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Television Media Hardware

External TV Tuners/PVR Devices Tested 136

Solomon writes "TV Tuners for the PC have existed for a long time but with the ever increasing popularity of TiVo-like services and the possibility of replicating such features on your Windows PC with little effort and a small investment, tuners have been getting a lot of attention this year. Today there's three-way shootout posted at TechSpot with products from Digistor, Transcend and a very appealing offer from RTV called the VEG that lets you play consoles in your monitor. Although neither of these devices can match TiVo completely, they do give you a very cheap alternative."
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External TV Tuners/PVR Devices Tested

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  • wow (Score:3, Informative)

    by confusion ( 14388 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @02:58PM (#11170329) Homepage
    With all the spam in here its starting to remind me of my inbox.

    Anyway, I have a 9600 all-in-wonder, and I really really like the cable tv tuner deal. I desperately need to upgrade, but I am having a hard time parting with the built in tuner. I suppose these would be a good alternative.

    Jerry []

  • by thewldisntenuff ( 778302 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @02:59PM (#11170336) Homepage use USB tv tuners. Arent there problems with moving all that video across the USB interface? I remember talk about making an Xbox run Myth off a usb tuner, and it was quickly denounced as impossible....I heard the same thing about a laptop and a WinTV USB hauppauge tuner....

    So? Is this true?

    • by topham ( 32406 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:03PM (#11170377) Homepage
      USB 2.0 has sufficient bandwidth if the device performs onboard encoding. (MPEG2 for instance).
    • Well, with USB 1.0, yeah, there isn't enough bandwidth. Didin't RTFA, though, did ya? "As a side note, you must have at least one USB 2.0 port available in your machine, or you won't be able to use any of these devices." Its right there, USB 2.0 is needed, and it has plently of bandwidth (comparable to Firewire 400).
      • This is /.

        Does anybody RTFA? ;)

      • Even USB 1.0 should be sufficient if the device has a real-time MPEG encoder. With MPEG2, encoding at 6 Mbps (about 1/2 the USB 1.0 12 Mbps bandwidth) using IBP encoding will give you decent video.

        6 Mbps using MPEG4 encoding is even better, you have plenty of bandwith for great quality video.

        Of course this is assuming a single tuner device - for multiple tuners, you'll probably need high-speed USB.

    • A USB full speed (1.1) interface is good enough if the USB device has it's own electronics to compress the signal or if it is just forwarding an already compressed signal.

      A USB high speed (2.0) interface is good enough by itself.

    • Use Firewire then. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by SeaFox ( 739806 )
      I don't know what's available on the PC for this. It is known that USB really isn't up to the requirements for streaming video. On the Mac side there the new El Gato EyeTV 500 []. The choice in Firewire is mostly because it is required for HD video streaming, not to alleviate some USB silliness.
    • I am unaware of any USB tuner supported by Linux.

      Get a Hauppauge PVR-250 or PVR-350.

      The Hauppauge PVR-150 and PVR-500 do not work now under Linux. They may work within several months..
      • The current version of the Hauppauge PVR-350 isn't supported by the Linux ivtv drivers. Some people have gotten the CVS version to work in a limited way.

        I bought a PVR-350 in October 2004 and haven't been able to use it when I am using Linux.

        The old PVR-350's work great when you are using a 2.4.x kernel but the stable version of the ivtv drivers do not work with the 2.6.x kernel. It has been over six months since the last release of the ivtv drivers and I haven't been able to get the unstable ones to wor
        • I bought my PVR-350 in October, I think. It works fine. I had to take a few poorly documented steps.

          Get a newer ivtv driver []. As you know, the stable drivers are way out of date. The official ivtv site is worthless for new hardware. I use one of the 0.2.0-rc drivers.

          Get a newer kernel for its tuner.c because the newer PVR-350 cards have a new tuner, the LG TAPE iirc. I did not want to recompile the whole kernel. I grabbed tuner.c from 2.6.9, stuck it in my kernel source tree and compiled the modules.

