Saturday, October 29, 2011

PCI TV tuner card review

TV tuner cards
My father requested me to digitally record a tv show for him recently.  I don't have a PVR, so my only option was to use an analog TV tuner card on the analog RCA-outs of the digital Telus Optik tuner box.

I used an ATI TV Wonder PCI card extensively about five to fifteen years ago, and it worked well.  However, my brother left me two other tuner cards, both newer than my ATI card.  I did try them in the past, but had the bare cards only, without any drivers or identification on the cards themselves (other than the chipset).  I had no success in getting them to work.

Over the years, I eventually found the boxing and drivers, but didn't have a chance to try it out till now.  Here are my findings (which won't be too useful to anybody out there now, unless someone is trying to get old hardware to work)
Manufactured: 1999
Software: MMC, version 7.9 (newer versions would not properly redraw the video overlay if, for instance, the window were resized).  Also, there'd be odd problems with the record button not showing up.  7.9 is the newest stable version I could get to work.  Features like video-shifting, while present, do not work or could cause the computer to crash.
Driver: tvw-pci-ve-driver-1-11-0-0.exe
Scheduling: Scheduling programs to either watch or record has always been reliable.
Recording options: Once recording, can set a time or duration when it will stop

Manufactured: 2000
Software: a barebones tv watching and recording software.  No keyboard support.
Driver: On the driver CD are Win2k drivers, which will work with XP.  Caveats: it will greedily use the ATI drivers, which will only provide composite (RCA) and svideo inputs; the tuner itself will be unavailable.  I was using a Windows XP box that I'm going to reghost after this testing, so I made frequent use of System Restore to roll back the system state to prior my ATI driver installations.  Only then could I point the driver search to the CD.
I searched all around the internet for actual working drivers.  It uses a bt878 chipset, which is also what ATI uses, but the generic bt878 drivers I found online don't seem to do the job.
Even after I got the device manager to stop showing yellow exclamation marks, however, I still couldn't get any audio out of this card.  Most PCI tv cards don't provide audio directly to the system; rather, they pass it to the sound card.  With the ATI card, audio passed in through the CD input to the system.  With this card, there's no internal connector, so one must use a 3.5" audio cable to connect the audio-out jack to the line-in jack of the video card.  A bit clumsy, and in this case, not working at all.  There was simply no audio-out, regardless of the drivers I used, regardless of whether I used the 3DeMON TV software or the ATI software (which worked as well since the chipset is similar).
Scheduling: none
Recording options: the TV viewing software sucked so much I didn't bother trying to record.

Leadtek WinFast 2000
Manufactured: 2003
Software: probably the best looking software.  The best feature was the ability to record in whatever aspect ratio was specified.  For instance, if 16:9 was specified, the resulting video would appear in 16:9 (as viewed in VLC).  ATI's would insist on recording the video letterboxed.  The software seems generic enough to work with the ATI hardware.
Driver: I found this on the internet years ago.  I don't know where you'd find it now.
Recording options: When recording, also has ability to specify how much longer to record for, and whether to shut down the computer when down recording.  The other big plus is time-shifting, which allows you to pause the live program you might be watching, and return to it later (and skip commercials)

The one caveat when recording from the Optik box (from any of these inputs) is that Optik will reset the aspect ratio to 4:3 when it detects an HDMI connection (which happens when you switch your TV to the HDMI input).  This isn't terrible - it's just that the picture quality would be squished in sending to the TV card.  One needs to navigate the Optik menus to switch back to 16:9 aspect ratio.

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