Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
Compro Australia VideoMate E800
- It can power-up a PC to initiate a recording; includes composite, S-Video and Component inputs; suitable for slimline cases
- Time-shift not enabled by default, ComproDTV 3 software is hard to use in full-screen mode, the 'straight-to-disc' feature is only available when the bundled Ulead software is also installed
Software imperfections aside, the E800 is a functional card with good hybrid functionality, and it can boot up your PC to initiate a recording.
Price$ 151.80 (AUD)
The E800 is Compro's PCI Express x1-based hybrid TV tuner. It's easy to install, has plenty of features, but its software still has many of the same quirks we've seen before.
For anyone who's building a modern desktop PC or media centre, the E800 is a good alternative to an external USB-based digital TV tuner. It's a half-height card, which means it will fit into a slimline chassis (a half-height bracket is provided in the package) and it has the ability to switch on your PC to initiate a recording.
It's a single tuner device that will allow you to watch analogue or digital TV signals (but not both simultaneously) through its ComproDTV 3 software. This software is easy enough to use, but it's not perfect.
When in full-screen mode, the menu panel is difficult to use, with the mouse pointer disappearing from sight as you move it across the menu, or if you try to use the right-click menu. It's much easier to use the remote control while the program is in full-screen mode, and Compro supplies an infrared remote with a receiver that plugs into the card's bracket.
Recording programs is easy; you can either set-up a scheduled recording, or invoke a manual one, and a little drop-down arrow on the menu panel allows you to record either the current sub-channel you are watching, or the entire transport stream. This will be handy in the unlikely event that a broadcaster's HD and SD channels have programs you want to watch in the same timeslot. Furthermore, there's a picture-by-picture feature that displays all the sub-channels of a particular channel. This may be handy if broadcasters choose to air a sporting event on one of their channels, and different angles or statistics on their other sub-channels.
Time-shifting is supported by ComproDTV 3, but it's not enabled by default. Each time you start the program you have to remember to enable it. The default buffer is 10 minutes, but this can be changed in the program's settings. While time-shifting is enabled, you won't be able to change channels.
As for the card's performance, it took three scans before it could find all the channels in the Sydney metropolitan area. First it found everything except SBS, then it found SBS but lost ABC; the third time was a charm as it found all available channels. There's a relatively easy-to-use 'favourites' list, so you can weed out all the channels you'll never watch, and channel changes take about one second.
Picture quality was good for the most part, but a little pale on our high-definition Samsung 275T monitor. High-definition and standard-definition channels played smoothly and clearly and they consumed approximately 18 and 8 per cent of the Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 CPU-based PC's processing power, respectively. The signal was strong enough so that we didn't experience too many stutters, but when we did, it didn't affect the audio and video synchronisation.
If you listen to the radio, you'll appreciate the built-in FM tuner. Its interface is clunky, the frequency changes are very slow and it's not easy to access presets, but you'll be able to record your favourite programs directly as MP3 files.
For grabbing video off a VCR, the card is equipped with composite and S-Video input facilities and if you decide to leave your VCR connected permanently, you can switch sources at the touch of a button to watch videos whenever you want. It even has a Component input facility, so you can connect a high-definition console, for example.
One feature that we couldn't initially find when using the latest version of DTV 3 is 'straight-to-disc'. It only showed up once we installed the bundled Ulead DVD MovieFactory software. This feature allows digital TV to be recorded directly to DVD, which is useful if you want to watch something through your DVD player and TV, away from your PC.
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