          I sug
    • I use a Hauppage WinTV PVR USB2 mpeg encoder/tuner. It works great on my 4 year old laptop (600MHz) with a PCMCIA USB2.0 card.

      I run it with SageTV, as all the other options I tried (BeyondTV, GB-PVR, etc couldn't handle the older hardware.)

  • Be careful (Score:3, Informative)

    by exhilaration ( 587191 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @02:59PM (#11170338)
    ...of any external tuner that claims to let you play console games. *Every* external tuner I've seen has had too much lag to let you play console games.
    • Re:Be careful (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Why do you even need a tuner for consoles? Get something with composite or s-video input for a lower price and better quality.
  • by beetle496 ( 677137 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:01PM (#11170362) Homepage
    They failed to review the best product available, EyeTV []
    • I guess this is a Windows only test? I have an eyeTV USB, and although console play is terrible (the lag is 2-3 seconds) I still love it as a TV device, and also an analog capture device - though the quality isn't great, it will suffice. elgato makes some awesome products :)
  • not a bad little roundup... however as someone who is seriously in the market for a value ended PVR, i would have like to have seen a comparison with a hardware Mpeg2-encoded PVR in the mix.

    The author mensions the word 'quality' quite a few times... some hardware encoded screenies would have been a good way to measure those statements.
  • by drewzhrodague ( 606182 ) <drew.zhrodague@net> on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:07PM (#11170427) Homepage Journal
    DO your research FIRST, and just buy a PVR-250 or PVR-350. Friend of mine didn't listen to me, and went and bought himself a cheap $29 tuner card for $180 -- and no MPEG.

    I have an old non-mpeg tuner card, and it works great with MythTV. Dedicate a box to the task. Get a nice TV-Out card that you can live with. Get the remote control, or a longer-range wireless keyboard.

    MythTV blows my mind everytime I use it: KnoppMyth []
    • and went and bought himself a cheap $29 tuner card for $180

      Wow, you really need to sit your friend down and have a talk with him.
    • I have an awesome 486 for sale that your friend might want to buy. It even has a turbo button for playing the more demanding games such as Wolfenstein. I am willing to part ways with it for a mere $2000.
    • A few weeks ago, I picked up a Hauppauge PVR-250 which I'm using with MythTV. It all works great, except when it comes time to burn to DVD. It turns out that the variable bitrate mpeg2 streams that the Hauppauge PVR-250/350 cards put out aren't fully compliant (or at least not using the latest linux ivtv drivers). This isn't a problem during playback, but when you want to convert to DVD format using standard tools like transcode/mpeg2desc and mplex, the audio and video drift out of sync.

      It took me quit

      • by JWW ( 79176 )
        You know, you can modify the bitrate and capture resolution for the 250's, its not a constant setting. You can configure it from inside myth.

        I've used avidemux2 to edit out commercials and have burned that content to DVD just fine.
        • Unfortunately it's not a simple matter of bitrate or resolution. My understanding is that the 250 uses noncompliant PTS information in the mpeg2 stream, and that this can cause sync errors. Not everybody experiences it, and it seems to be more of a problem with encoding from VHS rather than from the tuner. I've found the problem using the tuner as well as s-video from a cable box as the source, and when I use replex on the stream, it complains about masses of PTS errors.

          I haven't tried avidemux2 (I don

    • The PVR 350 is not worth it to me until Hauppauge gets off its butt and makes the video decompression work under linux.

      I go the $29 route myself. In fact my computer is recording a show at this moment. I don't see the point of paying $150 for a hardware compressor when a CPU powerful enough to do the job costs half of that. Plus I can use any new gee-whiz codec that comes along.

      • timeOday:

        What tuner card are you using? My Xmas present to myself is a MythTV/Freevo box, and I'm looking for suggestions. Starting small seems the way to go for me.


