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Television Media Hardware

Digital Cable HDTV Tuner Card Reviewed 193

Posted by CmdrTaco
Jack Kolesar of AMDPower writes "We have posted a review of a PC HDTV Tuner card that can receive QAM (Digital Cable) signals along with traditional 8VSB signals. This appears to be the first PC Card which can accomplish this task. Further, the software also comes with a utility to downsample HDTV content to DVD and DivX. "
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Digital Cable HDTV Tuner Card Reviewed

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  • Warm up the keyboard (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lord Grey (463613) * on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:31AM (#10001210)
    Minimum PC Requirements:
    • ...
    • Windows ME/ 2000/ XP or later version of Windows
    • ...
    Boo, hiss. Who's up for some driver coding?
  • by BubbaThePirate (805480) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:35AM (#10001265)
    Quoth the site:

    "Conclusion

    The Fusion HDTV III QAM can be seen online at specialty stores like Digital Connection for around $170.00. This is around $100.00 cheaper than a similar hardware decoder card by MyHD. However, I'm certain that the MyHD or AccessDTV cards will deliver a far more stable image. What the Fusion has going for it is QAM reception and the included DVD convector software. It also functions with TitanTV for scheduled recording. If you are concerned about possible jerkiness and dropped frames (I assume you are) you should first try out the demo from the DVico website. ATI's card appears to be a software-based card as well from what I can tell. This card retails for $199.00 but I have not had the opportunity to test it. For the Linux buffs out there, check out PCHDTV when you get a chance. This company offers a software-based HDTV Tuner Card similar to the original Fusion I design which is exclusively for Linux. It uses the Xine engine for the HD decoding. Fun Stuff."

  • by jared_hanson (514797) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:37AM (#10001298) Homepage Journal
    What is really needed in this space is a decoder card that also has a CableCARD slot. I don't care whether the CableCARD is inside the case or has an external slot, it doesn't really matter to me.

    The fact of the matter is that most QAM signals on digital cable are scrambled. Previously, you had to have a set-top box with descrambling chips in it to watch the TV. With cable card, however, these crypto chips are sparated out so the cable company can had you a CableCARD, and you can buy whatever set-top box you want.

    So, even if you get this card, you aren't going to be able to watch many digital cable channels with it since they will all be encrypted (at least here in the US). Now, when they release a version with CableCARD, I'll jump all over it (and begin the search/code for Linux drivers).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:40AM (#10001353)
    Although I have posted about this before, I have recieved "threats" due to my "misrepresentation" of the card on slashdot. Do a search on http://www.avsforums.com [avsforums.com] and you will see that the software for this card is flaky and Fusion will not release the specifications so independant driver development can take place. If you buy this card, only get it for over-the-air HDTV. Again, do your research before buying this card, it does not work as advertised.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:41AM (#10001363)
    Check out linuxtv.org

    Works great with mythtv for both digital cable and freeview
  • Summarized Review (Score:5, Informative)

    by ianbnet (214952) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:46AM (#10001414)
    This took me forever to put together (F5 F5 F5), so you better like it. This is a very partial selection of the review; note that there are usually chunks missing between paragraphs. Go visit the site and give them ad revenue once they're stable again.

    Fusion III Gold QAM Card

    It has been nearly three years since I reviewed one of the first HDTV Tuner cards to hit the market. At that time, the Access DTV card retailed for $400.00 and the only HDTV station available in my area was the local CBS. While the adoption of High Definition has improved greatly, I have to admit that it has been slower than I expected. Equally as surprising is the limited availability of HDTV tuner cards. Until recently, there were few players in this market. I am happy to say that this is starting to change. Manufacturers such as Hauppauge, ATI, and Dvico have developed affordable HDTV cards. Today, we are looking at one of these cards, the Dvico Fusion III Gold QAM. What makes this card unique are some very exciting features that others do not offer. Most notably is the reception of QAM modulated streams. What is QAM you ask? Simply put, DIGITAL CABLE.

    The Fusion also allows you to adjust the display ratio for virtually any screen. One of the features that we beta testers fought for was the ability to do a Pan & Scan from a 16x9 source. Nearly all HDTV broadcast are in a 16x9 aspect ratio. However, not all content is in 16x9. So, if the local news is being shown on CBS-HD, there will be black bars on the left an right of the screen. This is acceptable for a 16x9 screen. However, if the image is being shown on a 4x3 screen (computer monitor), you end up with a square image inside of a square screen. Luckily, Pan & Scan allows you to fill the entire screen with the image.

