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Turn your PC into a television and a video recorder with these two video capture cards from Miro and Hauppauge, and whilst you're at it, take a look at a new PC-friendly indoor TV aerial…



There's something vaguely disturbing about watching television programmes on a PC monitor screen. It feels like a dreadful mis-use of computer resources and a sure-fire time-waster but what the hey… There must be times when you want catch up on your favourite soap, or the family is monopolising main living room TV. The two devices we're looking at here -- Win TV from Hauppauge and Miro PCTV -- even have a number of desktop video applications you could use to justify their purchase and they're both a lot cheaper than a small-screen colour TV.


WinTV is the more sophisticated of the two, the key differentiating feature is NICAM stereo TV sound, it also comes with a larger assortment of bundled software but the core facilities are roughly the same. Both Win TV and PCTV are designed to run on a Pentium PC, 90MHz -- preferably a lot faster -- under Windows 95 (and Windows NT in the case of PCTV). The plug-in cards occupy a spare PCI slot on the motherboard and require an external TV aerial plus a cable connection to the soundcard. Both cards have external audio and composite video inputs, PCTV also has an S-Video input as well and to round off the similarities, they use the same Booktree BT848 video decoder and what appears to be identical tuner modules. If you shop around you can find WinTV selling for £78 and PCTV for around £57.


We decided to be bold and install the modules on Windows 98 PCs -- big mistake! Whether or not Win 98 was entirely to blame or not we still can't be sure but it was a nightmare. The only good news is that we got them both to work, eventually… It's also worth pointing out that both cards have serious compatibility problems with some video cards and a handful of older Pentium motherboards, the list is quite long so do check beforehand. It's a good idea to pay a visit to the respective company's web sites beforehand, to investigate the latest driver updates or parches, and there's a handy test program on the Hauppauge site, that will tell you if your video card is up to the job.    


WinTV proved to be the most difficult, it managed to repeatedly lock up one testbed PC (Mesh 233 Pentium II with 64Mb RAM) before unexpectedly slipping into the installation routine and loading correctly. Both modules refused point-blank to run on an otherwise blameless and unremarkable P133 machine; despite several calls to both company's Helplines the problem was never resolved, though the motherboard was the prime suspect.   


Once WinTV decided to co-operate it took around twenty minutes to install most of which was taken up by the suite of applications that includes Asymetrix Video Producer AVI editing software. If you haven't already got it the CD-ROM loads up Internet Explorer 4, a snapshot capture utility, Intel Intercast viewer and the teletext decoder. PCTV only takes about ten minutes to install, in addition to the TV display you get a teletext decoder, moving video capture program and a set of TWAIN drivers


TV set-up is fully automatic in both cases. The tuners search through the cable and broadcast bands, storing each station as they go. Channel numbers and names can be easily reassigned if required. The TV screens can be sized to suit, and the displays include simple to understand toolbars, containing the most frequently used channel, picture and sound controls. Of the two WinTV is the more comprehensive, though it does take up a little more screen space.


Teletext operation is fairly painless too. The decoders support the usual display features you'll find on a regular TV, though neither has the more recent fastext functions, which speed up page access. The WinTV decoder additionally has DDE (dynamic data exchange) that allows text data -- stockmarket prices etc., to be directly imported into applications such as MS Word and Excel.    


Capturing a still image from the TV tuner or an external source takes no more than a single mouse or keyboard button click. WinTV copies a 24-bit Windows .DIB file to the clipboard where it can be pasted and used as required. PCTV saves the frozen image as a .BMP file.


The same basic options are available for moving video; images can come from the TV tuner or an external source, such as a VCR or camcorder. A utility called WinTV Capture is included on the Hauppauge CD-ROM and used to store moving video as AVI files; audio can be recorded at the same time. Image size and frame rate are adjustable (160 x 120 or 320 x 240 up to 25 fps), this will eat up between 26 to 104Mbytes for every minute of video, depending on the settings  (more if audio is recorded as well). Once on disc recorded video can then be edited using the Digital Video Producer program, also included on the CD-ROM.  


