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Need help buying a new tuner card

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    Need help buying a new tuner card


    Since my ATI Radeon X1800XL All-In-Wonder suddenly died yesterday, I've decided to ditch the all-in-one concept, and get a separate graphic card and TV tuner card. For the latter, I could really use some suggestions.

    Here are my details / needs:

    Country - USA (NTSC)

    Computer speed - Pentium dual-core running at 3GHz.

    Input type: Cable / Analog

    Primary usage:

    1) Watching TV. I'll have a VCR connected to it, and when I want to record something I'll use the card to display the VCR interface, but the VCR will do the actual recording onto old-fashioned magnetic tape.

    2) Occasionally recording TV video to the drive, but only when I manually initiate the recording. If a card has PVR functionality, recording everything by default, I must have a way to shut off that functinality. I don't want ANY video recorded to the hard drive unless I explicitly tell it to do so.

    3) Occasionally recording video to the hard drive from a camcorder to the hard drive using S-video input and standard audio. Sometimes I'll record from the VCR using standard composite.

    4) Required Inputs - Coaxial cable, composite, S-Video

    Things I have NO NEED FOR:

    1) PVR - My computer is not on 24/7, and I will not be using the card to record TV video to the hard drive regularly.

    2) High def, HDMI - No need for it.

    3) Digital cable - I subscribe to analog only and have no need for digital compatibility.

    4) Radio support - No need for it.

    5) Remote control - If I'm watching TV on my computer, I can reach the keyboard just fine. No need for a remote.

    Things I like, but could manage without:

    1) The ATI AIW tuner had a nice, clean interface. Nice clean interfaces are good.

    2) Hardware picture scrubbing. My cable television image quality is good; not great. The quality improved significantly when I set the AIW to "Composite" and watched the channels through the VCR. If that functionality, or something similar was implemented in the tuner card itself, that would be great.

    3) The ATI AIW also supported alpha-blending transparency effects, and the ability to display video as the desktop background. Neat tricks, and I wouldn't mind having that functionality in my new card. But it's not critical.

    4) External connector box. Very convenient. The ATI connector box allowed me to plug in devices as needed without going behind the computer.

    5) Known brands. I had a Compro once. I was happy with it, but they offered poor support, and virtually no one else had one.

    Budget: Around $100 bucks(US), but I could go a bit higher for a quality card.
    "The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives of infidels."

    - Robert Ingersoll (1833 - 1899)


    I'm on my second AIW card, and have found the picture quality to be a bit better than my first tuner card -- a Pinnacle PCTV Pro.

    On the whole I've been happy with my AIW tuner, but I've stopped updating the software because of the drivers and the forced PVR on with the software.

    Even so, I would definately consider a card based on ATI's Theatre 650 chip. I'm not sure how much the software has improved since I first took a look though, others would have to comment on that.

    The only other alternative I would consider is something from Hauppage. They have more than a few products that would interest you, and they've been around a while (a known name). Availablility on these shouldn't be a problem. I'd almost say that you should lean more to this side.

    Have fun choosing! Ciao.


      Djinn, for Vista you need an IR Blaster type device in order for Vista’s Media Center to record from an external connection like S-Vid... at least right now. That might change, ATI might provide media software, &/or TV apps might be released that don’t focus on PVR, but it’s something that you might want to consider depending on how long you plan on using the card, if you’re planning on Vista etc.

      While you don’t list HD as something you want, you might want to consider over-the-air broadcast HDTV, which is very nice for viewing – *IF* the channels available in your location are something you’d normally watch, & IF you have a place for the antennae. Antennae web will give you a good idea of what you can physically receive, & the Titan TV site will show you what’s broadcast. Where I live some of the sports coverage looks amazing, & my wife physically takes over my PC when her evening shows are on.

      RE: Cable... Digital cable is nice for the premium channels, but otherwise in my experience there’s no difference really for everything else – in fact it introduces drop outs that can actually make viewing worse. Analog or digital, I haven’t noticed any good filtering with either an AIW or a TV Wonder 650 [the latter is often rated with the best filtering in reviews], and I personally wonder how possible it is inside a PC’s case. If filtering is really important to you, you might want to check out external devices.

      I bought a Panasonic DMR-ES15 DVD recorder to help in transferring a large collection of VHS tapes; the filtering is remarkable. I’d imagine that since capture to hdd is not your primary concern, an external device could work really well.

      If there’s a weak area it’s software with emphasis just on viewing... There are quite a few PVR &/or network streaming/sharing programs, many for free. Cyberlink has software available – ATI uses one version for their CMC – but the focus is HTPC. Mainconcept has some products available I think. I’ve haven’t really looked at any of the WinTV software – in the past it’s seemed simplistic. There are several capture apps, many for free. ATI’s MMC was nice (I thought ideal really) but it’s no longer being developed as far as most can tell. [Turning off constant recording with a registry entry is possible for some of last year’s versions.]

      Personally I need CC support, which limits my choices considerably... I think that the Vista Media Center will be ideal for viewing with my 650, comes closest to the MMC I’ve been using for years, and I’m slowly migrating from XP Pro as I solve (or get used to) the glitches.

      Branding... As far as branding goes, some hardware is near impossible to get drivers for, and at some point as windows gets patched you need newer drivers. OTOH a name brand doesn’t mean that the drivers will work (I’ve had problems with recent XP drivers for my 650, & having a new release every month just raises false hope). Over the last decade & a half [TV] video device drivers have often been the bane of my existence. The safest route is hardware that uses a Very common chipset (i.e. the BT series), but the price is often mediocre performance.


        As it happens, I took the cheapest possible route. Whenever I get a new computer, the hand-me-down always goes to my wife. And as I recalled, that computer was equipped with an X800xl, and a separate tuner card. So after confirming that she almost never used the tuner card, I simply took it for my current machine.

        It's not bad... It's a Compro VideoMate Ultra, and while they're not widely available, they boast remarkable video quality. The picture isn't just better than on my AIW card; it's better than our primary television (especially on lower-numbered channels), and I can even fine-tune the scrubbing parameters for individual channels, down to Y/C separation.
        "The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives of infidels."

        - Robert Ingersoll (1833 - 1899)