    • Actually, owning a supposedly crappy sofwtare card (Pinnacle PCTV Stereo) ct_ID=1480 [] and a classy PVR-350, I am actually suprised of the results. On a beefy P4 machine , the recordings from the software card look better than those of the Hauppage, which has a lot of 'ghosting' especially on faces. That said, the PVR-350 runs great on a 2400+ sempron, and nothing beats the quality of it's tv-out for replay, especially with GB-PVR []
    • Or if you're in Europe, buy yourself a DVB card. Most DVB cards are well-supported under Linux & MythTV and no CPU cycles are needed for MPEG-encoding, since DVB is basically an MPEG2 stream.

      See /usr/src/linux/Documentation/dvb/cards.txt for a list of what works.
  • by l3v1 ( 787564 )
    Warning: I'm on my Christmas Trolling Spree (TM) :)

    I mean things like:

    replicating such features on your Windows PC with little effort and a small investment

    doesn't make me shiver or feel anything besides deep sadness for the (again) experienced ingorance wave.

    First, I don't care how newbies are just discovering that their computers can do more than playing nobrainer video games for the price of a used car.

    Second, still don't really care how greenhorns can make a Windows PC record anything. I mean
  • TV tuners (Score:5, Insightful)

    by basic0 ( 182925 ) <mmccollow@ya[ ].ca ['hoo' in gap]> on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:22PM (#11170559)
    I was interested in TV tuners and PVR software and so forth for a while, but then I realized that being able to watch and record TV on my computer still does nothing to improve the actual content that passes for entertainment on TV.
    • The beauty of PVRs is that you get to watch what you want, when you want. There *is* some decent stuff on tv (cable, at least), it's just never on when I happen to get time to watch tv. With my pvr, whenever I sit down to watch tv, I know I'll get to watch something I like.

      Go South Park!!! :)
    • was interested in TV tuners and PVR software and so forth for a while, but then I realized that being able to watch and record TV on my computer still does nothing to improve the actual content that passes for entertainment on TV.

      True. But there already is pretty decent content on TV. There are plenty of good movies, documentaries, series, etc. being shown. The problem is that it's at inconvenient or ever-changing times, or at the same time as something else, or painful to watch due to the many commerci

    • There is enough quality TV anywhere to make it worth it having a device that makes it easy to record it.

      Movies, music, documentaries, news (or wahtever rocks your boat).

      Elitist people are terribly annoying, when they describe their niche likes one discovers that normally they are as despicably unintersting and boring as the tastes they deride so easily.
  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:27PM (#11170616) Homepage
    One aspect of the review mentioned the Indeo codec for one of the devices.

    There was also no mention whatsoever of hardware MPEG2 encoding.

    If it doesn't encode MPEG2 in hardware, it's not worth buying. Period.
    • Not necessarily-- the MythTV help page recommends budgeting for 1GHz per processor for doing software encoding, then cheap TV cards are an option. Alternatively us lucky people in Europe can receive MPEG2 streams over the air using DVB tuner cards, no encoding necessary.
      • "... us lucky people in Europe can receive MPEG2 streams over the air using DVB tuner cards, no encoding necessary"

        The lucky people in the USA can get our MPEG2 streams free with an antenna and OTA HD tuner. But awareness of this capability is still quite limited. It seems as though the cable and satellite companies have succeeded in convincing most people that HD is only available by paying a monthly fee.
    • Instead of getting a card / box with built-in MPEG encoding, why not budget that extra money on a faster CPU instead?
  • by EvilGrin666 ( 457869 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:28PM (#11170627) Homepage
    Its a shame they didn't compare these products against MythTV []. I've been using it quite happily for some time on my Linux box equipped with a Hauppage TV card. I suspect it works out cheaper than the options offered in the article and has comparable features [] to a tivo...
  • Cheap? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by voidptr ( 609 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:33PM (#11170669) Homepage Journal
    Although neither of these devices can match TiVo completely, they do give you a very cheap alternative

    How cheap is it really going to be by the time you've added everything up.

    A dual tuner DirecTV tivo with 80 hours space is $100 and $5 a month covers up to 8 of them on an account.

