From the Hauppauge owned pctv stable this is a USB Stick tuner which offers compatibility with the DVB-T2 transmission technology being used for Freeview HD in the UK. The box makes a feature of the Freeview HD support but also says ‘for standard DVB-T Freeview too’
The tuner is quite a neat small unit with a nice sliding mechanism to protect the USB plug. At the opposite end to the USB plug is a small socket you can either plug in the supplied Mini-Antennae unit or an adaptor to plug in a coax lead. The tuner is a bit wider than a normal USB stick which means it will be difficult to plug it in next to another USB device but fortunately pctv have though to include a USB extension lead. The tuner also has a built in IR receiver for the supplied mini-remote control.
Due to the very short supply of review units currently I was only able to test the unit over a couple of days.
UPDATE: the short supply has been resolved and I am now able to try this tuner over a longer period. I will update the review once I have had a chance to test reliability.
Trying pctv’s own software
Whilst I was more interested in how the device performed in Windows Media Center on my HTPC I decided to start by testing the supplied TVCenter software on my Laptop with the Mini-Antennae. Now up to recently Mini-Antennae have been absolutely useless in the UK as we have not had the signal strength to support them but I had heard that with the Digital switchover and analogue transmissions being turned off in my area the signal strength had increased greatly. I thought it was worth a try.
The TVCenter software installed easily, if a little slowly, and then kicked off a wizard which asked which country I was in and then checked if I was using a antennae or using an Aerial System. By selecting Antennae another option for Automatic Gain was selected – this defaults to none if using an Aerial system. I initially assumed that Antennae meant the supplied mini-Antennae and Aerial system a lead but the manual says you should choose Antennae for mini-Antennae or an Antennae connected by a coax lead whilst Aerial System should be used, mysteriously, to tune all signal sources connected to your device. I went initially with antennae and the Automatic Gain selected.
It then began scanning for channels:
Whilst tuning I noticed that the Stick illuminated blue.
Alas no channels were found. Going back a page I wound that in the advanced scan section there was an option to change the mode from Quick to either normal or best quality.
I decided to try the latter. This scan took over 30 minutes and well… oops no channels.
So I guess the mini-antennae is still pretty useless in the UK – well at least where I live. To be fair I have successfully used a similar Mini-Antennae on a different pctv tuner in Germany with great success so I am sure this is just down to signal quality.
Abandoning the mini-Antennae I attached the coax adaptor to the tuner and plugged in my aerial lead to try again.
Immediately things were better…
One thing I really like about the pctv software is the immediate feedback on signal strength.
You’ll note that my HD signal was quite low but at least it was there.
Starting up TVCenter went immediately to BBC HD and gave a prompt to activate h.264. Doing this was free and just involved keying in an email address on a pctv activation page.
Once activated the software displayed a message for a few seconds saying activating hardware and then the channel displayed
Quality was good but initially I was only seeing part of the picture. I had to right click the screen and use the menu options to force the display to 16:9 aspect ratio. Once that was done picture quality was excellent.
The TVCenter interface is simple and effective but certainly not as elegant as Media Center in Windows 7. TVCenter does have a really nice integrated TV server that allows you to watch TV remotely including on mobile browsers such as IPhone or Android.
This works really well. Although I did get a lockup when initially setting it up – a reboot cured this.
pctv also supply a DistanTV application on the setup disk which you can install on another PC to view the channels in TV Center remotely. As this is only a single tuner you would have to make sure no one was watching anything else on the master PC otherwise you will get a tuner in use message. Of course you could always buy two!
With the proper set up of your router, which is a little fiddly if you don’t have a modern uPNP router, you can also view your TV over the internet.
I did note that on my install DistanTV seemed to only be 14 day trial version.
One other negative thing I noticed in pctv TV Center was that I couldn’t get any program information for the HD channels. As TV Center seems to get its guide data over the air, this could be due to the guide data encryption that was discussed some time back.
Overall TV Center is certainly better than a lot of free software supplied with tuners and it worked really well with the tuner.
Using the tuner in Windows 7 Media Center
When this tuner was first released there were a few posts and tweets indicating it didn’t work properly in Windows Media Center and wasn’t able to see the HD channels. I wanted to test this scenario. pctv certainly claim support for this tuner, with the exception of the remote control, and the disk contains a Media Center install option.
All very straightforward if took a few minutes. Media Center immediately detected the new tuner and prompted for TV setup to be run. The normal tuner setup screens appeared and the Nano T2 was shown as a choice to install.
Tuning took a while to get started and was a bit slower in Media Center than in TV Center.
I should point out that I did initially make a mistake and left TV Center installed which caused the Tuner to be locked and not available in Media Center. Uninstalling TV Center solved this.
The HD channels showed up fine and once tuning had finished appeared in the guide complete with program data
Picture quality was again excellent
Channel changing was quick and despite my low signal quality there was no sign of any break up. The tuner is obviously able to cope with fast moving images with no sign of it introducing any pixilation or additional jaggedness over that in the original transmission.
I also did a quick test with DVBLogic’s DVBLink software and found that it detected the Nano T2 without any problem. There was an issue with DVBLink not detecting HD channels but this proved to be the Head-End file DVBLink uses rather than the tuner itself. Following some guidelines from the DVBLogic forums this was easily solved and the tuner worked really well allowing the use of DVBLink’s ability to stream the channels over the network.
Overall this seems to be a really good bit of technology. It works well and seems built well. I obviously with the short time I had it am unable to say how it would work over any length of time but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to suspect it wouldn’t. I’m pleased to say that it worked really well in Media Center and I couldn’t see any reason for the negative posts and tweets on that front – of course it may be that pctv have updated the package since those early comments.
My only question would be value for money as this is only a single tuner and is retailing around the 72 pound mark at present where the Blackgold internal dual tuner DVBT2 can be had for just over 105 pound.
All in all I am going to be sad to return this tuner.