Tomorrow's TV Today

As the Government pushes broadcasters to shift from current analog transmissions to a completely digital service by 2008, most free-to-air channels are already broadcast simultaneously in both formats. To avoid being left out, you’ll need either a digital set-top box or a TV with an integrated tuner that supports DVB-t, the terrestrial digital broadcast standard. Alternatively, any of these digital TV (DTV) tuner cards we present here will do the trick.

Although it may seem unfair to be forced into buying new TV equipment, the advantages of the digital format are numerous. It provides better picture quality, for digital signals are practically immune to analog problems such as noise and ghosting — though a weak signal may cause dropped frames and lag. You’ll also get widescreen pictures, better audio, electronic program guides, high-definition TV (HDTV) and digital radio content, plus the potential for interactive TV, although the latter requires an uplink via modem or cable. It’s also worth noting that HDTV broadcasts — which typically use progressive frames instead of interlaced fields — are pretty scarce; digital broadcasters are required to produce only 1040 hours of high-definition content per year.

VisionPlus VisionDTV Ter

The VisionDTV Ter might be attractive to people looking for an inexpensive, no-frills product. The box contains the usual hardware — PCI tuner card, remote control and infrared sensor — plus software for TV viewing, timeshift and program recording.

If you have a graphics card with hardware DXVA support (Microsoft’s DTV decoder API), the VisionDTV Ter can use it to reduce the minimum system requirements to a 500MHz CPU, and free up resources for other tasks you may want to run. According to both the manual and software installation, enabling this feature will break the product’s screen grab function, but we found that this was not the case. However, we did find the VisionDTV Ter a little unpredictable, experiencing one or two system crashes during channel changing.

Price:$199
Distributor: Lako Pacific
Phone: (03) 9852 7400
URL: www.lakopacific.com.au

Hauppauge WinTV NOVA-t

Although the end result is the same, the WinTV NOVA-t gets there a little differently. Instead of using a typical video driver, this card is listed as a network adapter, complete with an assigned private IP address that it uses for the MPEG2 bitstream. This is then decoded by the supplied ShowShifter software, but also adds the potential for streaming DTV across a network — it’s popular with the Linux community for just that reason.

Although some of its icons are a little esoteric, the ShowShifter software is fairly simple to get to grips with, and it offers the usual raft of TV functions: playback, timeshift, record and frame grab. However, with audio jukebox and DVD playback added to the mix, ShowShifter and the WinTV NOVA-t would be an excellent choice if you’re looking for more than just a DTV tuner.

Price: $379
Distributor: New Magic
Phone: (02) 9528 4555
URL:www.newmagic.com.au

DViCO FusionHDTV DVB-T

Of the three DTV tuners here, DViCO’s FusionHDTV DVB-T is the only one to offer more than just the typical DTV functions. With a Conexant CX23881 chipset on board, plus composite and S-video ports at the rear, you can hook up external analog sources like your VCR for video capture straight to your hard disk.

It also has the most flexible display and offers regular options such as cropping and stretching, and you can set the video surface as your desktop. In addition to the standard Microsoft DVXA decoder used by the others, DViCO also provides its own, which further improves the image quality on systems that can handle it (2.4GHz or better).

Price: $249
Distributor: Inventa Australia
Phone: (02) 9518 6100
URL:www.inventa.com.au

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