1/08/2006

TUNING INTO DIGITAL TV

Turn your computer into TV and video
Friday July 14, 2006Reviewed by Peter Griffin

A computer can do many things: connect you to the internet, burn DVDs, play music and store all your digital photos. With the addition of a simple tuner card and some software it can also become a television and personal video recorder, capable of recording your favourite programmes to the computer hard drive.

The Hauppauge WinTV analogue and digital tuner does exactly that. It's the first tuner card I've tried that is built into a UBS (universal serial bus).

I've owned TV tuner cards that either fit into the spare card slot within my desktop computer and the more accessible PC card slot on my laptop. The USB format is about as convenient as the PC card method.

Once the drivers and software are installed, all you need do is plug in the USB tuner, connect it to the supplied 35cm high-gain aerial and let the software automatically tune in the available free-to-air TV stations.

But it's not quite that simple with the WinTV tuner. The device only supports the fast USB 2.0 interface, not the earlier USB 1.1 standard that older computers use. For recording TV to the hard drive you will need a fast machine - a Pentium 4 with a 3GHz processor is recommended.

While the USB stick is quite compact, it's fatter than most USB storage sticks and obscured the neighbouring USB port on my laptop. An extension cable is supplied, allowing you to clear access to your USB ports, but it's not a very tidy or pretty solution.

The tuner sticks' selling point is that it is capable of receiving digital TV signals and is designed for the British terrestrial Freeview (DVB-T) service, which allows viewers to watch dozens of free-to-air channels with improved image and sound quality.

New Zealand will launch its own Freeview service next year and viewers will need a digital set-top box to receive the signals. The Freeview signals are beamed out unencrypted so it's highly likely that the WinTV tuner will pick up Freeview when it becomes available here.

The local Freeview consortium is yet to announce which set-top boxes and tuner devices will support the service so be cautious buying digital TV devices in the interim.

The WinTV 2000 software is a bit underwhelming compared with other TV tuner suites, but lets you scan for channels, schedule recordings and take live snapshots. Hitting "record" will start recording the TV feed to your hard drive in the mpeg2 video format. This will consume about 1.5GB of data per hour of video. There doesn't appear to be any provision for the electronic programming guide that may be offered when Freeview arrives.

For analogue recordings, the tuner card worked well, but the supplied aerial was unable to deliver a clear picture. Plugging into a roof-mounted aerial gives better results but defeats the portable purpose. There's no remote so you'll have to revert to keyboard or mouse to change channel.

The WinTV tuner will appeal to travellers who want to use their laptop as a TV or those inclined to using their computer as a cheap video recorder. But it looks in need of updating and by the time digital TV arrives, there's likely to be a new version.

* Pros: Easy to use, compact and portable
*Cons: USB 2.0 only, no remote, digital not yet available
* Price: $181
* Herald Rating: 6/10

www.acquire.co.nz

From Nick:

I don't know where you live but you can pick up digital DVB-T transmissions in Auckland from the Waitakere transmitter. I've done it using a Dick Smith PC Card based hybrid digital/analogue tuner. However, I needed an external UHF antenna pointed at the transmitter.
My response:
I dont live in Auckland but am aware of the test being conducted offthe Wiatarua tower.My point was that TVNZ hasnt confirmed that the test signal beingtested is the one that will go nationwide next year and it hasnt saidthat all digital tuners will be compatible. The last thing I want todo is encourage readers to buy a tuner for a service that wont bewidely available until next year and then may not be compatible. Imsure it will work fine, but I'll hold off until the standards are confirmed.
From Tex:
Howdy Peter,I read with interest your article on the Haupauge TV tuner. I have the dual tuner internal model, but it comes with NO software other than the drivers. Do you have any idea where to get the WINTV 2000 software you mention in your article?Thanks for your time and interest.
My response:
Hi Tex,
Did the internal model come with a single yellow disc? Mine did and it had drivers and the software package on it as well.
Nevertheless, it appears you can download the WinTV 2000 software package from the company's website. Follow this link and scroll down to "Latest WinTV applications" to begin the download.
http://www.hauppauge.com/pages/support/support_usb2.html
Hope it works!
From Juha Saarinen (Computerworld writer):
Heya,
Don't quite see why it's a con that the device only works with USB 2.0 because you couldn't use it with 1.1 anyway - the older standard is much too slow to copy with high bitrate video streams.Either way, 2.0 has been around for years now, and the older machines with 1.1 ports only are likely not to have enough oomph to display big picture video. Hauppage recommends at least a 733MHz CPU, so it seems you need a pretty powerful machine.Yeah, yeah, call me a pendant etc... :)
My response:
Hi Juha,
I can't see why it can't be USB 1.1 compatible for the analog tuner only. That's fairly low-level technology. Sure, if you want to record video you'll need US B 2.0, but there are a hell of a lot of people out there with desktops and laptops with the older standard and would be happy with a simple USB tuner to watch TV. I'm sure you'll be able to pick up digital but unless you're plugged into the roof aerial, the signal will be worse than analog anyway. Can't really see the point.
From John:
Hi there, how do you get a job as the NZ hearald technology writer?
Your current one Peter Griffin does not know what he is talking about and has the technical ability of a 5 year old school girl.Refer to todays story on the Hauppauge tuner http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=5&ObjectID=10391141
He writes"The tuner sticks' selling point is that it is capable of receiving digital TV signals and is designed for the British terrestrial Freeview (DVB-T) service, which allows viewers to watch dozens of free-to-air channels with improved image and sound quality."then goes on to say"Cons: USB 2.0 only, no remote, digital not yet available"He says above that it is capable of digital above.TVNZ has a test DVB-T transmitter broadcasting 5 channels from Waitarua, this may not be the same format that is used when they sttart broadcasting Freeview but the Hauppauge tuner would have worked if he had looked for it.He also goes on to say about the lack of picture quality on it Aerial and is much better on the house aerial.While this is true, the picture quality is proprtaonal to the quality signal, Fact! you can not change the laws of Physics.
It annoys me when you get overpaid and underqualified people publising reviews like this, it is inaccurate and damaging to products and makes false claims.If I was the Hauppauge importer / distributor I would have called the lawyers already.Best regardsJohn Mitchell
Radio and Electronics servicemanRadio HamSatellite TV enthusiest

