Matrox Marvel G450 eTV
Performance information on this card can be found here.
As its name suggests, the G450 eTV is the TV tuner version of Matrox's G450 video card. The card is identical to the non-TV version, as both contain the same G450 chip, 32MB of DDR memory, and the ability to "dual head" to a TV (not to a second monitor, however). The card uses the same Philips TV tuner module found on the other products. Audio decoding is provided by a Micronas MSP3440G chip. Video decoding is handled by a Samsung S5D0127X chip which includes a closed caption decoder.
Matrox has also been in the TV tuner market for quite some time, meaning that they have had the opportunity to refine their proprietary PC-VCR software. Like the other TV tuner solutions, starting PC-VCR brought up a wizard that automatically scanned available channels and added only those that received video.
The controls for PC-VCR appear to the left of the main TV screen and are conveniently laid out in a remote fashion. Channels could be selected by using the mouse to click the appropriate buttons and the channels could easily be surfed using the channel up and channel down buttons. Changing a channel displayed the channel number as well as station call sign (if manually entered) in the upper right side of the screen. The software can also decode closed caption information which is displayed on two black lines at the bottom of the live TV image. A log of the closed caption information can be saved to a text document if desired.
The TV image can only be set to .5x, 1x, or 2x of original size, as well as full screen. Aspect ratio can be altered to a few different settings (traditional and wide screen) but can not be defined by the user. This prevented us from sizing the window to our liking but also prevented image stretching or skewing as a result of an altered aspect ratio.
A button on the bottom left of the on-screen remote control provided a scan feature that displays 36 channels at once in a tiled fashion. Snapshots are taken of the channel and displayed on the screen until updated. This allowed for a quick glance of what was on each channel at the current time.
Still images of live TV can be saved by taking a "video snapshot", accessible via the camera icon on the on-screen remote. Images are captured in a JPEG format of the user's specification and saved to the My Documents directory of the computer. Upon taking a snapshot, the live TV image freezes momentarily and name of the saved image is displayed over the TV. This disappears a few seconds later, replaced by the normal viewing screen again.
Video from live TV can be recorded by clicking on the record icon. Videos can be saved in MPEG format under a variety of compression settings and resolutions. Once the record button is pressed, the stream is written to disk until it is stopped or available disk space is used up. There is also a timer that can be set to automatically record a specific channel at a certain time. This is useful when recording shows while out.
Also present was a picture in picture function, but we could not get this feature to work. Typically a second source is needed to provide a picture in picture display, so perhaps this function works when an external DVD player or VCR is hooked up, but it does not work in pure cable mode.
We were pleased with the time shifting ability built into the PC-VCR software. Time shifting is enabled by clicking on the stopwatch icon on the on-screen remote. This brings up the time shifting progress bar and enables time shifting Here TV can be paused, fast forwarded, or rewound using the controls on the on-screen remote. The status bar shows current position in time (red bar), already viewed recorded information (yellow area) and buffered video (green area). Start time and current time are both displayed on the bar as well. The knob at the bottom of the on-screen remote acts as a fast forward / rewind button when scrolled forwards and backwards.
Overall the time shifting software seemed to work rather well. There was no skipping or other problems while time shifting live TV. We did encounter a crash when time shifting for an extended period of time and then attempting to run another program.