TV tuners have been on the PC for an extremely long time. Unfortunately, it wasn't until most recently that they were ever really taken advantage of.  In the past, TV tuner cards were useful for recording your favorite TV show, but mostly for just being able to watch TV on your computer monitor.  A PC armed with a TV tuner card was far from a full-fledged PVR, even though ATI came close numerous times with their Multimedia Center interface.  In the end, a TV tuner became a nice toy to have on your PC, but could hardly offer the type of functionality that a set-top box such as a TiVo or ReplayTV could offer. 

That all changed when Microsoft released Windows XP Media Center Edition.  Bringing the first true 10-foot UI to the PC, Media Center Edition (MCE) all of the sudden made a TV tuner less of a toy, and more of an integral component of a modern PC.  What Microsoft accomplished with MCE was creating a user interface that looked and felt like what you'd find on a normal consumer electronics device, not a PC.  By doing that, MCE became an extremely attractive, but expensive, alternative to set-top PVRs. 

Despite the high cost of entry compared to a cheap TiVo, MCE PCs are still quite popular - especially now that it is easy to build one on your own.  You can purchase a copy of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 through online vendors, along with a MCE remote.  With the software in hand, your next task is to assemble a PC. Components like your motherboard, CPU and memory are all easy to choose - you want the fastest that your budget will allow you to buy, and something stable too, since MCE puts a pretty big strain on your system.

Next up is your graphics card; if you are looking for a gaming machine as well as an MCE PC, then your choice is going to be something that obviously works well as a gaming GPU, but if not, then even a lowly GeForce FX 5200 will work just fine.  Both ATI and NVIDIA have MCE certified GPU drivers, which you will need if you're building an MCE box.

The final step is to pick out a TV tuner, and this is where today's article comes in.  Choosing a TV tuner for a MCE PC is a bit easier than just picking any TV tuner out there. The first requirement is that the tuner has official MCE support.  You'll need a MCE driver for your tuner to work with the OS, so if one isn't available for the card that you're looking at, then you know to look elsewhere. 

A major constraint to Media Center Edition is that it supports HDTV in a limited fashion, primarily in that it only supports over the air broadcasts - so none of your premium HD content can be viewed/recorded by MCE.  Even though the trend is to move towards HD, today's comparison is of standard definition TV tuners for MCE; even if you plan on having a HDTV card in your MCE box (e.g. ATI HDTV Wonder), you still need a SD TV tuner card as well.  Given that we're still talking about SD signals, which are inherently full of noise and aren't very high resolution at all, are there any differences between TV tuners or should you just go out and purchase the cheapest one that works?

For this article, we took 6 of the most popular MCE compliant TV tuners and pitted them against one another, trying to figure out if there's any difference between them all, and if there's one clear winner.  The cards included in this roundup are:

  • ATI's eHome Wonder
  • ATI's TV Wonder Elite
  • AverMedia M150
  • eMuzed Maui-II PCI PVR
  • Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250
  • NVIDIA's dual tuner NVTV
The Test
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  • vailr - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    ATI’s TV Wonder Elite vs. eVGA's NVTV vs. Hauppauge PVR-150MCE
    http://www.techreport.com/reviews/2005q2/tuner-com...
    Reply
  • Patman2099 - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    I got a Theatrix 550, its got a theatre 550 chip, but its made by sapphire. its listed at about half the price of the ATI card reviewed. Looks exactly the same too.

    I love it, works flawlessly in my HTPC
    Reply
  • LX - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    Disappointed.

    Lots of fluff, less information.
    Where is the software compatibility tests?
    Where is the comparison of the MPEG-2 encoding?

    Incorrect statements like:
    "For example, the WinTV PVR-250 is identical to the PVR-500, although the latter has two tuners. The PVR-250 is also identical to the PVR-250MCE and the PVR-350."

    Check http://www.hauppauge.com/pages/compare_pvr.html

    Anand is getting sloppy.
    Reply
  • segagenesis - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    #37 - Yep. Ive seen piles of them at CompUSA. Not readily available... maybe in Neverland. Seeing how it IS readily available I would still count it as fair game :P Reply
  • sonicDivx - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    hey, Cygni. Just checked Newegg, guess what PVR-150 instock

    http://www.newegg.com/app/ViewProductDesc.asp?desc...

    mind you this is the retail version. Also the 150 has been out for some time. I've even seen it at CompUsa.

    Also check out pcalchemy their prices are good. Also I trust HTPCNews or AVSForums more in terms on product reviews and knowledge on HTPC systems.

    Reply
  • GoatMonkey - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    Why is there a sudden interest in reviewing these products just 2 weeks after I make my decision and buy something? I searched everywhere I could think of to find any information about these cards. I finally decided on a Hauppauge 500, which I'm happy with btw, but it's still annoying to get a decent review just *after* I buy something.

    Next up you should do a comparison of the software side of this: Beyond TV, Myth TV, Windows MCE, Chris TV, etc. How about a comparison of video capture and editing software also. I guess Anand's reviews mostly software, but maybe some other site will pick up this idea. I'm having a great time with Beyond TV btw.

    Reply
  • bupkus - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    kjohnson,
    Perhaps you'd be happier in Red China where ideology police WATCH YOU!
    Reply
  • leaglebob2 - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    How can you do a video review and post captured pictures without stating what the capture parameters were? ((of the video stream--not the stills))

    BTW==what were they?

    And assumng capturing was done "at the best settings" how about a review at the lower resolutions for those of us who record talk shows?

    You did all that work, and then stopped short.

    Thanks///bobbo.
    Reply
  • Tiorapatea - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    Oops, sorry, triple post. Reply
  • Tiorapatea - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    "That all changed when Microsoft released Windows XP Media Center Edition. Bringing the first true 10-foot UI to the PC..."

    Whilst I don't generally like to nitpick too much, I do find the lack of attention given on this site to Linux solutions a bit puzzling. Linux is really not that hard to get going, particularly for enthusiasts. And Anandtech does, I believe, aim to cater for the enthusiast.
    Reply

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