Leadtek WinFast PVR2000 – TV Tuner Review
- Review Price: £79.00
There are certain areas of convergence where it is difficult to see what will replace what. For example, will the mobile phone slowly incorporate the PDA or will the PDA swallow up the mobile phone? Will the television, with the help of digital satellite technology, eventually integrate the home PC or will the home PC subsume the television? Most definitely there are products that already cross these boundaries such as smart phones and Media PCs, not to mention the explosion in digital broadcasting and its available keyboard and game controller add-ons. But perhaps one of the first available products to blur these lines was the humble PC TV tuner Card.
When they first arrived in the late 1990s TV cards proved to be a great hit with students cramped in small dorm rooms or anyone who found space at home to be at a premium. But since then there has not been quite the explosion in this market that was perhaps expected, and a lot of the world’s largest manufacturers have steered clear of producing their own variants. Fighting this trend, the existing players such as Hauppauge, Pinnacle and ADS have added significant functionality to their cards to increase their appeal and the Leadtek WinFast PVR2000 that was sent to our labs is a good example of a value add product.
The PVR2000 is Leadtek’s latest PC TV tuner card and it is a real bundle of tricks. As well as the compulsory antenna or cable transmitted programmes and Teletext, the PVR2000 also has a built-in hardware MPEG2 Encoder which takes significant strain off the CPU and can capture in MPEG1, MPEG2, VCD and DVD formats, as well as burning directly to a DVD. There is also the ability to pause, rewind and record live TV just like Sky+ and a picture in picture display format. FM radio support with stereo audio and auto tuning is also thrown in for good measure and can also be recorded and saved to MP3 and WMA formats.
Straight out of the box, the PVR2000 further proves that it is a comprehensive package. Included along with the card itself are FM and audio cables, a remote control and IR sensor plug, the WinFast drivers and player software and three Ulead programs: VideoStudio 7SE DVD for video editing, MovieFactory 3SE for DVD authoring and disc burning and Cool3D for creating titles for your video creations. I was also pleased to see that Leadtek had the common sense to include a couple of AAA batteries for the remote which is sometimes overlooked by other manufacturers.
Installing the card is a breeze due to clearly discernable FM, TV Cable, Remote Control, Audio In and S-Video In ports on the back of the card and an intuitive, but mercifully short software installation process. The Ulead software is not a compulsory part of the setup but obviously if you want to get the best out of your video and audio captures, they form an expansive part of Leadtek’s offering.
Once installed, it is simply a matter of letting the PVR2000 detect its TV and radio signals – I was very impressed with the speed of its scan. In the past TV Cards have taken upwards of 15 minutes to complete their channel searches but the PVR2000 was finished in less than two. Because it was feeding off an analogue signal, none of the channels were named but it hardly takes very long to type in channels one to five and – depending on your configuration – a Sky channel and/or DVD and VCR channels.
The audio and video quality put out by the PVR2000 is top class. Being in a strong reception area, I fully expected to see the product at its best and you will not feel short changed when you compare the performance with your television of hi-fi. The minimalist style layout of the WinFast player could prove a little confusing initially to first time users, but anyone who has played DVDs on their computer with either Intervideo’s WinDVD or CyberLink’s PowerDVD will feel immediately at home.
The remote does feel a little flimsy and plastic for my liking but this is a problem found with most PC TV Cards. I’m also not a fan of the white finish, but that is purely personal taste. Where I cannot fault the remote is the clear layout and extensive options. Almost everything you can do with the PVR2000 – excluding basic setup – can be handled by the remote. The range of the infrared is also fairly impressive compared to the often erratic nature of other PC TV Card remotes. You still have to point towards the infrared sensor rather than just anywhere in its general direction, but I can live with that.
One disappointment was the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) which only works in Japan and the US, so if you want to look up the times and dates of your favourite TV and radio programmes you’ll need to keep buying the TV Times or hold onto that trusty Internet bookmark. Despite this issue, it is possible to manually program the PVR2000 using simple drop down menus to set the channel, time and date and if left in hibernate or standby mode the WinFast software will also wake the PC if necessary to make sure it doesn’t miss anything.
Where the PVR2000 really comes into its own, however, is when using the MPEG2 Encoder to record directly from TV or radio. The onboard hardware means PC system resources stay free and consequently you can get on with any other PC functions at the same time. I was even able to get away with playing something as demanding as Doom3 without any noticeable drop off. There is a momentary pause when the hard drive finishes its recording, but if you have two hard drives in your computer and install games on one drive and set the storage location for your TV and radio recordings on the other you can bypass even this minor problem.
Once recorded, I found the Ulead software provided with the PVR2000 to be helpful and straightforward for editing captures, with options to add audio (music or voice commentary), subtitles (including animated 3D objects) and video effects such as fade out and overlay. Should you find yourself short on disk space, Leadtek has also thrown in its own DirectBurn software which can record directly to storage media.
If there is one area where the PVR2000 does fall down, it’s the price. At £79.34 it is a long way from being the cheapest PC TV Card solution, but at the same time, it is a very comprehensive solution and this amount of money should not break the bank. Of all its features, it is the relative independence that the PVR2000 has from the PC that impresses me the most. PC TV Cards may not be the newest technology on the block, but as the PVR2000 proves, it’s a technology that’s still improving.
There are cheaper PC TV cards on the market, but the PVR2000 has enough additions to make it a worthwhile purchase if you need the extra functionality.