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RJTech PVR1100 MPEG4 Mini Video Recorder Review

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SKYMTL

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PVR1100-38.jpg



RJTech PVR1100 MPEG4 Mini Video Recorder Review​





Manufacturer Product Page: RJtech - (Portable Video Recorder & Player)
Product Number: PVR1100
Availability: Now
Warranty: 1 Year
Price: Click Here to Compare Prices


In today’s fast-paced technology world, companies either have to innovate or they will be on the quick road to bankruptcy and eventual closure. Even if a manufacturer has a grand new scheme to lure in clients with some radically different piece of kit, they still have to target it towards the proper customer base and price it to sell in order for it to achieve widespread acceptance. The road to profitability and market exposure is paved with the tears of many a fallen company and very few of them achieve any type of success. Other companies nibble on the fringes of mainstream consumer lingo and are content with their relatively small share of the pie. These are not the Panasonics, Toshibas or Pioneers of this world but are rather the manufacturers who eke out a living catering to certain niches in the electronics world. One of these companies is RJTech and I am sure that you either fall into the category of scratching your head when that name is mentioned or you recognize them for their claims to fame: DVD players and LCD picture frames.

Within the last year or so RJTech has seen the need to expand their market presence by running with new products that do not touch upon their DVD player and LCD picture frame markets. They have realized that there is an opportunity in the rapidly expanding media recorder market and have taken to it like a fish to water. While their offerings are so far somewhat limited, the potential is there and in this review we will be looking at one of their newer personal video recorders; the PVR1100 Mini Video Recorder.

RJTech has aimed their flash media based PVR1100 at users who want both simplicity and value in a PVR so it doesn’t have a built-in tuner nor may recoding options. Nonetheless, it can serve multiple purposes with the ability to play a wide variety of media types (image, video and audio) while recording in MPEG-4 format. Versatility is the name of the game here and while it doesn’t record or play files in high resolution, it is geared towards either older 640x480 resolution TVs or portable media devices. While many would call this a poor-man’s PVR, when it all boils down to it; that is exactly what RJTEch wants it to be. There are plenty of you who don’t have high-def cable or the latest 720 / 1080 equipped TVs but you still want something to replace your aging VCR. There are others who want mobility with the option to take your favorite shows or movies with you on your media player and there are yet others who just want an all-in one player which is user friendly. For these people, RJTech has the PVR1100 which at under $100, seems to be the answer to many a prayer.

The PVR1100 seems to be a dead-simple mini PVR which comes without any bangs or whistles but if it does what it promises, it could be just right for a lot of people out there.

Disclaimer: Hardware Canucks is opposed to the duplication or distribution of copyrighted material and is not responsible for the applications customers may use this recorder for. This review is meant to show the capabilities of this player and nothing more.


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SKYMTL

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Features & Specifications

Features & Specifications

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SKYMTL

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


The RJTech PVR1100 comes in an unassuming black box with white highlights which from the front, seems like it can be used for any MPEG4 video recorder on the market. There are indications that this recorder / player is able to be used for recording video for nearly any type of portable device which includes the Sony PSP, Game Boy, Video iPod and any Smart Phone with an expansion card slot.

Meanwhile, the back of the box contains a bit more specific information about the unit. This includes a quick setup diagram as well as compatibility information and recording time information.


The interior packaging is quite plain but it protects the recorder quite well while keeping the box size to a minimum which should prompt a sigh of relief from all of you who don’t want to pay a fortune for shipping. The PVR1100 is nestled inside a protective cocoon of cardboard and additionally wrapped in plastic film in order to prevent scratches from marring its glossy finish. All of the connectors and accessories are pushed to the side while the manual resides at the very bottom of the box.


With this unit you get the bare minimums in terms of accessories but what is included works quite well for a low-priced product. You get a generic remote, a pair of composite to 3.5mm in/out cables, a “Suggested Recording Mode” sticker, a CD version of the instruction manual and finally the instruction manual itself.

Special mention has to be made about the instruction manual because it is much better than what we expected with a product such as this. Usually, we see a small 10-page instruction manual to cut down on costs while the manufacturer suggests you visit their website for the FULL manual. Well, with the PVR1100 RJTech must be commended since they not only included a full printed manual but an electronic version as well. There are a few somewhat glaring spelling and grammar errors which is to be expected with the translation from Chinese to English but all in all it is extremely well written and easy to understand. Bravo.