My response:

Cons: USB 2.0 only, no remote, digital not yet available"

I consider the downsides of using the tuner to be that it is only USB 2.0 compatible, even if you just want to use the simple analog tuner, there's no supplied remote control and digital TV is unavailable to everyone except those you are picking up the TEST signal off one of BCL's towers. I stand by what I said.


He says above that it is capable of digital above.

TVNZ has a test DVB-T transmitter broadcasting 5 channels from Waitarua, this may not be the same format that is used when they start broadcasting Freeview but the Hauppauge tuner would have worked if he had looked for it.

Exactly, it's a TEST signal available from one tower in Auckland. I don't live in Auckland, I write for the whole country, it's a national paper. You say yourself that the signal may not be the same format that is used when Freeview starts officially broadcasting to the whole country. Now John, you're exactly the sort of person who would be slagging me off because I talked up technology that didn't work properly when it was launched officially. As I said in the column:

"The Freeview signals are beamed out unencrypted so it's highly likely that the WinTV tuner will pick up Freeview when it becomes available here."

I think I was being responsible in prefacing the section on digital with that sentence. I find it interesting that you decided to ignore it.


He also goes on to say about the lack of picture quality on it Aerial and is much better on the house aerial.

While this is true, the picture quality is proprtaonal to the quality signal, Fact! you can not change the laws of Physics.

The point is, there's an inherent problem with the concept of this kind of portable TV - you're not going to get very good signal quality when you use the 35cm antenna provided. Sure, if you plug it into your roof aerial, you'll get a good signal, but that defeats the purpose of this technology. I consider it a downside that people need to be aware of when buying a computer TV tuner. Perfect for the famly who have installed a TV aerial on the roof of their camper van but not very good for the person who wants to watch TV in the car and only has the 35cm aerial to get a signal.


It annoys me when you get overpaid and underqualified people publising reviews like this, it is inaccurate and damaging to products and makes false claims.

Overpaid - yeah right, I'm a freelancer, get paid 40 cents a word less tax, a rate that hasn't changed in 15 years, despite the march of inflation. No benefits, no holidays, no sick pay, no superannuation and they can cancel my contract without notice. Underqualified? Well, I have a degree in journalism and a masters degree in prose writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, have won three Qantas media awards for IT writing, so I think I've got that side of things covered. Maybe I should have a BSc in radio engineering or computer sciences, but if I did, I'd be using it to make a decent living.


If I was the Hauppauge importer / distributor I would have called the lawyers already.

The problem is John, I don't write these reviews for people like you, I write them for the general population and the last thing I want to do is alienate them by talking up technology when I have reeservations about it. That would be unethical, irresponsible and downright dishonest.
Nevertheless I'm interested in your views on the digital TV platform the Government has announced. Do you think it's a good solution? What's the digital signal quality off Wiatarua like? I've heard reports that it's not great, particularly on Bloomberg. I'm also very interested in amateur radio, my father's call sign is ZL1AXS, we constantly use EchoLink etc to talk to people in Europe.

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