Pinnacle Video Transfer full review

There are plenty of TV tuners and other devices that will allow you to record video and then transfer it onto your iPod, but they all rely on your Mac or PC to do all the hard work. The video file first has to be captured and stored on your computer’s hard disk, and then compressed and converted into a format suitable for the iPod before you can finally transfer the file onto the iPod itself.

Pinnacle’s new Video Transfer device takes a different approach. It aims to cut the computer out of the equation altogether by allowing you to record video straight onto your iPod. Or, to be more precise, it allows you to record video onto any USB storage device – which includes iPods as well as the Sony PSP or even a USB hard disk or Flash memory stick.

The Video Transfer unit is a small black box, a bit larger than an iPod classic. It’s small enough to carry around quite easily, but it needs its own power so you can only use it in locations where you have access to a mains power supply. Inside the little black box is a video-processing chip that can capture video from pretty much any video source, such as a VCR or set-top box, then compress it and transfer it straight onto the iPod, ready to view.

On the front of the box there’s a USB port that you use to connect your storage device (we tried it with an iPod nano and iPod classic). On the back of the unit is a set of audio and video connectors. Pinnacle includes cables for audio and composite video, as well as a SCART adaptor, and we had no trouble hooking it up to a Sky+ set-top box at home. There’s an S-Video connector as well, although you’ll need to supply the cable for that yourself.

Format wars

We certainly like the idea of being able to record video straight onto the iPod. However, your computer does still play an important part in using the Video Transfer effectively. The manual begins by stating that the iPod has to be formatted in the FAT32 hard disk format used by Windows PCs. That’s obviously not a problem if you’re using your iPod with a PC, but it does complicate matters for people who use Macs.

Admittedly, it is possible to reformat an iPod into FAT32 format using a Mac, but this didn’t seem to work with our iPods. Only when we reformatted the iPods by connecting them to a PC were we able to save any video clips onto the iPods.

We spoke to Pinnacle, and they confirmed that the initial reformatting has to be done using a PC. This, in effect, means that the Video Transfer is not Mac-compatible.

We also came across a less serious problem that will affect PC users too. The Video Transfer is festooned with a variety of little lights that glow red or blue depending on what’s happening with the unit. Unfortunately, even with the manual in our hand we still had trouble figuring out what those flashing lights were telling us, and we weren’t sure when we had actually managed to start a recording and when we turned it off. We did manage to successfully record a number of clips onto the nano, but we had to experiment through trial and error, rather than relying on the manual to help us.

Light show

Instead of having half a dozen different lights blinking at us, what we really wanted to see was just one single light that would glow to indicate that a recording had started, and then stop glowing when the recording was finished.

However, once we had recorded a few clips from our Sky box, we were quite impressed to see that our video recordings were automatically placed into the Video playlist on our iPod so we were able to sit back and watch our recordings straight away. The video quality is pretty good too.

The Video Transfer uses the high-quality H.264 format to store video, and allows you to choose between three different quality settings – Good, Better, and Best. The Good quality is fine for most iPods, and takes up about 1GB of storage space for every 2.5 hours of video. The Better setting is more suitable for larger devices such as the PSP or iPod touch and needs 1GB for every two hours of video. Finally, if you want to edit the video on your PC you can use the Best setting, which takes up just over 1GB per hour of video.

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