Television has become a very large part of the entertainment sector and now almost every household in the UK and US has at least one Television set. Putting TV on your computer seems like a natural step to take, by doing this you can eliminate the need for another bulky, heavy item on your desk and allow you to integrate your PC with the TV. The question remains, what is the best method to get TV onto your computer screen. There are a few methods, some being more feasible than others, a PCI or USB TV tuner, a graphics card with Video Input or a graphics card with an inbuilt TV Tuner. Each has its own benefits and downfalls and in this review I will be looking at the PCI TV Tuner option.
What can you use a TV tuner for?
Anything you can do on a standalone Television set. Including playing VHS tapes via a VHS player, playing on your favourite console, watching Sky (sky box required with this card), watching cable TV (no extra hardware required).
What is PVR?
PVR stands for Personal Video Recorder which allows you to record and pause live television. You may have seen TiVo, which allows you to do this on your standalone Television set. The WinTV PVR 250 card I am going to show you in this review allows you to record TV shows in MPEG-2 format and play back at a later time.
A bit about the WinTV PVR 250:
125 channel cable ready TV tuner
Composite/s-video input to connect to VCR or camcorders
High quality MPEG2 video and audio encoder
dbx-TV stereo decoder (Nicam stereo decoder in Europe)
IR remote control
MPEG1 capture at 1150K bits/sec (video CD data rate) MPEG2 capture rates: 2MBit/sec full D1 and half D1, 4MBit/sec full D1 CBR (constant bit rate) or VBR (variable bit rate), 6Mbit/sec full D1 CBr or VBR, 8Mbit/sec full D1 CBR or VBR, 12Mbit/sec full D1 CBR or VBR
NTSC format at 29.97fps: Full D1: 704x480, Half D1: 352x480, MPEG1: 352x240
PAL format at 25fps: Full D1: 704x576, Half D1: 352x576, MPEG1: 352x288
Audio sampling: 32, 44.1, 48 KHz
Chroma sampling: YUV 4:2:0
As you can see from the specifications the card is capable of analogue TV from an antenna or cable and signals from composite/s-video devices such as VCR’s or Video Cameras. It also comes with IR remote control which allows you to start the TV from a distance and perform a number of tasks from a comfortable range. Being in the PVR range of WinTV card it is capable of recording in the formats shown above. The version I am testing is PAL format which limits the frame rate to 25 whereas the US NTSC format runs at 29.97 fps which shouldn’t affect you too much since the input from composite or s-video can be either PAL or NTSC.
This card unfortunately doesn’t come with a radio tuner however if you want radio you will have to look at the WinTV PVR 350 or the WinTV PVR PCI which is the model up from the WinTV PVR 250 which I have here. The 350 also comes with a hardware MPEG-2 decoder which the other PVR don’t feature and hence the MPEG-2 decoding is done by software.