    A recent feature which was added lately (not shown in this screenshot) is the ability to get analog audio through the PCI bus. Otherwise, you need to use an internal audio jumper cable for analog television. HDTV AC-3 audio is decoded through software and can be output as either 2CH analog, 5CH analog, or straight through the digital SPDIF out of your sound card.

    For those of you who have still not seen HDTV up close, stop now and go download the Fusion Demo. HDTV on a computer monitor is quite impressive. I found the image quality to be remarkable on the Fusion and have included some screen shots below. Keep in mind that these are compressed JPEGs. Here you can see analog TV next to HDTV from a real broadcast that I recordeed of the same sitcom. The images speak for themselves. Click for a larger view.

    NTSC Broadcast
    ATSC Broadcast

    While I found the image quality to be outstanding, I cannot say the same for the decoding capabilities. Some broadcasts seem to be quite jumpy depending on which version of drivers and software that I was using. 720P broadcasts were jumpier than 1080i. What is strange is that the CPU utilization was practically nothing using DxVA, around 30%. Still, at some times I saw dropped frames. When speaking to DVico about this, I was told that they are experiencing some problem with nForce based boards. However, I also tested the card on a VIA board with similar results. DvXA did deliver a much better image than pure-software decoding. Using software-only also restricts full-scale decoding. The software decoding option offers quarter, half, and full-scale decoding. Above half-scale was unwatchable on my 3200+. The image shown above is taken from a full-scale DxVA grab.

    Analog decoding was exceptional. The software has built-in deinterlacing capabilities which greatly improves the image quality of analog broadcasts. However, a full-out deinterlacer such as DScaler yields better results.

    QAM Decoding

    Here is where things get a bit tricky. While the Fusion III Gold QAM is capable of receiving and decoding QAM, it CANNOT decode an encrypted channel. That means that it depends entirely on what your local cable company is encrypting for their d
  • by radixvir (659331) * on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:51AM (#10001477) Homepage

    That is, can the card decode 64QAM and 256QAM?

    it says in the article it can decode both

  • by figleaf (672550) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:54AM (#10001531) Homepage
    The ATI card has a chip to handle QAM but unfortunatenly it is disabled.
    Therefore it is no use for most Digital Cable in the US even if the signal is not encrypted.

  • by Jack Kolesar (532605) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @11:01AM (#10001619) Homepage
    Hi I'm the author of the article. Stupid little virtual server... Anyway, It does receive HDTV QAM. That is what it is built for. It also receives "standard" digital cable. It DOES need to be UNENCRYPTED though.
  • Wrong... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Critical_ (25211) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @11:01AM (#10001627) Homepage
    The original post is 100% correct. S/he mistyped the address since its actually avsforum.com
  • by bsd4me (759597) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @11:02AM (#10001640)

    Hell, even forget Windows driver model.. Come up with a new, universal model. Hardware companies only need to write and test one driver which you go ahead and use under Windows, Linux, BSD, OS/X, whatever..

    Not to sound like a prick, but have you ever written a device driver?

    The unix device driver model (or at least it used to; I haven't written a unix driver in years) is fairly simple. The driver defines a few entry points: read(), write(), ioctl(), open(), close(), and select() (am I missing any?). That is pretty much where the similarity ends. The code to actually talk to the device (ie, the register level stuff) is the same between OSes, but the OS stuff is for the most part really OS dependent. This is more complicated now because of kernel threading and other modern kernel techniques.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @11:03AM (#10001670)
    Introduction
    Fusion Box
    It has been nearly three years since I reviewed one of the first HDTV Tuner cards to hit the market. At that time, the Access DTV card retailed for $400.00 and the only HDTV station available in my area was the local CBS. While the adoption of High Definition has improved greatly, I have to admit that it has been slower than I expected. Equally as surprising is the limited availability of HDTV tuner cards. Until recently, there were few players in this market. I am happy to say that this is starting to change. Manufacturers such as Hauppauge, ATI, and Dvico have developed affordable HDTV cards. Today, we are looking at one of these cards, the Dvico Fusion III Gold QAM. What makes this card unique are some very exciting features that others do not offer. Most notably is the reception of QAM modulated streams. What is QAM you ask? Simply put, DIGITAL CABLE. This does NOT mean that you can buy the card and get free pay stations. We'll get further into this later. Let me first tell you how I came to know DVico.

