Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Compro Australia VideoMate T750
- Can record directly to DVD, has a PC wake-up function, recordings can be paused
- Software interface is quirky, struggled to find reception in one of our test locations
Its software interface does have a few quirks, but the digital TV quality of this card was very good and we love that it lets us burn programs directly on to DVDs. It's definitely worth considering if you're in the market for a new digital tuner, especially one that has plenty recording features.
Price$ 149.00 (AUD)
The T750 is a digital TV tuner than can also display analogue TV signals and tune in to FM Radio. While it provides very good picture quality and has a wealth of features, its software interface is clumsy and takes a little getting used to.
We tested the T750 using the latest version of its drivers and interface software from Compro's website. We installed the tuner at two locations in the Sydney metropolitan area. Our first location was in Sydney's north, less than 2Km from a digital TV transmission tower. From there, the T750 struggled and couldn't find many channels. The only channel it could pick up wasn't displayed smoothly with an abundance of stuttering and Mpeg artefacts.
Testing from our second location in Sydney's eastern suburbs (around 15Km away from the same digital TV tower) yielded much better results. All available digital TV channels in our area were picked up quickly and we noticed no major signal break-ups or stuttering during prolonged viewing. Analogue reception, which is usually prone to interference from this test location, wasn't too bad with the T750. It picked all available analogue channels in our area, but SBS and ABC suffered from a lot of interference.
To use both the digital and the analogue tuners, you must install the supplied dual-head antenna adapter, which takes one antenna input and plugs it into both tuners.
The T750's also has video inputs which allow you to easily view and record composite or S-Video sources. You can, for example, hook up your VCR and a camcorder and watch them through Compro's DTV 3 software interface, switching between them.
The DTV 3 software interface has a glut of features, most of which are useful, but the program isn't very user-friendly. Compro has taken a streamlined approach to DTV 3's interface and has hidden all the essential indicators and function buttons in edge-panels. To view these panels you need to move the mouse to the edge of the control panel's window and, once the mouse pointer becomes a crosshair, click. The panels auto-disappear after a few seconds, which can be annoying, but there is an option to lock these in place to keep them visible at all times.
We were also annoyed by the "submarine" effect on the mouse pointer. Every time the main window was in full-screen mode, the mouse would, for the most part, submerge beneath the main DTV 3 window and its control panel interface, which made it very difficult to use the control panel or change configuration settings. You're better off controlling the T750 using keyboard shortcuts or the supplied remote control, rather than the mouse.
Additionally, there is a lack of consistency when using the right-click menus of DTV 3's digital and analogue modes. Commands that are in the root menus in one mode are hidden in sub menus of the other mode, making DTV 3 a little hard to learn.
If you can overlook the haphazard interface design, then you'll be thrilled with what you can do with the T750. It has all the features expected of a digital TV tuner for a PC. It can display standard and high definition digital TV signals and can perform time-shifting, manual recording, scheduled recording and transport stream recording.
What the T750 adds to the mix, thanks to the second analogue tuner, is the ability to display two channels simultaneously, or to record one channel while displaying another. However, the tuners aren't transparent, meaning you can't switch from one to the other without first opening a second viewing window and selecting the alternate tuner. To use both tuners at once, two TV windows need to be opened on your desktop. This works particularly well if you have a dual monitor setup, or a large widescreen monitor.
If you want to watch a different channel on the analogue while recording a program on the digital tuner, you will need to decide what you want to watch before you start recording the digital program. The reason is that if you launch the analogue TV window while recording a digital source, the digital signal will stutter. Changing channels in the analogue TV window will also cause the digital tuner to stutter as well and each stutter will be seen in the final digital recording. When recording a digital signal while watching an analogue one, it's best to launch the analogue tuner and set it to the channel you want to watch before you start recording on the digital tuner.
The T750 also has a wake-up feature. This allows it to boot up your PC in order to start a scheduled recording. With this feature you won't have to keep your PC switched on all the time for the sole purpose of recording a TV show.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the T750 is "Straight-to-disc" DVD recording, which, as the name suggests, allows you to record programs directly to a single-layer DVD instead of a hard drive. Recording directly to DVD can be a real time saver, especially if you're not well-versed in video formats and conversion techniques and it easily lets you transport programs from your PC to a regular DVD player.
This feature worked fairly well during our tests, but it isn't elegant. A couple of times when we stopped a DVD recording, our DVD burner light flashed in a frenzy, while the main display went green and the program didn't let us change channels or use any of its other functions. It wasn't until a progress bar surfaced, which told us that a menu system was being created and that the DVD was being finalised, that we knew our recording was going to make it to disc unscathed. Other times, the recording stopped and the program immediately let us know that the finalisation process had started. The time it takes to complete the burn process, from stopping a recording to finalising a disc can vary depending on the length of your recording, during which time you can't change channels.
What we like about DTV 3 is the fact that recordings can be paused and resumed. That means you can sit through a recording and edit out commercials as the recording gets burnt to DVD. However, you can't record multiple sessions to a single DVD as once you hit the stop button, DTV 3 will finalise the disc. Keep in mind that recording to DVD will slightly degrade the image quality of a digital TV program, but we found the end result to still look very good.
We couldn't find a way to change the quality settings when recording to a DVD but by default, we were able to store over three hours on a single layer disc. Recording directly to a DVD didn't consume much more than ten percent of the AMD Athlon X2 3800+ CPU in our test machine.
Of course, if you don't want to record programs directly to disc, you can just store them on your hard drive. DTV 3 allows you to record a single channel, or an entire transport stream (that is, all the sub-channels that a station is broadcasting, such as ABC, ABC2 and ABD HDTV, for example).
Time-shifting isn't enabled by default, but can be enabled either by using the right-click menu or the time-shift button on the control panel. A slider in the control panel allows you to easily skim through a time-shifted program and hitting the stop button brings you back to real-time viewing. The recording scheduler also worked a treat (you can schedule once-off, daily and monthly recordings) and manual recording was faultless too. As is the case when recording to a DVD, the pause button can be used in manual recordings to edit out commercial breaks. The digital programs that we recorded using the T750 were excellent quality when played back in Windows Media Player.
Overall, while its software interface does have a few quirks that need to be ironed out, the T750 is a solid and well-priced card if you want to watch digital TV on your PC. The 'Straight-to-disc DVD' recording feature is one that we loved and is useful, especially if you're the type who regularly runs out of hard drive space.
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