In an increasingly mobile world portability is everything: phones, notebooks. PDAs, projectors, even routers. As a consequence, anything that works with these devices must be equally teeny or be obliterated by the competition. This is particularly true of notebook cardbus TV tuners where we want the functionality and quality of a high end set without, quite frankly, the size of a high end set. As always, the technology has arrived, the sector has become competitive and its time to put of couple of brands to the test. Head on, mano a mano, two cards enter one card leaves (gotta love Tina Tuner in Thunderdome!).
So, introducing our first contender: AVerMedia The Destroyer AVerTV Hybrid+FM Cardbus TV Tuner. To be quiet frank, this is a very nice card. It has a minimal size, can display both analogue and digital signals, is HDTV compliant, features a built in FM radio, six channel audio output and is fully compliant with Windows XP Media Center 2005.
Installation straightforward too: run the driver, plug in the card. What is slightly disappointing, however, is the lack of a setup wizard to walk users through tuning the channels and finding radio presets. That said, the software interface follows a template we have seen many times before from the likes of CyberLink and InterVideo and is easy to navigate.
In use, digital picture quality is absolutely excellent with the supplied aerial, though some of the more obscure digital channels require a fixed connection. Of course – being digital – even when the signal is weak reception is clear, but the frame rate drops substantially. By comparison, analogue is, well, analogue really in that it varies greatly from location to location and improves or degrades massively on the slightest change of aerial pitch or position. The sooner we see the back of it, the better.
Extra functionality is the provided via the timer shift capability. Live television can be paused, rewound and recorded, though it would’ve been nice to see digital footage stored in Mpeg4 rather than the more wasteful Mpeg2 format (given that laptop hard drives are still a little on the small side). Bulking things out is an EGP (Electronic Programme Guide) which runs quickly and upgrades regularly, while the inclusion of Teletext is quaint these days rather than a genuine resource. The supplied remote does a nice job since everything you can do with a keyboard, touchpad or trackpoint can be replicated on the controller and its range stretches over 20 feet.
In practical terms, the AVerMedia card scores well. CPU usage is quite low at around the 30 to 40 per cent mark and the company claims it draws less than one amp of power. In use I found it knocked about 10 per cent off the typical battery life of my laptop which I think most will find highly acceptable.
At £74.99 (incl. VAT) the AVerMedia card isn’t a particularly cheap option, but it performs well, is reliable and relatively easy on system resources. As a result, I have no hesitation in giving it a hearty recommendation.