Since the PVR1100 is quite small and doesn’t need that much power, there was no need to include an overly large power brick with it. Thus, the actual plug is a standard-type affair which you are probably used to seeing if you have owned a cell phone within the last five years.
 

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A Closer Look at the RJTech PVR1100

A Closer Look at the RJTech PVR1100


The RJTech PVR1100 has a very sleek and modern exterior design which is predominantly black with a few silver accents here and there. The front panel holds the infrared port as well as the memory card slots but what you won’t find is an on/off switch since this function is controlled via the remote.


To tell you the truth, I was completely floored by how small this recorder is. Above you see its size when compared to a typical wallet to give you an impression of its overall length and width but what we didn’t show you is its height which is about equal to a typical deck of playing cards. To be more exact, it measures about 12cm (L) x 9cm (W) x 2cm (H). This means if you don’t have an issue with trucking along its cables and remote, the PVR1100 is a truly portable recorder.


As already mentioned, the front panel holds the necessary openings and connectors for nearly any memory card on the market today. It is compatible with Compact Flash and 1” Micro Drives from Seagate and Hitachi through the larger top slot while the smaller bottom opening is compatible with a multitude of other memory cards. This includes MiniSD, MMC, RS-MMC, MicroSD and Memory Stick Pro Duo memory cards all through their separate adaptors and features native support for SD and Memory Stick Duo cards. All in all, this pretty much covers every portable storage medium on the market today.


The bottom of the PVR1100 is not much to look at but it includes four rubber feet which is a great addition for those of us who don’t want scratches on our expensive AV furniture.


Finally, the back of the PVR1100 rounds out an intuitive and simple design with the main I/O connector ports. There is a power input connector as well as separate connectors for audio/video in and audio/video out. This makes it VERY hard to screw up the installation of this player as long as you stick to what the manual tells you to do.
 

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The Remote

The Remote


Generic is the name of the game when it comes to the remote included with the PVR1100. Unfortunately, in this case generic is also synonymous with “cheap” since the buttons seem a bit too sticky for their own good and then entire thing is far from ergonomic. The remote is at the heart of every media device so its design and overall ease of use are paramount to a user’s experience with the product it is controlling. So, while all of the functions are easily recognizable pictograms I constantly found myself having to turn on the lights if I was using the PVR1100 in a dark room. This is because all of the buttons are the exact same size so controlling “by feel” as done with other remotes is next to impossible.

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Even though we didn’t find it to be the easiest thing in the world to control, all of the remote’s functions are laid out in the instruction manual quite well. The ability to control the sound output is a bit pointless in our opinion especially since (for whatever insane reason) the default volume on our review unit was set to ZERO. After a good 15 minutes of troubleshooting, I finally remembered that there was an individual volume control even though it should have been set to a default volume and left at that.

This unit presented another problem for me since the remote does not register holding down a button as any more than one button press. For example, on most TV and all-in-one remotes on the market, pressing and holding down the scroll button will allow you to quickly cycle through menu items. The same goes for buttons like the volume control where a normal remote will keep increasing the volume on your TV as long as you hold down the volume button. This doesn’t hold true for this remote since you will have to keep clicking the blasted button over and over again in order to repeat the command. Want to quickly cycle through 100 pictures? Get ready to press than scroll button 100 times. Want to increase the volume by 20 points? Keep tapping on that there Increase Volume button a whole 20 times.

Other than that, all of the buttons we could want are on this remote without any being hidden behind odd shift commands or any other exoteric means. The Record button -which is the one button that you will most likely be using the most often – is denoted by the universally recognized red circle while additional functions like Zoom are also in easily accessible positions.
 

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Making the Connection

Making the Connection

Connecting the RJTech PVR1100 is something that has to be applauded for its simplicity. Even though the basic setup is quite easy, there are additional setups and issues which are not discussed in the manual which you should be aware of.


Here we have the standard connector for the RJTech PVR1100: the 3.5mm to composite connector. Basically, what this does is transmit the audio and video to and from the unit by way of a signal which is broken up into 3 distinct channels (audio left, audio right and picture) or combined into one signal going into the PVR. While it would have been nice to have seen an S-Video output; this connector choice makes sense considering the target market this recorder is geared towards. Unfortunately, if you have a high-definition TV, you will want to look somewhere else since this unit can only play and record standard definition signals (640x480 max).