    A little over a year ago, I became a beta tester for DVico's line of HDTV cards. What started as a stumble across a Google search turned into a year long journey testing various production and pre-production Dvico units. Before Dvico, all HDTV Tuner cards were hardware-based. This meant a dedicated Mpeg-2 decoder and increased cost. Out of curiosity, I started searching for a software-only solution that would offer the same functionality at a reduced cost. After all, the ATSC over-the-air signal is nothing more than an Mpeg-2 stream, albeit at a very high resolution and bitrate. While I was playing around at the AVSForums, I saw that Korean-based Dvico was accepting beta tester applications for a U.S. launch of their HDTV cards. The first card I tested was their FusionHDTV II, shown above. The FusionHDTV II would be their first US available HDTV Tuner card. It was also the first card on the market to use a software-based HDTV decoder. Soon after the release of the card, Dvico started experimenting with the possibility of decoding QAM signals. With the existing tuner chip on the HDTV II, it was not possible. However, after several revisions of cards and input from U.S. beta testers, Dvico delivered the Fusion III Gold QAM. It is the only HDTV tuner card on the market which can successfully decode QAM modulated digital cable stations. Today, we are reviewing that card. Let us first look at the specifications and features.

    Specs and Features
    The Fusion HDTV III Gold QAM is based off of Conexant's newest signal-decoder chip, the CX23882. Conexant has long been the industry standard when it comes to tuner cards. Their newest line of chips, is what allows the reception of QAM signals. Working together with the decoder chip is a Tecmic tuner chip. Since ATSC signals use standard UHF frequencies, the tuner portion of the card is nothing entirely special. The card has two RF inputs, one is for CATV and one for Over-The-Air. There is also an S-Video port and an Audio input which can be used to capture video from a Digital Cable Box, Camera, Playstation, etc. It can also be used to scale and upconvert video from an S-Vid or Composite source to hi-res. The S-Video port can be made into a composite port with a simple S-Video to Composite adapter. Such an adapter is not currently included in the package. When Dvico released the QAM version of this card, they added a daughter board which can be seen in the third picture below. I'm uncertain as to the exact functionality of this board.

    Test System / Decoding Options
    Since the Fusion cards do not have a dedicated Mpeg-2 decoder chip, the minimum system specs can be a bit stringent. However if an ATI card is used (8500 and up), the fusion drivers borrow the built-in Mpeg acceleration from the Radeon using DxVA (DirectX Video Acceleration). The Fusion can take advantage of DxVA using several GeForce cards as well. These cards include the MX420, 440, and FX Series. Keep in mind that the nVidia list is very specific. There are ce
  • by Jack Kolesar (532605) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @11:08AM (#10001739) Homepage
    Let me clear up a few things about this card. There were several revisions of it and it was very hard trying to get QAM to function properly from overseas. They actually released a version that was supposed to do QAM. It was the Non-Gold version of the Fusion III. The Gold version does function with QAM. And, I have tested it as working at home. As always, with any hardware, YMMV. Keep in mind again that if its encrypted (most content is) you're not going to get a picture. I have included a screenshot in the article of it actually working with a digital preview station.
  • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @11:15AM (#10001831) Homepage Journal
    I personally found the card to be less than useful. The software included with the card IS flaky. I CAN'T just download new drivers and software because it is 50MB to 60MB, I'm not about to tie up my line for that. (I'm just a few hundred feet too far from any form of broadband)

    Despite the Matrox G450 clearly being in one of their compatibility lists, it does not work, even with the latest drivers, unless I only wanted to watch the analog broadcasts.

