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Asus My Cinema-U3000 Mini - Asus My Cinema-U3000 Mini
The first thing I was struck by was the impressive image quality. Freeview is plagued by compression and artefacts, but some tuners are better than others at dealing out quality images and this was one of the better ones. Colours are vibrant and the image looked smooth even when made full screen. This is done by selecting the maximise icon, rather than double clicking as you might be used to from Windows Media Player. You also have to press Escape to go back to the windowed image.
One thing I noticed was that it took a noticeable amount of time to change channels, which could get tiresome. What's annoying is that often after changing channels the sound would be out of sync with the picture. I found that I could correct this by jumping back to a few moments ago, which you can do if time-shifting is enabled, and then going forwards to the live broadcast. It was annoying having to do this though.
Another issue is that there's no indication of what the name of the channel you've tuned to is. Not is there any way of finding out the name of the programme you're watching. With even the most basic Freeview box giving you this information, this is a little disappointing. There is an EPG but it was nothing like the sort of guide you get from a Sky or Cable TV box or even from Windows Media Center. If the programme you're interested in is listed then you can double click on it to get it to record. It's not a very elegant solution though.
One problem I found though was that the files I recorded would not play back on my test system. I would get audio, but no picture. This is likely to be a codec problem but I didn't have time to investigate this fully for the review. I will post an update if I do solve it but as it stands it rather knocks on the head using this for scheduled recordings. A useful feature is the ability to do a channel scan - freeze frames from each channel are laid out in a grid and you click on one to go to that channel. You can also take a snapshot of the screen, adjust the brightness, contrast and the hue of the image.
All in all, the Asus U3000 Mini works better than the non-mini version, but there are issues with the software. On the plus side, as long as you've got a strong signal the picture is good, which is virtually the most important thing. For casual viewing this will do the job then, but due to software issues and slow channel changes I'd be reluctant to rely on this for a main tuner for a media centre system.
A small, portable way of getting television onto your laptop, this is a decent piece of hardware. However, the supplied software is a bit rough around the edges so I would only use it for casual viewing, not as a tuner for my main media system.
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