RJTech has included two of these cables (one for input and one for output) with this unit and each one can be installed into each of the rear ports. Since they are interchangeable, you can’t go wrong with installation…yet.


So, if you need both cables installed this is what the finished installation will look like. Both 3.5mm jacks are plugged into their appropriate places on the PVR1100 with the composite connectors ready to be plugged into your TV and/or VCR, DVD player, Cable Box or Camcorder.


Connections for Only Viewing Media

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This connection setup is used if you are only using the PVR1100 as a media player for your TV. All you would have to do is to connect the composite cable to the AV Out connector on the back of the unit and then hook the three separate connectors up to your TV. You can then use the recorder to play any media files you have on a memory card on your TV. Overall, this works quite well as you will see later but this mode means you are not getting the most out of your new recorder.


Connections for Viewing AND Recording Media

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This is where the PVR1100 really comes into its own. In this mode, it acts as an intermediary between your VCR, DVD player / recorder or Camcorder and your TV and not only can you use it to play any media file you insert via memory card but you can also record TV or DVDs.

Since it does not have its own tuner or decoder, in order to record a TV program you will need to hook up the recorder to a VCR or DVD recorder which has its own built-in tuner (if you are on standard cable) or cable / satellite box. With standard cable you will then be able to record one program while watching another and with satellite you will have to record the program you are currently watching.

In this mode you will have to attach the composite cable from the VCR, DVD player/recorder to the AV In connector on the PVR1100 while the AV Out cable will be hooked up to the TV.
 

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Uploading Files to the PVR1100

Uploading Files to the PVR1100

One of the main features of the RJTech PRV1100 is its ability to play nearly any file which you may have on your PC. Do you have some vacation shots you want to show to the family? Or maybe you have a video on your PC you want to share with some friends. Well, you can load them onto a memory card, plug it into this pint-sized unit and view them on your TV.

While this process is as simple and straightforward as dragging and dropping files into a blank drive, RJTech also offers us the option of adding a bit of finesse to the equation. To do this, you will have to insert a bank drive into the PVR1100 and it then writes a few basic folders onto the drive in order to make finding your files easier. Personally, I prefer this method since the PVR1100 doesn’t show enough information about individual files to distinguish one from another so it is best if they are partitioned somewhat.

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The PVR1100 writes three primary files to your memory card the first time you boot up the device: MP_Root, Music and finally Photo. The latter two are pretty much self evident since these are the folders where RJtech wants you put your music and pictures respectively so the recorder will open them up the second you select the appropriate menu section. The third folder’s name is a bit more cryptic but this is where you will put all of your video files.

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In this MP_Root folder there are five additional folders of which four you will probably use since the top folder is used to store the PSP video files only. The other folders are actually brilliantly set out based on resolutions of individual devices. Basically, if you record at 640x480 resolution the file will go into the TV folder, if something is recorded at 320x240 it will be saved in the Mobile folder and so on.

The same goes for you uploading video files into these folders and I suggest that if you want to watch something on your TV, you save it into the TV folder so it is easier to find. You can add additional folders as needed and the PVR1100 will pick them up without any problem.
 
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Menu Layout & Options

Menu Layout & Options

Main Menu


As you can see, the main menu on the PVR1100 has a number of icons at the top which indicate the various areas you can access. From left to right they are: Pictures, Music, Video, Record, Setup and finally the File Browser menu. Below, we will be going through each of these areas in a bit of detail but please remember, we are just scratching the surface of the options available with this recorder.


Picture Menu


In the Picture menu, you are able to view any of the images you have stored on the memory card you inserted into the RJTech unit. There is a small preview of the photo on the right-hand side with various pieces of information and you are able to access each photo by pressing the Enter button on the remote. This works quite well but the unit is set up in Slideshow mode at default so you might be in for a bit of a rude surprise when your pictures start cycling without you wanting them to. In order to set the Slideshow options you can go into the picture options menu but the main thing that is lacking here is a setting for the actual speed of the slideshow. This is a huge omission in our opinion since at its only speed, the photos change from one to the next far too fast.

