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3/29/2006
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Review: OnAir Solution USB HDTV Creator

As television migrates from analog to digital, consumers also have to upgrade their equipment to be able to view this new, digital, high definition content. This hardware-software combination aims to bring HDTV programming to your PC and laptop.

As the nation’s television broadcasters migrate from analog to digital, consumers also have to upgrade their equipment to be able to view this new, digital, high definition content. The USB HDTV Creator aims to bring this quality programming to your PC, using a fast USB 2.0 connection. With one package, both desktop and laptop users can experience HDTV viewing and recording.

Installation is straightforward. Just like a TV tuner or cable box, the HDTV Creator is first connected to a signal source. The device supports both digital or analog signals, as well as hook ups from either an antenna or cable television. For this test, I hooked up a powered antenna to pull the over the air high definition broadcasts available in my area.

On the PC, the software and appropriate drivers need to be loaded first, before the device is connected. Autumnwave strongly recommends video cards that support DirectX Video Acceleration (DxVA), so it is a good idea to review the specifications on their web site to make sure your card will work happy with it.

The install CD not only includes applications to watch, record, and edit HDTV programming, but also background utilities to handle the included remote control, and a scheduling tool to record shows at a specified time. Rounding out the package is NVidia’s video decoder, as well as Intervideo’s WINDVD Creator, allowing you to transfer your recordings to DVD for later playback.

When first starting the USB HDTV application, I had to let it scan for available channels. I asked it to scan for only digital signals coming over the air. On the first scan, it detect most but not all of the digital channels in my area. When I asked it to rescan, it responded by not being able to find any of the channels. Only after a reboot of the host PC was the device able to finally find and save all channels.

Digital content is amazing. The high definition broadcast is at a native 1280 x 720 resolution, so a full screen view is crystal clear. The aspect ratio is selectable, so you can adjust it to fit your monitor type and preferences. A unique option of having the program play as the desktop background is also available, although in practice it feels like a gimmick rather than a usable feature.

I did run into a couple of quirks during testing. The most significant occurred while channel surfing. Occasionally, if I hopped between channels too quickly, the device would just stop with a “No Signal” message. Unfortunately, the only way to restore the signal was to shut down the application and power cycle the tuner.

The other area of concern is the recording scheduler. In an age of interactive program guides and picking shows to record over the Internet, the manual scheduling included with this tuner feels primitive. A system tray application allows you to pick you channel, time, and duration of a recording, similar to the way most of set the timers on video cassette recorders ten years ago.

All in all, Onair solution’s HDTV Creator would be a nice additional input for an existing multimedia PC or Windows Media Center machine. By itself, the scheduled recording function is way too primitive for my liking, handling program scheduling like the VCR’s of a decade ago. Those looking for a high definition replacement for their Tivo should probably look elsewhere.

The good • High quality reception and playback • Both digital and analog, cable and antenna connections supported

The Bad • Primitive method for scheduling recordings • Occasionally loses digital signal

OnAir Solution USB HDTV Creator, $249 AutumnWave http://www.autumnwave.com

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