    I doubt you can get a pc with sufficient horsepower, storage, and a couple of these capture dongles for that.
    • Yeah, that was my thought - I just got a 40gig unit, $50 after rebate, $60/year for the service, and it works great. Since I have kids I don't have time to play with MythTV anyway but it would be kind of hard to justify all the hardware costs. I don't watch all that much TV & I'm not really concerned about archiving stuff, but it's cool to be able to save a few decent movies on there for the babysitter to watch and fill the rest with kids shows.
    • Re:Cheap? (Score:2, Interesting)

      With Myth TV on a pc you can then edit/burn/email shows/clips to people. Also since the system is next to your stereo you might as well just play your mp3 collection. Plus since most people have "extra" Pcs around you can use one old PC as a Myth box for cost savings.
    • Re:Cheap? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by enrico_suave ( 179651 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:59PM (#11170907) Homepage
      you're comparing oranges and apricots here.

      They are comparing a STB box tivo for analog cable with one of these... besides, what self respecting geek doesn't have a spare hand me down PC laying around... to throw a tuner/capture card in?

      FWIW the best benefit to building a PC based PVR isn't cost/subscription savings... it's CONTROL over the content. No one is going to be expiring six feet under DVR recordings [] without my consent on my PC DVR.

    • Directv does not charge *any* tivo fee if you have the higher end packages
    • Is there any digital PVR type of machine that I can get without paying the $15/month fee? I'm wanting something to replace my VCR, but without the tapes. I don't want or need it to automatically record "suggested" shows for me. And I don't care about most other frilly Tivo features. I don't have cable TV, and I don't need it to play my MP3s or be connected to the 'net. Just plain-old record channel 4 at 8PM for one hour, etc. I want to pay $250, plug it in, and use it. Is there anything out there lik
      • Get a Tivo Basic unit, you don't need pay monthly.
        • Hmm. So what features are available if you don't subscribe? Here's a choice quote I found on their website []...

          A TiVo® box is intended for use only with a paid subscription to the TiVo® service. Without the TiVo service, a TiVo box has extremely limited functionality. No functionality is represented or should be expected.

          And wouldn't I be a sucker if I paid for their "lifetime" subscription plan, since tivo isn't [] HDTV ready, and analog transmissions are scheduled to end [] in 2006?

          Television st

  • frankley MPEG is broadcast to me so I dont need to do anything but shunt it down the wires but linux and windows for that matter are really BAD at this becuase of the tuner drivers conexant should be ashamed

    sort out the DVB drivers and you make more sales right now anyone who buys anything to do with DVB that is not a Set Top Box gets burned
    (the linux drivers are new and in 2.6.10-rc3-bk16 and sothe old truth is once again new = buggy alot of great work is done but more to do )


    john jones
  • yuck (Score:3, Informative)

    by enrico_suave ( 179651 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @03:54PM (#11170848) Homepage
    could they pick some of the crappiest cheeziest bunch of external tuners to test?

    What about hauppauge wintv usb 2 or plextor convertX PVR [] (which has both PC and Mac pvr software)

    For internal devices I like the wintv pvr250. Yes the pvr150 is cheaper and comes with a better remote/ir blaster, but the pvr250 is better supported in linux with the ivtv drivers being pretty mature/stable for that card.


  • I've tried various hardware/software solutions on Mac and PCs, but as expected nothing was really a TiVo.

    I don't know why it took me so long to do this, but I eventually just bought a cheap used TiVo with a lifetime membership (about $200) and hooked it up to my Mac. The benefits are that it's not using any of my 4 internal drives or FireWire/USB ports. It has all the advantages of TiVo...suggested recordings, remote programing, home media, etc... but I view it on one of my monitors either full screen or
  • I'm looking for an external solution (firewire) with OS X support that will allow me to hookup to the satellite hookup that is provided in my flat in Austria.

    Has anyone done this?