When using the unit on a regular basis, I ended up completely turning off the slideshow since you can’t even pause the bloody thing. When the slideshow option is off, you can navigate through your pictures using the left and right buttons which is a welcome relief.


Music Menu


This is where you can listen to music on the PVR1100 and just like with all of the other menus, you are able to see the name of the files and can surf through them with the remote. Once you have picked one to play, the main music playback screen will come up. Here you can control the music with the remote as you would with any CD player by using the play, pause, skip and fast forward buttons. Volume can also be controlled and if you have multiple music files you can easily skip through them.

All in all, this section is very well done and the sound produced is quite good but its quality is limited by the composite output. Throughout my time with the RJTech PVR1100 I hardly ever found myself listening to music through the unit but I guess it’s a good option to have nonetheless.


Video Menu


This is where the real meat of the PVR1100 lies. The video menu holds all of the options for playing back videos on your TV through the RJTech unit as long as it is saved as one of the compatible file types. As discussed in a previous section, when you first open the main Video menu you are greeted by four separate “folders” which are broken up based on resolution. In this case we saved a test file in the TV folder which will then have its information displayed in the black square to the right of the file name. Pressing Play on the remote will queue the file up for playback.


When you are playing back a video, you are able to access an on-screen display which shows information like volume, file name, chapter length and resolution. You are also able to play, pause, fast-forward and rewind the video to your heart’s content.

I was actually surprised with how well the video playback function worked with this recorder even though this is not its primary function. Finding the video files is simple once you get the hang of how the menus are set up but I found that actually controlling the movie is a bit of hit and miss due to the inaccuracy of the remote. Other than that, the controls in this area are near-perfect for a basic media player.


Recording Menu


If your PVR1100 is hooked up directly to your TV, you should get a preview of the channel your TV is tuned into and the same thing would happen if you were playing a DVD or Camcorder through this unit. You are then able to record the media you are watching but we won’t get into this too much here since there are a few caveats we will discuss later.


You are also able to access the recording options menu where you can set the resolution as well as the overall video quality of your recording. While the quality options (of which there are four ranging from Economic to Super Fine) have a HUGE effect on the length of video you can record, it also affects the quality quite dramatically.

Remember the screaming, missed shows and general panic that came with trying to set your VCR’s timer record function? Well, the time function that comes with this RJTech recorder is pretty much top-notch and allows you to record up to six programs which will each be saved as a separate file. It is easy to use and extremely straightforward but if it still looks like glorified Chinese to you, the manual offers up an excellent explanation of all the functions.


Setup Menu


This menu is exactly what its name implies; an area to set up your recorder’s date, time, language and region. The most interesting part of this area is the ability to upgrade the unit’s firmware but at the time of this review there are unfortunately no firmware updates available through RJTech or the original manufacturer A-Red.

Please make sure you set the date and the time the SECOND you plug in this recorder since if it stays at the default values there will be no WAY you will be able to record TV shows through the built-in record timer.


File Browser


With the File Browser you can look through all of the files you have on the inserted memory card or drive. The only issue with this area is that you can’t view or play any of the files on your drive which makes this whole “file browser” setup nothing more than window dressing.
 

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Recording Impressions

Recording Impressions

Without a doubt, the crowning achievement of this product is its ability to record video files onto your recording medium from a DVD, Camcorder, VCR or from your cable TV. While this brings up some serious copyright questions (and I mean SERIOUS), it gives the user an option to record programs or watch your DVDs on a portable media payer. We are only going to skim the surface of some of the recording options and we will leave it to you to puzzle out other uses for the PVR1100.


TV Recording

Recording a TV program onto an SD card was as simple as can be but there were some small issues which mostly stem from the fact that the PVR1100 does not have its own built-in tuner. Due to its lack of a tuner, this recorder has to rely on a TV, DVD recorder or VCR to decode an incoming signal. This is all fine and dandy but there is a real problem when it comes to using one TV without a VCR to decode the signal. To do this RJTech provided us with this little gem of information:

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Basically, what this asks you to do is plug in the AV cable into the TV’s AV-In connector, complete your recording setup and then unplug the connection. Finally you will have to plug in the PVR1100’s AV-In connector to the TV’s AV-Out connector in order for the unit to record the show you are watching. Confused yet? This setup means you will not be able to see the menus of your PVR since the TV won’t accept video out and video in at the same time.

