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Compro VideoMate E900F - Compro VideoMate E900F
In the box you get the card, a driver disc, a copy of Ulead DVD MovieFactory 5 SE (for turning those VHS tapes you've just recorded into DVDs), a dongle for the extra video inputs, an FM aerial, a low profile plate, a remote, an Aux-Out audio cable for use with PCs that don't support digital audio, and a power-switch cable that's required to make the remote turn the PC on and off properly.
Basic installation of the card is very simple; you plug the card in, turn on the PC and install the drivers. If you just want to use Window's inbuilt Media Center software then that's it. If you don't, then it's just a case of installing the VideoMate software. If, however, you want to use the remote and have it turn off/on the PC properly then things are a little more complicated...
When installing the card you also need to use the power-switch cable to connect a set of pins on the card to the normal power switch header on the motherboard. You then take the cable from the actual power switch on you PC chassis and attach it to the other set of pins on the card. Now, you can turn the PC on using the power button on the remote.
We did note one problem with this system, though. When powering down the system using the remote, with Windows Media Center software still running, the PC would restart straight away. Without Media Center running the PC would shut down properly but for a media centre it's rather important that it shuts down normally from within the Media Center software.
As for the remote itself, it's a typical copy of the official Windows Media Center remote that does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from any other we've seen included with kit like this. While it does work perfectly well, if you do plan to use this tuner card with Windows Media Center, we'd advise you buy the official remote as well. It looks nicer, is better built, and doesn't require messing around with your power switches - it just works through USB.
When we first installed the card we also thought it wasn't working properly or that it didn't support simultaneous use of its tuners. However, after a quick investigation we realised that this was because we hadn't attached a second aerial for the second tuner (I'd mistakenly assumed the second aerial socket was for a radio antenna). This was quite baffling as for a couple of years I've had a dual digital tuner card that uses a single aerial input for both tuners. For this newer card to use two seems like an odd step back. Compro has informed us that the retail version of this card does actually come with a one-to-two aerial splitter so you at least you're ready to go straight out the box.
Once this obstacle was overcome the card worked perfectly, picking up over 70 channels on Vista Media Center. We could happily record one channel while watching another and (possibly because of the very fast test rig we'd installed the card in) changing channels was near instantaneous. Image quality was also very good.
Aware that not everyone will just use this card as a tuner for the inbuilt Windows Media Center software, we also tried the included software and were flabbergasted to see it could only detect four channels. On top of this the interface is clunky and unintuitive, slow, and generally unpleasant to the point that we'd advise you to avoid it at all costs. Essentially, if you don't want to use Windows Media Center, you'll have to buy some decent TV software like SageTV.
The Compro VideoMate E900F does a perfectly decent job as a basic dual TV tuner card and while the remote makes for a reasonable alternative to the official Windows Media Center one, we'd still rather use the latter for setup simplicity. The extra video connections could come in handy, too, and with some decent software the radio may also appeal to some. However, if all you want is a dedicated dual digital tuner for your media centre then there are simpler, cheaper alternatives like the Hauppauge Nova-T 500.
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