Ever stayed up at night wondering how you can fill those tiny 1-lane PCI Express (PCIe) slots on your motherboard? Well, if you're after a digital TV tuner, you'll be in for a good night's rest tonight as Compro's E650 fits the bill. It's one of the few cards currently on the market to feature a PCIe interface and it has plenty of other desirable features, too.
- Good quality recordings, plenty of analogue inputs, FM reception, PCIe interface means you can finally put those tiny slots on your motherboard to good use
- The DTV 3 software interface is still buggy when it's in full screen mode, digital TV picture quality lacked vibrancy
Users who want to watch digital TV on their PC, as well as record from analogue devices, will be well served by this card. However, its software isn't perfect and picture quality was a little flat.
Price$ 95.70 (AUD)
It can display either analogue or digital (standard- and high-definition) TV signals, but not both at the same time, and it ships with an antenna that can pick up FM radio, too (and let you record it as an MP3 file). Pass-through pins on the E650's circuit board allow you to re-route the power button from your case to the card, and then use the card to power-up the motherboard, which comes in handy when you want the tuner card to wake up your PC to initiate a recording. Other hardware features include the ability to record from component-, S-Video- and composite-enabled devices, plus the card ships with full- and half-height-sized mounting brackets, so that it can be installed in a slimline, media centre-style PC case.
Compro supplies the DTV 3 software interface with this card, which like we've seen in previous models is still buggy. When the program is in full-screen mode, the mouse pointer will 'submarine' (disappear under menus), sometimes making it impossible to use the mouse to change settings; likewise, the control panel disappears too quickly from the screen, often before you've had a chance to perform your intended function. In order to make changes to the settings, it's best to have the main program in a windowed mode, rather than in full-screen mode.
The Compro remote control, which ships with the card, can be used to change channels, record and time-shift, play and navigate through files, as well as change the video source. Time-shifting is enabled by default (for 10min) and you can skip through a time-shifted program in 30-second jumps using the remote's rewind and forward buttons. The skip time can be customised in DTV 3's configuration page.
DTV 3 can record programs in MPEG II format (with customisable quality), and it does a great job. Shows recorded in DTV 3's default quality setting, from standard- and high-definition channels, played back smoothly in Windows Media Player and showcased very good quality. Additionally, DTV 3 can record an entire transport stream (that is, it will record all the standard-definition channels, as well as the high-definition channel of a particular station, and allow you to then flick through them at your leisure), which will come in handy once more stations start broadcasting different content on their standard- and high-definition channels.
As for its digital reception, the card found all Sydney stations very quickly and displayed them crisply, but colours were a little flat. Its analogue reception didn't improve on the poor reception we already get in our test location, but it worked. Its performance was swift on our dual-core Intel Core 2 Duo E6700-based machine with 2GB of RAM and a GeForce 7950 GT-based graphics card. High-definition channels consumed up to 19 per cent of the CPU, while standard-definition channels lurked at around 8 per cent (analogue stations did the same).
For anyone who wants the ability to watch TV, listen to the radio and use their PC to plug in analogue devices , the E650 is a great option. It produced good image quality and reception during our tests, and our recordings were clear and viewable in Windows Media Player. We wish its software interface was a little better, as it's still plagued by 'submarine' issues and some strange labelling. That's the only thing keeping us from giving it a higher rating.
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