The Test

Testing TV tuners, especially comparing based on image quality, is a tough thing to do; the main problem is that there's no good test scene that's repeatable across multiple systems.  Testing video capture functionality is easy. Simply play a non-encrypted DVD over and over again and compare image quality - but you can't really tell a TV channel to put its contents on repeat so that we can see how the same scenes look across 6 different TV tuners.

Using something like cable on-demand doesn't really work either because then, you're left using an external tuner to actually get the signal, and simply test, the TV tuner's ability to capture an external signal, not receive and tune a cable channel. 

Luckily, there are two TV channels that are perfectly designed for the task at hand: CNN Headline News and The Weather Channel.  Both of the aforementioned channels repeat their content, usually every half hour, for several hours at a time.  Armed with 6 TV Tuners and a Sunday of nothing to do but watch the same 30 minutes of headlines over and over again, we had our test platform.  Even after doing this, it's still tough to get frame for frame, identical comparisons across the TV tuners. So often times, we'll resort to using different scenes to illustrate strengths and weaknesses of the TV tuners.  Rest assured that our findings came to be after spending quite a bit of time with each one of these tuners. 

CPU utilization wasn't a concern, as all of the tuners ate up less than 7% of our CPU while recording.  Given that you can't really run Windows XP Media Center Edition without a fairly fast processor and that all of the cards compared here today are full hardware MPEG-2 encoders, there's not much to talk about with CPU utilization. 

Index The Platform
POST A COMMENT

61 Comments

View All Comments

  • shplad - Sunday, May 01, 2005 - link

    Hey legalbob2:

    So my theory was right. We all have a bit of "closet geek" in us somewhere, it just takes the right stimuli to bring it out. Didn't know you were perusing these boards these days. What video equipment are you using?

    Watch out for that nasty broadcast flag. Unless Blockhead's brother can help you figure out a way around it. Me, I'm buying my TV tuner cards (to go into my MythTV machine) now before there are any legal issues.

    You should watch out where you post, you never know what kind of crazies your post might attract ;-)

    Madman
    Reply
  • wuhoo - Monday, April 18, 2005 - link

    any laptop tv tuner card reviews? with winodws media center, one could have a mobile dvr w/ laptops Reply
  • gotsmack - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    maybe add in Pinnacle cards for the next review? Reply
  • goinginstyle - Friday, April 21, 2006 - link

    When is the next review? Reply
  • Sidescraper - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    The Haupauge card pictured is nothing like the card I have. Haupauge MCE cards have an FM tuner. The non-MCE cards have an IR remote. The 350 has a MPEG decoder in hardware. See here:
    http://htpcnews.com/main.php?id=pvr_card_id_guide
    Reply
  • Kishkumen - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    #55 - That's correct. If the channels you care about require a cable box and cannot be seen using just your regular TV, then these analog tuners won't do you much good. I have heard of people being able to connect a serial cable to their cable box and use scripts to get their PVR software to change the channel on their cable box or satellite receiver, but that gets complicated. Reply
  • cer1 - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    #49 and #53

    Thanks for the info. In my case I'd be looking for to build a PVR to go with my Comcast Digital Cable signal. If I need to use the cable box to set the channels, then, as I understand it, using one of these cards would not be so useful to me. That is, the purpose is defeated if I can not program the PVR to record specific channels at specific times.

    In this review are the cards getting signal from a cable box or are they being used with an analog signal?
    Reply
  • lapierrem - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    Not sure where you got the 350 being equivalent to the 250. The 350 has a hardware MPEG-2 De-coder, which may be redundant on faster systems, but would be a difference on a lower end MCE system, and the 250/150 don't have it. It's the 150/250 that are pretty much equivalent. Good review though. Reply
  • Kishkumen - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    #48 - I am by no means an expert, but here is what I know about video sources in relation to the cards reviewed here. The cards reviewed here are only analog cards. They cannot take take a digital signal due to the tuners used. They can be used with digital cable, but the term as traditionally used is kind of a misnomer. Typically your cable company will have a basic package that includes a range of unencrypted, analog channels. You will only be able to use the onboard tuners of the various capture cards with these unencrypted, analog channels. After this, a cable company will often have what they term a "digital" package of a range of higher cost premium channels. The "digital" term tends to be kind of confusing. Typically these "digital" channels are taken from analog sources, digitally encrypted and then sent to a cable box which then decryptes the "digital" channel back into analog. The cards reviewed here will can then take that decrypted analog signal and convert it back into digital, but you will not be able to change channels with the capture card itself. You will have to use your cable box for that.

    After this, you have HDTV which is finally a true digital signal in the form of a transport stream. HDTV can be delivered either in high definition if the video is 720p or standard definition if the video is 480p or below. In reality, the transport stream is nothing more than a very high bitrate mpeg2 video. The capture cards reviewed here will not work with such a digital signal because they only have analog tuners.

    In addition to over the air HDTV, cable companies are starting to come out with HDTV cable. They use an encryption scheme called QAM which differs from the transport stream signal delivered over the air. The QAM signal may or may not be encrypted depending on your cable company. If encrypted you will again be required to rent or purchase a cable box to decrypt the signal.

    Anyway, I hope that clarifies things for you as far as source material goes for these cards.
    Reply
  • Crucial - Wednesday, April 13, 2005 - link

    I might have missed it but did the review state what mpeg2 decoder was being used? This makes a big difference in the quality and should have also been tested. I personaly find the PowerDVD decoder to be the best.

    Major disappointment to not see the PVR-150. I have 2 of them in my HTPC along with an HDTV Wonder. I switched to the pvr-150 from ehome wonders after Windows MCE kept losing the ehome wonders requiring a reboot.

    Also why was there a mini review of the Winbook stuff thrown in? It was like a way to generate some ad revenue. I would have rather seen another page describing the difference between the mpeg decoders.

    Overall this article stunk.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now