has a translucent “smoke” front, with inputs for RCA audio, RCA video, and s-video. There’s also a pair of LEDs to indicate whether or not the ConvertX is getting power and if it’s ready to record.

The ConvertX takes the video signal (usually TV) and compresses and converts it into a format that your computer can deal with, and still not eat up your hard drive space. The formats it can natively encode in include MPEG-2 (the same as digital satellite and DVDs), MPEG-4, a VCD-friendly version of MPEG, and DiVX. DiVX is important, as it’s gaining popularity in many places for its small file sizes and ability to be played on many cheap DVD players.

Software-wise, the ConvertX functions just like the EyeTV 200. The EyeTV software is quite nice, especially since many quirks of the earlier versions have been fixed. After running a setup tool, the ConvertX automatically finds all the channels in your area and adds them to the list. One thing that we didn’t like was that channels cannot be added or removed at a later date without running the assistant again (you can hide channels you don’t want to use, though). An on-screen “remote control” features many of the same functions as the actual remote, but is a bit simpler. One window shows live TV and can be scaled from very tiny to full screen. Another window shows all the things you’ve recorded, but haven’t deleted.

Speaking of recording, the software integrates with TitanTV for scheduling and recording. We found this to work flawlessly about 95% of the time. Once shows are recorded, they’re added to the list, with a time and date stamp. If you scheduled a recording using TitanTV, other information, such as the name of the show, a brief description of the episode, and guest stars is also filled in.

One drawback with recording is that the EyeTV cannot control satellite receivers or digital cable boxes, so you must use the timer features on there to make sure they change the channels when you can’t. Analog cable or over-the-air broadcasts won’t have any problems. The ConvertX also has better luck picking up weak channels, something the EyeTV 200 had problems with.

When you watch previously recorded shows, the software remembers where you left off, so you can start watching something, and come back to it days later, even after restarting or shutting down your computer.

You can watch things while something is recording (either what’s being recorded or a previous recording). Since there’s only one TV tuner, you can’t watch something else that’s live or record two things at once.

The EyeTV also features timeshifting, or the ability to pause live TV and have an instant replay if necessary. You can specify how much space is devoted to timeshifting, but unfortunately, you cannot record things from it (so if you saw something cool, you cannot hit the replay button and then record).

Some other notable features of the software include the ability to decode closed captioning, displaying TV data (many TV stations send out their call letters or TV ratings), editing, and the ability to export into many different formats. Editing mode allows you to trim out any unwanted content (such as the end credits for a show before the one you want or commercials), and is pretty easy to use, as well.

It’s also worth noting that the ConvertX also lacks a remote. You can use a third-party remote if you want one, otherwise, the keyboard and mouse controls will suffice. We’re not sure if this is worth the extra $100 for the EyeTV 200, but we really didn’t miss the remote.

The ConvertX was tested on our whole mess of Macs, and we found no trouble at all. In some situations, we used the existing installation of the EyeTV software (although we had to enter the license key for the ConvertX). If you’re looking for something with the EyeTV software, DiVX, and a lower price, the ConvertX is a great choice.

The One-Sentence Verdictâ„¢

The ConvertX is the almost bare-bones PVR product for the Mac, but it works and works well.

Pros: Very good MPEG-2 recording, DiVX capabilities, $100 less than similar EyeTV 200, integrates with Toast, can be used to edit recordings

Cons: No remote, no recording from timeshifting

The Facts

4.5/5Product: ConvertX PVR for Mac
Company: Plextor
Platform: Mac (PC version uses different software)
Price: $229 (list)

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