Introduction

It seems that now more than ever people are using their computers for a much wider variety of applications than in the past. For example, home theater systems are being centered more around computers now because of the versatility these systems offer. The level of quality being offered with computer home theaters is approaching - and in some cases surpassing - that of stand-alone components, and having one at the center of a home theater setup is looking more and more attractive for many users.

While your parents or grandparents may be more comfortable dealing with more traditional separate audio and video components, most people who are able to navigate around their computers well enough wouldn't have much trouble getting a home theater setup on it. There is a wide variety of hardware and software out there to make this easier for us, and at the core of a PC setup like this would have to be the video card, sound card, and a TV tuner card. This article will focus on the last of those components.

There are many TV tuner cards available right now, and we'll be focusing on one in particular from NVIDIA for this review. We have previously reviewed the Hauppauge PVR-250 and ATI Theater 550, and we concluded that those two cards are the best quality analog tuners at present. (We also provided a look at the Theater 550 compared with a couple HDTV options, and that article provides some insight on how many of us currently view the HTPC market.) In the past, ATI has been the one to provide these kinds of parts among the graphics chip makers, and they are still ahead of NVIDIA in this area. However, with the release of the DualTV MCE tuner card, NVIDIA takes a step forward in this department. Hauppauge has also been a staple in this market, but as we feel they basically offer equivalent quality to the ATI Theater 550, we will only be including the ATI card in this article.

TV and movie recording services like TiVo and other DVRs are popular right now, but many people find their subscription fees and recording limitations undesirable. Luckily, there is an alternative and more people are beginning to see the benefits of a personal computer TV tuner/recorder for recording and watching their favorite shows.

We'll be looking closely at the NVIDIA DualTV MCE and it's features, as well as comparing it to a couple of other TV tuner solutions available in competition with this card. ATI's Theater 550 Pro has been around for a while and is similar to the DualTV MCE as a stand-alone TV tuner card. Also, while not quite as similar, ATI's All-In-Wonder line of cards offer TV tuning and graphics acceleration in one package and we'll look at the pros and cons of a solution like this as opposed to the DualTV MCE. So first let's take a look at the hardware.

The Card
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  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    One more reason to use Firefox. :) Seriously - on most sites and forums (including this one), you don't lose the typed text when stuff like that happens. My suggestion if you want to use IE is to always copy the entire post when you're done, just in case. If it's a short post, no problem, but if you just typed a couple long paragraphs you probably want to exercise a bit of caution.

    Honestly, I'm not sure why you get timeouts for stuff like that (OMG - he hasn't posted in 15 minutes! Better timeout...), but it happens on most/all other forums I've been to as well.
    Reply
  • Trisped - Sunday, May 21, 2006 - link

    I get that error hitting reply and post comment about 50% of the time. 15 min time out seems posible, but it wouldn't make sense that I log in, open a bunch of windows, read for 15 min, try to post a reply, refresh, then post, read the nest new item, and have to refresh the browser again.

    For me it isn't such a big deal, as any important post is copied to the clip board first anyways.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    Anandtech's articles are worse than Tom's Hardware, these days. To compare the tuner quality they use completely different video sources! This is just too stupid to be true. It's like comparing two cars by driving one on a racing track and the other in a city, and then saying "the car driven in the city seems to be a bit slower". DUH!

    Anandtech's articles about RAID and storage have been bad for a long time, but at least the graphics / video articles used to have some vague credibility. This one really is just something to fill the space between the ads...

    Not worth the bandwidth.
    Reply
  • goinginstyle - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Anandtech's articles about RAID and storage have been bad for a long time, but at least the graphics / video articles used to have some vague credibility.


    A lot of us in the office thought the Seagate review yesterday was very good and a lot better than what was published in the past. It certainly was better than any review on web so far about the 750GB drive with most of the sites completely missing the sata150 jumper issue and not even describing perpendicular recording. It was nice to see benchmarks besides hdtach and then declaring how fast a drive is because of burst speeds. The RAID 0 could have been dropped but at least they tried to shut some of us up about not having it. The issue with the video cards has been the lack of reviews. The Oblivion video card article was actually one of the best around but we need more like it. The motherboard section has been steady and strong lately. I do not think Tom's is better in that case at all.


    As for this article-
    The lack of the same images for comparison was a definite error, probably the biggest one that was made or could be made.
    CPU utilization needed to be included along with a Happauge card.
    TV antenna was not tested nor display out to a monitor or HD capable set.
    FM tuner was not really mentioned or tested.
    I am probably way off base on this one but does PureVideo work with this card for playback from external sources?

    Was the article for beginners? It probably was and as such except for the error in image comparisons it was actually okay. Nobody has mentioned it yet but NVIDIA seems to have produced a nice card. It would be nice to see it put to more use and maybe they will come back and update this review.