    As for QAM, the older versions didn't work, but the current version is supposed to work with unencrypted QAM.
  • by jared_hanson (514797) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @11:20AM (#10001908) Homepage Journal
    The FFC requires that any cable operator with over a certain amount of bandwidth on their network give out CableCARDs at the customer's request. As far as I know, the deadline for compliance was July 1st. I could be wrong on the specifics, but I do know the deadline has come and gone, so a majority of cable companies should comply by now. My cable company does.
  • by tchuladdiass (174342) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @11:47AM (#10002270) Homepage
    Isn't that what the UDI project was for? http://projectudi.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net].
    Thing is, it was never really accepted by the kernel community, for a few of reasons: 1) it adds another layer between the driver and the kernel, which causes a theoretical performance penalty (which doesn't seem to exist in the sample drivers). 2) it could encourage more binary-only drivers, whereas by keeping the api a moving target, it would encourage the manufactures to either release source, or not provide drivers at all. And, 3) (the best reason yet) -- it would open up the possibility for Windows to "steal" the higher-quality Linux drivers.
    Personally, I would think that the benifits of wider adoption of the UDI model (or similar) would far outweigh the problems.
  • YES!!! There is a Linux driver for this card!

    Chris Pascoe [uq.edu.au] has written a Linux driver for the Austrailian version of the card. See: http://www.itee.uq.edu.au/~chrisp/DVICO-Linux/ [uq.edu.au]. AFAIK, the only difference between the Austrailian and American versions is the tuner. If we can find the codes (perhaps by sniffing them w/ a homebrew I2C sniffer [warmcat.com]), we should be able to have a fully-functioning driver for the US card.

    Bonus: the card is half-height, and comes with a low-profile PCI backplate, which would make it fit nicely into a small MythTV-powered PVR.
  • by HBergeron (71031) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @12:30PM (#10002794)
    Hate to crap on another poster (I really do) but this fella got modded up for this post and I thought a clarification would be helpful...

    The issue here is NOT a new TV card, those are common and would not rate a story on /. What WAS interesting is this cards ability to receive CABLE hdtv. So "These cards aren't for receiving digital cable" wins at least the weekly, if not monthly award for missing the point entirely.

    What people want to do is record their Sopranos, or concerts or HD ESPN football games, and right now, and forever more, none of the current crop of HDPC cards can do that. Apparently this one really can't either, but including the feature is a step in the right direction. Next maybe someone with real customer orientation and some coding skills may actually put out a working card with a "cable card" slot for decryption, and then we'd be cooking with gas. Watch this space.
  • Re:broadcast flag (Score:2, Informative)

    by Jack Kolesar (532605) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @12:31PM (#10002812) Homepage
    Again, author here... I brought this up during our beta testing sessions. DVico does NOT currently support the broadcast flag in their products. Keep in mind that the FCC ruling gives July 5th as the "drop dead" date for supporting it. That doesn't mean that this card or your existing DVHS, Tivo, HDTV Tuner, etc. is going to start working. It just means that any device produced at that time will need to recognize the flag. I think that if they were required to, DVico could easily accomplish this in software.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @12:46PM (#10002998)
    Don't hold your breath. If you read the CableCARD POD licensing agreement, it is quite clear that a PCI card based implementation can never meet the requirements of the license agreement. That is, the requirement to guarantee that the DRM flags are being observed...can't do that when the mpeg2 transport stream travels in the clear of the pci bus after being decrypted. You'll never see a PCI HDTV/QAM tuner with CableCARD POD for Linux.
  • by Dan9999 (679463) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @01:51PM (#10003831)
    is that broadcasters decide what quality they want the Mpeg-2 compression to be. I don't remember the numbers but apparently cable broadcasters compress HDTV signals much more than over-the-air broadcasters. You can tell by the bit-rate of the stream.
    A couple of things that I didn't see in this cards softwaare was "Display Bit-rate" and "Save video in original stream format".
    All I can suggest for anyone buying HDTV hardware is to do a heck of a lot of research.

  • by Chris Siegler (3170) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @02:06PM (#10003986)
    I've owned both the FusionHDTV II and the MyHD MDP-120. My short review for those interested:

    FusionHDTV: low price and nice playback of HD streams. It has a nice FF function that makes skipping commercials easy. There is also a nice included program for converting a HD transport stream (what the card records to your hard drive) into DVD video. The BIG downside to this card is that it's almost impossible to get a perfect recording of shows because of the software decoding regardless of how fast your computer is. Out of a few dozen shows I tried recording, not one had no errors.

    MyHD MDP-120: Downside is that it's expensive and you have to spend even more to get DVI output. Also the warranty is vague at best, so you'll likely be out $300 if the thing breaks. The upside is that the card records shows on just about any box flawlessly. It's got good tuner reception and the software is pretty solid now. It has basic PVR functionality for connecting to titantv and choosing shows.

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