Hauppauge WinTV Nova-T USB review
Your notebook is portable, and your TV can be too. For just £27, you can plug in a USB tuner and watch, pause and record live TV. Plus, all DVB-T tuners can handle HDTV broadcasts as and when they become available – all you need is the right software to receive it.
Software is one crucial aspect of any TV tuner and Pinnacle’s PCTV USB Stick is bundled with a good example of frustrating software. You don’t get the full Pinnacle Media Center application, just TVCenter, and the settings are accessed from a separate Settings icon on the Desktop. Plus, you have to go there to scan for TV channels and, rather than the EPG being turned on by default, you have to enable it in the options.
Sadly there’s no support for Windows MCE, the remote control wasn’t very responsive, the main TV interface has too many cryptic icons and is designed to be used with a mouse rather than the remote. Lastly, it took up to 30 seconds to change channels. It’s great that you can record TV in DivX format, but for £32 we’d expect a bit more cohesion.
Even if you pay £6 more for the AVerMedia AVerTV DVB-T Volar, there are still niggles. While the installation process is painless, it isn’t obvious how to scan for channels. But, once it had picked up all 66 Freeview channels (including radio stations), it was quick to change between them.
Again, though, the EPG seems to be an afterthought: it pops up in a separate window and is poorly formatted. We struggled to make any programme information appear at all, and the channels are listed by multiplex, not in a sensible order. The list when watching live TV is in the “right” order, though.
Pausing and recording is simple: the Volar supports wake from S3 standby mode – you don’t have to leave your notebook turned on – as well as Windows Media Center Edition.
But, for only £3 more, the Kworld DVB-T 310U offers both digital and analogue reception. Plus, it lets you capture analogue video from the S-Video or composite inputs and convert it to MPEG1/2/4 or DivX. Kworld also bundles software for editing the captured video and authoring it to DVD.
The 310U is a tuner for enthusiasts, as it allows TV recording in MPEG4 as well as capturing the raw transport stream. The only gripe is that the EPG proved near-impossible to set up. However, the MCE compatibility somewhat offsets any shortcomings in Kworld’s software.
The Hauppauge WinTV Nova-T USB is also compatible with MCE and only costs £31. It isn’t a hybrid tuner (the £62 HVR-900 is Hauppauge’s alternative), but as around 80% of the UK can receive digital TV it’s the better choice for most people; just note the lack of a remote.
Also, Hauppauge’s software is in need of a facelift – the WinTV 2000 viewer looks dated, although it works well enough and lets you one-touch pause and record by default. The EPG is a separate web-based application, but usefully can be remotely scheduled over the internet.
The Freecom DVB-T USB Stick offers a surprisingly good package for only £27. There’s a remote control included, but beware that the tuner has a detachable aerial socket that needs care, as the interface is very small.
The best part is ArcSoft’s TotalMedia viewing software, which is similar to Windows Media Center Edition and (unlike Pinnacle’s software) handles music and photos. Everything is integrated – channel scanning, the EPG and timeshifting. Plus, it works well too – changing channels is fairly swift and there’s little delay when pausing live TV. The only point to remember is that the pause function is off by default – you have to enable it in the settings. There’s no support for MCE, but with the great software and the low price it’s a real bargain and the pick of the bunch.