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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  • nullpointerus - Sunday, May 21, 2006 - link

    I think we're digressing. There are cards made and marketed to run cheapo bundled PVR apps, and there are people who buy and use those cheapo apps. And that's the audience I think this article was written for - in contrast to the more in-depth review Anandtech readers expected. That's as simple as I can make it. Reply
  • SaidiaDude - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    No ATSC support (HDTV over the air)? Mpeg4? Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    A TV Tuner card is a nice addition to any multimedia PC, and the NVIDIA DualTV MCE is a cut above most tuners because of its ability to record two sources at once.


    Yes...IF you purchase MCE. That locks me into a solution I don't want. What if I want to use SageTV, BeyondTV, Meedio, or (my personal favorite as its closed-source-but-free) GB-PVR? I could do this with one Hauppauge WinTV PVR-500, or I could buy two WinTV PVR-150's. It appears I can't do it with one of these cards, meaning I'm possibly stuck facing Microsoft DRM, a limited choice.

    EDIT: I finally noticed at the end of your article that this can be used with other solutions. This is very unclear; do I still need Windows MCE even with SageTV/BeyondTV? Or can I get the drivers to work with XP Pro? You're running a site dedicated to enthusiasts, not novices; we want to know these things up front, not on the last page.

    Your screenshots for each tuner were of different images, making it hard to make a true analysis of quality. I know it makes the article look pretty, but it hurts the comparison. And while you posted the power draw of these cards, you said nothing of CPU usage. I know all the cards have hardware encoders, but it's certainly possible that one might do a better job than the other. When I had a HTPC, I built it on a low-temperature low-budget CPU (Celeron 1.3GHz) and relied on the card to do the work for me (Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150), and it worked. I'm sure many would like to do the same (though maybe slightly higher-end than mine).

    Side note: You may not know this by the way, but many people with TiVo have found hacks that let them do the things you say are not possible with a TiVo. I don't have one myself, but I can use my ReplayTV to transfer shows to a PC and archive them, and/or convert them to DVD with software. There are plenty of sites showing how to do this for serious DVR users, like the ones who read Anandtech. After all, you're talking about a part that someone can build a HTPC with; entry-level users will buy a pre-made Media Center PC, or a DVR, and leave it at that.
    Reply
  • jelifah - Saturday, May 20, 2006 - link

    From the article:
    quote:

    You can also burn the completed content to a DVD if you so choose. This is something that is just not possible with a service like TiVo.


    That's an outright lie. If you install TiVO Desktop on your computer you can pull shows from your TiVO to your computer AND you can place mpeg videos from your computer on to your TiVO.

    Once you have the .tivo file on your computer you can watch them for free, or purchase Sonic DVD and burn them to DVD. Or just get a simple 'hack' that converts them to mpeg.

    I'm not trying to be harsh, but to say it's "just not possible" is utter fallacy. And to even act like it's complicated would still be stretching the truth.
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Saturday, May 20, 2006 - link

    Um...society seems to have forgotten this at the moment, but for something to be a lie, it has to be a falsehood AND known as such by the teller. That's offensive, so I would suggest that you just resign yourself to saying, "That's not true," instead of saying, "That's an outright lie."

    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=lie">http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=lie

    As much as we like them, AT's writers are not omniscient. ;)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 20, 2006 - link

    I've edited this to reflect the intended meaning. You can't edit/record/etc. your TiVo movies without a PC. The standard TiVo + subscription gets you a box that records movies, and that's it. It's nice enough, but given the cost and the added flexibility a PC gives - and you'll be using a PC anyway with TiVo if you want to do anythin extra, right? - if you're interested in editing recordings and saving them to DVDR, it's generally a lot easier to just skip TiVo and go straight to a TV Tuner card. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    Getting screenshots of the same image is rather difficult, unless you want to record a show using some other device (i.e. VCR) and capture that. I agree that different shots could have been used, though. Anyway, BeyondTV and SageTV do work, even though the card isn't advertised for such use. That's one of the odd things about the "DualTV MCE" - why is it MCE? Still, MCE is actually a pretty decent OS. Reply
  • GoatMonkey - Friday, May 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    do I still need Windows MCE even with SageTV/BeyondTV? Or can I get the drivers to work with XP Pro?

    No. I use Beyond TV runs on XP Pro. I don't see any reason that using this card would make any difference. The MCE in the name of some of these cards is just a marketing thing.

    To test I suppose you would really need a recorded video playing back from another computer outputting to coaxial, or have all of the devices installed in different computers side by side and grab screenshots of the same moments in the shows. Plugging a S-video cable into the back and playing a DVD into it might be easier.

    I don't really know which method is best, but the article months ago about a different TV tuner card seemed to have some better comparison screenshots. I don't mean to put down the article's writer though, it was well written, but could have gone into some more details like that. I definitely appreciate coverage of the subject.

    Reply
  • Trisped - Sunday, May 21, 2006 - link

    I think he was asking about the drivers for the card. I know I just built a system for a friend. The mother board came with a Gb lan, but the drivers on the CD wouldn't work for MCE. Called tech support and they said that MCE wasn't supported for most of their boards. I wounder if the reverse is true for this tuner, do they supply drivers that will work in Pro or Home? Reply
  • nullpointerus - Sunday, May 21, 2006 - link

    Well, if you download the drivers, this is what the installer says:

    http://www.uploadfile.info/uploads/395879b307.png">http://www.uploadfile.info/uploads/395879b307.png

    I take it the "or compatible third party application" means that it'd work in plain XP SP2 with SageTV or BeyondTV for example.
    Reply

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