Another issue we ran into is the fact that your tuner needs to be turned on in order for it to produce a signal for the PVR1100. If you have your timer record set to begin recording at 3:00 in the morning, you better be sure your TV, VCR or DVD recorder (depending on which you plugged the PVR into) is on at that time as well. In addition, to change the channel you are recording, you need to do so via the VCR or DVD player. That’s what happens when a PVR doesn’t have a tuner folks.

Now that we have those few small setbacks cleared out, I really must say that I was impressed with the versatility of the PVR1100’s TV recording capabilities throughout the month or so I used it. I even left it at my parents’ house for the better part of a week to compliment their dilapidated VCR and I almost had to beat them off with a stick when I took it back. Trying to convince someone who has been using a VCR for the last 15 years that there is something else on the market is next to impossible. Yet, with its user-friendly interface and straightforward recording menu the PVR1100 won many a fan in my immediate family.


DVD / Tape Recording

Welcome to the slippery slope of possible copyright infringement, I hope you enjoy your stay. The RJTech PVR1100 has absolutely no issue recording your DVDs for future use on your portable device or to use on another TV in your household. Even if your video player doesn’t support the MPEG4 format, there are plenty of free video converters bumping around the internet so you can change the MPEG4 file into something more to your liking.

The same can be done with your age-old VHS tapes: just pop one into your VCR, press play and start recording on the PVR1100. Many of us are in the process of loosing precious family videos and what better way to back them up than on a few compact flash cards?

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Here we have to hookups needed and this time there are thankfully no confusing steps to follow.

The only downfall to this is the fact that you have to play back the media you are recording at regular speed. This means that if you are backing up 4 hours of home movies, it will take 4 hours to copy them onto the media inserted into the RJTech unit. If you are impatient, this isn’t a process you are going to love but it is definitely handy for many situations.

In our testing, the PVR1100 worked absolutely flawlessly while transferring various DVDs for use on my Cowon D2 in preparation for a long trip to Eastern Canada. I was a bit apprehensive at first (and watching movies on a 320x240 screen isn’t exactly a walk in the park) but I was stunned by how well the quality of the movies was preserved.
 

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Picture Quality / Recording Times

Picture Quality

Video Playback

Considering the maximum output for the RJTech PVR1100 is limited what the composite cables can supply (which means it tops out at 640x480 resolution) the video quality did not suffer much. Overall, I was very happy with the picture quality displayed with by the RJTech PVR1100 when playing nearly any kind of video file downloaded from the file sharing sites. However, I experienced a bit of ghosting in the images when playing back XviD encoded videos which never happened with the other formats we tested. Resolution is another thing we need to mention since while it is great for a budget product, the second you hook this up to a HDTV you will see that 640x480 just ain’t gonna cut it. Hopefully, you don’t have your shiny HDTV on standard cable so one way or another I highly recommend you look at a different RJTech recorder if you are a HD buff.


Video Recording


At 640x480 with the Super Fine option enabled, the quality of the recorded video is immaculate without any errors or artifacts throughout the hours of TV programs and movies we backed up. I was actually stunned at how well a sub-$100 recorder was able to faithfully reproduce anything I threw at it. The colors were spot-on and none of the videos showed the telltale signs of compression since they were sharp as can be on a standard definition TV.

However, there are four recording quality settings and at anything below Fine, the video fidelity degenerates quite a bit. While Normal may be fine for many people, I found it washed out reds and blacks too much after seeing how well the PVR1100 did with Fine and Super Fine recording. However, as you will see in the next section, making the move from Normal to Fine means a pretty significant hit to recording times.


Recording Times

While the manual makes some claims about recording times at various resolutions, we did some of our own tests with a 2GB SD card. Here are our results at 640x480 resolution recorded in MPEG4 format.

Super Fine (2000kbps): 2hrs 2min
Fine (1024kbps): 3hrs 58min
Regular (768kbps): 5hrs 31min
Economic (384kbps): 10hrs 55min

Judging from the recording times we received, it seems like the PVR1100 is definitely an appealing option for recording standard definition broadcasts. It can easily replace the horribly unwieldy VHS cassettes many of us still have lying around our houses with much more compact flash-based memory cards. Personally, I found the nearly four hours of recording time offered by the Fine setting to be the best tradeoff between picture quality and recording length.
 
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