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    In regards to the comments about the lack of depth on this review, we've had two reviews in the past that looked at the Theater 550 card, with http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2393">one of those reviews comparing it to a Hauppauge card. Our conclusion in that review, which was done almost a year ago, was that the Hauppauge and ATI cards are the best two analog tuner cards on the market. The conclusion is that they basically are equivalent in terms of quality. What that means is that any new review only needs to really compared to one of those cards, and if quality is pretty much equal, everything is good.

    The NVIDIA DualTV MCE is indeed equivalent to the ATI card. The advantage is that it has dual tuners, which is something you can't get from ATI, but of course the Hauppauge PVR-500 offers that feature as well. There are no high-quality analog TV tuners that will also do HDTV, so I personally find it difficult to do a lengthy article dwelling on the best analog tuners when at best all of them are vastly inferior to HDTV. As I mentioned in my http://www.anandtech.com/multimedia/showdoc.aspx?i...">HTPC – TV Tuner Reviews article, getting the best of both worlds (especially in areas that have poor OTA reception) is a difficult and frustrating task.

    If you only need one TV tuner, getting an ATI Theater 550 or a Hauppauge PVR-150/250/350 is a good idea. If you want to get a dual tuner setup, you can either purchased two of the above cards, or go with the NVIDIA DualTV or Hauppauge PVR-500. All of them are very similar in terms of performance and functionality. All of them are hardware-based encoders (as far as I'm aware), so CPU usage should stay below 10%, perhaps 25% if you were recording two channels at once.

    Hopefully that clarifies things a bit. I personally am still waiting for the ideal TV tuner card, but I'm really not sure such a thing exists. I want dual tuners, analog and HDTV support, high-quality analog encoding, support for QAM decoding, the option to get the card in either PCI or PCI express format, and CableCARD support as well. I'm quite sure that such a card does not exist, and in fact it may never exist. :-(
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    One thing I don't like seeing is that 99% of the time I can judge the quality I'm about to read by just looking at the author's name. I won't say who is good and who isn't, but it really suggest poor oversight and/or quality control. I know some authors will write better or have more vision for the article, but that would be true anywhere. At Gamespot.com they have reviews by like a dozen authors, but they almost all come out the same because they conform to a specific standard. At AT it seems obvious that different authors have widly varying levels of quality, and noone proof-reads the articles and tells the authors that they need to put in some more work.

    With other products (video cards) I can see the urge to have the review up fast so the readers don't rush to other sites, but this product isn't exactly the highest profile. I actually laughed out loud when I saw the image quality comparison shots were from DIFFERENT IMAGES.
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    Actually, I thought the article was quite good. IMO the problem is that the article was written for the wrong audience. There are the HTPC-nuts like myself who really research their buying decisions and tweak their software to make it work just so, and then there are the quickie-$29-tuner people who expect an all-in-one solution that just works. I think the article was written for the latter - hence the lack of in-depth comparisons and the confusion about lack of bundled software. Reply
  • mindless1 - Saturday, May 20, 2006 - link

    Don't you have that a little backwards? The people who buy the expensive cards are generally those who do not tweak much of anything, because they're accepting the default hardware encoding, hardware that is wasted if someone doesn't want to do one-pass straight to MPEG2. It is those who buy the expensive card that want to not think about it, to just "have it work".

    Those buying the other cards, some are just cheapskates, others have legitimate rationality that it's a bit silly to pay for mid-quality hardware encoding unless you ONLY want MPEG2. MPEG2 is becoming a bad choice, if you have a real HTPC. Quality:size worse than MPEG4 and loss too high for editing/re-encoding purposes. It's best if your old standalone DVD player is the playback device.
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Saturday, May 20, 2006 - link

    No, it's not backwards. I'll repeat it. There are people who are interested in spending as little as possible and just stick with whatever bundled TV/PVR app the manufacturer has thrown in, and then there are people who want the best possible experience and are willing to spend a little more time and money to pick out different PVR software, compare cards, swap decoders, and so on. Obviously, that doesn't cover the whole range of users, but it's not supposed to; the contrast is merely there to point out the decidedly different audiences for which this article might have been written.

    And if your logic were true in the general case, you couldn't explain why audiophiles - who are incessant tweakers - will pay upwards of $1,000 for a set of cables. But then again, I don't think anybody can explain that to my satisfaction. ;) In any case, it does happen, so your viewpoint isn't exactly all-encompassing, either.
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Sunday, May 21, 2006 - link

    Ok, so I still disagree. Those who have no idea what they're doing will tend to buy a hardware based card, because they don't KNOW the differences or benefits, they don't realize that if they want a superior result then the $ for a hardware compressor card was wasted money.

    I AM an audiophile and we could go on and on for years about overpriced cables, and it just isn't applicable here (though personally as an audiophile, IF I were to go for premium cotton sleeved/silver cabling, I would make it myself).

    It is true that there are some casual users who don't know a lot about cards and only see the cost, or those that only watch TV for the most part. Then again there are also those with the most experience and will laugh at anyone recording to MPEG2 unless the sole goal was to record it straight to a DVD. BTW I have over a dozen capture cards, though not those in this review and I don't feel I'm missing out.
    Reply

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