Review: Mustek PVR-A1
Don Bradbury tries out an inexpensive Personal Media Center
|We don't like||Insufficient memory; basic manual|
A smart little media recorder/player, one that slips neatly into your pocket, may be just what you've been looking for. Playing back videos it can take directly from the AV out ports of your TV - if you have them - is the mainstay of this device, but it can also show your JPEGs on its 2.5 inch diagonal colour screen, play back video from another source, record and playback audio files, or play MP3 tracks, as well as act as a memory card reader when connected to a PC.
In addition, it can handle slideshows of your pictures, offers a calendar and clock which can be set up to provide a customizable alarm, and throws in a couple of games to keep you entertained during those long, boring trips. The on/off button is recessed and is a bit difficult to activate, but we rather liked the jog lever on the side which is used for menu navigation and option selection.
The PVR-A1 has only 32MB of internal memory, though you can add external memory in the form of SD/MMC cards. Unfortunately the internal memory then becomes redundant; all your recordings will be directed to the external memory. That's a shame. But both built-in and card memory can be read by connecting to a PC.
Power and software
Running off an internal 3.7 volt rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, for which a mains charger is provided, and supplying a CD from which is first loaded Multimedia Converter - software that must be used before files of any type are uploaded from your PC to the PVR - setup is easy. The software is rather basic, and operation, we found, sometimes 'sticky'. Just remember, you have to select files for processing with Shift/Enter when you've indicated the source folder.
An integrated microphone lets you make voice and other recordings. It's visually obstructed when you use the neat black leather case that Mustek supply, though that didn't seem to make a great deal of difference to recording levels. Playback is respectable through the built-in speaker, if a little distorted at high volumes, but there's also a set of earphones you can use for rather better sound quality (or better still through more upmarket headphones).
Formats supported by the PVR-A1 include MP3 and WAV for sound, JPEG for still images, and MPEG4 for TV and video clips.
The Photo Player mode, besides displaying images, lets you delete unwanted photos, add a voice clip, or add special effects if you are so inclined, such as sepia or black and white. The audio option gives you categories for bass, rock, jazz, classic, pop, and 'normal'.
The Audio Player lets you chose a particular sound file for your alarm, and you can add audio effects as well. Similarly, in the MP3 player mode you can select an MP3 file for your alarm or add audio effects.
The AV Recorder mode works nicely, and though the display screen may not be of the very sharpest, it's more than adequate, especially in SP mode where the internal memory provided for around 4 mins recording. In LP mode we got 18 mins video recording. Though there was blockiness in LP mode, it was just about watchable.
You can also set it up to take recordings off a timer. That's just start and stop settings but it's better than nothing. To have it work, you first have to set up the correct date and time in the setup menu, but the calendar and clock displays are also useful in their own right so that's worth doing. A few PDA features would have been a neat addition in this category, if only voice notes to set against dates, but you can't have everything at this price.
There's a facility in the menus to switch off the LCD when you use the record timer. It's just a power saving mode in case you use the battery for a longish timer delay or recording, but while the PVR is waiting for timer record to activate, a blue power LED is illuminated to remind you that the timer or recorder is active.
If your TV set doesn't provide TV and audio out ports for the PVR-A1's phono leads to plug in, you might have to resort, as we did, to Scart out with integral phono adapter.
Puzzle, and Tic-Tac-Toe (noughts and crosses), are the games, though some notes on how to play the former would have been nice. It's an 'arrange the numbers against a timer' type of game.
At the price, the Mustek PVR-A1 is a reasonable buy. It's decently comprehensive in terms of media coverage, and it comes with all the leads and attachments you need, together with a neat case. The build quality is adequate, and the multi-language manual, if basic, is enough to get you going. It could have been clearer on one or two points, though, even in its alternative on-CD PDF.