PCTV comes with a simple frame and AVI video clip capture program called VidCon32, this has a slightly wider range of video capture options, (up to 768 x 576 pixels), though inevitably quality and refresh rate are severely compromised at the higher resolution settings. Needless to say it works best at more modest settings, such as 320 x 240 at 25 fps.



There's little to choose between them when it comes to TV picture quality, which is hardly surprising considering they're based on the same key components. Inset quarter and half-sized TV screens look remarkably good with bright vibrant colours and fluid motion. Monitor screens have a significantly finer dot-pitch compared with normal TV picture tubes and that, combined with a faster PC display refresh rate, produces a crisp, sharply defined image.


In both cases a full screen display creates some slight motion artefacts but they're not enough to be distracting or a problem during normal TV viewing. Captured off-air TV still images look excellent, though bear in mind a lot depends on the quality of the source signal. Within their limitations the moving video recording facilities on these two devices are fine for creating brief multimedia clips; the editing program supplied with WinTV is quite sophisticated and reasonably easy to use. The S-Video input on PCTV allows the card to be connected to a wider range of devices. Our tests, which involved copying from Hi8 and DVC camcorders, suggest that Y/C information is converted to composite video at a fairly early stage in the analogue processing mill so it has little or no impact on the quality of the finished recording.


Mono sound from the Miro card is up to normal portable TV standards and likely to exceed the capabilities of most PC speakers. NICAM stereo from WinTV suffers a similar fate at the hands of most PC sound systems though the additional spatial information is noticeable when the speakers are more than a couple of feet apart.



If all you want is to be able to watch TV on your PC monitor then the Miro PCTV has got everything you're likely to want or need and at less than £60 it's pretty good value. WinTV takes the business of TV on a PC several stages further; if your PC has decent speakers the stereo sound is a definite bonus and the extra teletext facilities might come in handy if you have need for various kinds of data. However, WinTV really starts to pay off if you have any interest in creating and editing AVI video clips, in which case the extra £20 will be money well spent.  






£78 (street price inc.VAT)*



IBM PC-Compatible Pentium 90 or faster, Windows 95, VGA card (see text), free PCI slot, CD-ROM & sound card



125 channel TV/Cable tuner with external AV input, image capture up to 1600 x 1200, AVI video capture (AVI editing software included), NICAM stereo sound, teletext


Hauppauge UK, telephone 0171-378 7309




£58 (street price inc. VAT)*



IBM PC-Compatible Pentium 90 or faster, Windows 95, VGA card (see text), free PCI slot, CD-ROM & sound card



TV/Cable tuner with external AV input, image capture, AVI video capture (AVI editing software included), teletext


* source Dabs Direct




Whilst we were reviewing the two TV capture cards we took the opportunity to try out another gadget that turned up at the CV offices recently. The Rovic 'Intenna' is a cunningly designed indoor TV aerial, built inside a 38cm square flat plastic sheet only 3 millimetres thick. The idea is you can hide it behind shelves, pictures or photographs, or even use as a picture holder. The front of the device has a transparent pocket into which you can slip a photograph.


The antenna can be used on its own in a good signal area, or the signal can be boosted using the supplied amplifier module, which comes with its own plug-in mains adaptor. In spite of the flat construction it is not as directional as you might think, though it pays to move it around a bit, to find the best position. We tried our sample head to head with a normal set-top aerial, with and without the booster. The on-screen performance was at least as good as the conventional aerial at our test location (South London) without the booster. With the amplifier connected there was a small but just noticeable decrease in noise on BBC2, which suggests that it should perform well in marginal signal areas, where you can just about get away with an indoor aerial.


Intenna has one another PC-related plus. It makes a damn fine giant mouse-mat, and you can easily customise it by slipping a photograph or two into the plastic sleeve.  



ã R. Maybury 1998 0209




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