WORKING ON THE PRINCIPAL that bigger is always better Hauppauge has recently released the WinTV HVR-3000, a PCI TV Tuner card with no less than three tuners built in. This means you can watch and record digital satellite, Freeview digital and analogue cable TV on your PC. For those people out and about, there is also the newly announced Nova-TD USB Dual Channel TV Tuner which comes with two small magnetic based antennae of its own to help maximise your signal while you're on the move.
WinTV HVR-3000 All boxed up
WinTV Nova-TD All boxed up
As these devices are so similar, including the software, we decided to test them together. The HVR-3000 is aimed at the entertainment or home theatre PC, with inputs for an antenna, satellite, S-Video, Line In and the FM aerial. As you would expect the Nova-TD is a lot more compact with only two inputs for the antennae.
Installation of these units is pretty straightforward, although obviously the TVR-3000 is somewhat more complicated because you have to open your PC case to install it and there are a lot more cables to plug in. Once it's all plugged in, Windows will detect the new hardware and you can install the drivers either from the CD or, as we always recommend with new hardware, download the latest drivers from the manufacturers website. The install process does feel rather complicated, particularly in the case of the HVR-3000 as Windows detects a whole host of new devices related to the card. Similarly the software install does seem rather complicated because there are a plethora of potential options to choose from. However if you just let it do its thing you'll be up and running in no time.
WinTV HVR-3000 What you get
WinTV Nova-TD What you get
The one unavoidable, but irritating downside to the HVR-3000 is the amount of cabling it creates. You have to plug in an antenna, a satellite cable, FM radio aerial, IR receiver and potentially an S-Video and Line in cable as well. As we said, this is unavoidable, but still can create a cabling nightmare. Cabling for the Nova-TD is a lot simpler, with just connecting up the two small provided antennae, but of course the functionality is a lot more limited. This seems like a good time to point out one big worry we had with the Nova-TD's antennae, namely that use pretty strong magnets at the base to help you attach them to a surface such as the body of a car or train or something similar. This is all fine and good except that you don't really want to be putting string magnets anywhere near you laptops hard drive or most other electronic devices, which means you'll have to carry them separately, and that could be a serious pain.
Once you're all plugged in and the software is installed it's pretty easy going. The first time you run the WinTV2000 software you're asked if you want to scan for available channels and once that completes you can get to the business of watching TV on your PC. Once you start wanting to utilise some of the other functions like timeshifting or scheduling recordings it can a bit more complicated, but this more down to just getting used to how it all fits together than any inherent problems. Similarly the TVR-3000 can be a problem as you have to make sure you have a good satellite signal and that it's aligned to free-to-air satellites and not pay services.
In full screen TV mode
The picture quality is certainly as good as a TV, and like a TV relies on signal strength and monitor quality to provide the best picture, but assuming your signal strength is good and your monitor is decent then you can expect a good quality of picture from both these devices. We would issue a small word of caution here to make sure you check the minimum requirements. We first attempted to install the Nova-TD on an aging Dell notebook and although it installed just fine the picture and audio was very jerky and completely unwatchable.
As both units have at least two tuners you can watch once channel and record another, which a great plus and both support Digital Terrestrial TV so can get Freeview and digital radio if you're in the right area. Likewise both units support timeshifting so you can pause live TV to pop off and make a cup of tea and then pick up where you left off when you get back.
The remote is identical in both units and is pretty decent. It sits well in your hand and the buttons are well spaced you won't be pushing the wrong button by accident, even if you have thick fingers. The only real problem we had with the remote was that on the HVR-3000 you'll need to make sure that the IR receiver cable that plugs into the PCI card is well placed, which will probably mean sticking it down and that can look aesthetically unpleasing to some people. The Nova-TD has the IR receiver built into the USB stick, which it fine unless you plug straight into a USB port at the back or laptop.
These units did take some setting up to get everything running smoothly, but once we got it up and running and got to grips with all the options both of these make a superb choice if you want TV on your PC. Of course both of these has their pro's and cons and essentially it boils down to what you intend to use it for and where you think you'll be using it most. As part of an HTPC, we would recommend the HVR-3000 simply because it has so many more options available and once installed can be tucked away neatly inside the PC case. But if you're looking for TV on the move then the Nova-TD is an impressive little device and should be able to give you a signal no matter where you are thanks to the use of two antennae, although you may look a little strange on the train climbing over people to set the two aerials suitably far apart. Alternatively you could always read a book. ?
Good quality picture - both
Plenty of input options - HVR-3000
Very portable - Nova-TD
Can take some fiddling to get it set up and working smoothly
Lots of cables everywhere