    • Take a look at for more information. They make a whole range of products exclusively for Mac OS X. I have their first product, a USB external box for NTSC video and most recently they introduced a firewire connected HDTV tuner that works with the most recent Macs (you probably need a G5 to get really satisfactory performance). It isn't as though their software has no flaws but it is quite good and they continue to support all their products with software updates.

      Elgato does not have a digita
    • Here [] is the best chance. If any company makes such a product, El Gato [] is the one.
  • Does anybody have recommendations for an external Linux-compatible TV tuner with MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 encoding and a High Speed USB2 interface?
  • I bought one of these [] recently. So far, I like it. It does a good job with analog cable too (unencrypted digital cable channels work too but over-the-air is looks better). The worst I can say about it is that there aren't any Linux drivers, AFAIK at least. I save HDTV shows to my Linux server. HDTVtoMPEG2 and related tools work on the saved streams.

    Standard def is so last century ;-).
    • Re:USB HDTV (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No USB tuner works with Linux. Nada. Zilch. None. The closest was a half ass driver for the original Hauppauge USB PVR orphaned year ago.
      • You're partially correct... there are no drivers for USB tuners in the official kernels yet, but there *are* some out-of-tree drivers that are kept reasonably up-to-date:
        • This page [] lists at least one that should work (Lifeview LifeTV). It's been discontinued but can probably still be found here and there. Note that it's only USB 1.1 and 320x480 (not a typo) max resolution, but does support 30 fps at 320x240 with compression.
        • The usbvision driver [] supports a fairly large list of tuners and capture boxes.
  • I just picked up a $199 (after rebate) TiVo from Best Buy.. the 80 gig model. Add to the $199 the cost of lifetime subscription to TiVo's programming service ($299).

    So yeah $500 is a lot for a glorified VCR... but I have to say that the damn thing is so easy to use it was worth it.

    I set the thing up to my wireless network in minutes. Now I can stream MP3s onto it from my server. Photos too.

    Sure you can piece your own together using MPEG decoder cards and free (or not) software, but you're gonna spend
  • DVB or nothing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nik13 ( 837926 ) on Thursday December 23, 2004 @08:32PM (#11173124) Homepage
    I must say I used to do that analog capturing stuff, but even with the top cards, the quality is very sub-par compared to DVB capturing. You loose a lot doing non-prefect mpeg decoding, then passed thru cheap DACs, filters, wiring (and interferences), more filters, ADC (crappy sampling), on-the-fly (not very efficient) encoding... You just loose too much quality, even with much higher file sizes. DVB just works, 100% quality - no loss at all, small file sizes, cpu loads around 1%... It's just all around better. The only thing is, of course you need to have some DVB streams available (I use DVB-S), it won't do a thing for crappy analog cable or the like (I don't know anyone who still uses that).

    If not, I'd get a satellite set-top box/PVR dealie. For 300$ cdn, you get one with a 80gb HD in it. It works *out of the box*. No OS install, no patching/upgrading/rebooting, no drivers needed, no setting up the remote control manually for your apps, no codecs required, no PVR software to install, no BSODs, none of that - plug it and it works. And just like DVB capturing, it's lossless (they both record the mpeg from the transportstream).

    I've given up on analog capturing about 4 years ago, and I'm NEVER going back to that. I'd do OTA as well if there broadcasts in my area.
  • it's a review for none tech people, not something i would expect to read on slashdot...

    there is no clear indication of if they use software or hardware encoding. and no indication of whether they work under mythtv or MS media cneter 2005 edition.
  • Getting TV into the PC is easy. Getting it out is the problem.

    It seems the best way is still to get a cheap gf4 with tv out and live with the hideous interferences.

    Do you really have to have a TV with VGA in for thousands of dollars ?
  • I have a cheap DVB-S card (skystar2), a hush Epia M10000 with onboard mpeg2 decoding and use []VDR. There is a plugin to get EPG data. You can control it with a web based interface. A simple command line or a plugin writes recordings to DVD etc. etc.

    Useful if you live in Europe

There's no future in time travel.