Possibly the most interesting product so far from peripheral lead kings AverMedia, this nifty box will slip inside a cigarette box, yet has the power to pluck digital terrestrial TV from the air and display it on your Windows driven desktop or laptop PC.
Since the collapse of OnDigital, the number of TV owners making best use of free-to-air digital TV channels has surged, fuelling the initial drive to push users away from standard terrestrial telly. Depending on your antenna arrangements, the location of your house, and the position of the TV within it, (and any cars with pre-1986 engines driving by), you will either love this or hate it. Sure, the platform is narrow and the box needs a rather long list of system requirements, from Pentium 3 (for basic viewing), Pentium 4 (for time shift and MPEG2 recording) as well as Direct X support and an AC-97 compatible sound card, but at least it stretches beyond the confines of XP, although only to Win 2000.
Setup is easy, providing you have good signal strength even with the included equipment. If not, scanning for channels is a real pain, and if you cannot find a particular band (mux), you will be missing all the channels in that cluster. Providing you can find a channel, the time taken from driver installation to blissful viewing is less than 10 minutes. If you need it, there's an extra USB cable to plug in.
This beast requires raw power- a split USB cable even via USB 2.0! The USB cable does save the need for batteries or cables. Once powered up, an advanced PC will deliver full screen picture, with crisp sound. The DVB-T delivers the full functionality one would expect from a set top box- blue light, remote control, on screen 7-day programme guide and even all those digital radio stations. Because this box supports HDTV, an HD ready TV, notebook or monitor will deliver a very high quality picture.
The most advanced features of a set top box are here too. Timer recording is as with a video- you can even programme the box, then put the PC in sleep and still capture the broadcast. Recorded MPEG2 is smoothly played back from the HD, and live broadcast recorded/ paused, as with Tivo, Sky Plus. Be aware, you will need at least 256Mb RAM for this- twice the requirement for standard viewing. However since 1GB RAM is now the standard for the most demanding games, we'd expect the majority to have at least 512MB anyway.
Infuriating? Yes, it can be, but with the right machine and a good signal, it has everything a set top box can deliver, in a far smaller shell. Without a decent signal, all hope is lost though. Even if you do not have the most advanced PC, you should still be able to receive TV and radio. While the ‘TV on the move’ idea is a bit far fetched- try moving the antenna at all and you’re likely to freeze the picture- this is as good a picture as we’ve seen, displaying in a full PC screen at 16:9 ratio widescreen.
However, even with a glass screen filter, the old adage about not sitting so close to a an ordinary television CRT goes double for a computer monitor- you’re supposed to sit well back and enjoy the show, to avoid eyestrain, something you only had to do when watching DVDs before (even when pushed up to 100Hz). This final catch - plus the fact you can buy conventional Freeview boxes for as little as £35 for the no-frills variety and £50 for the average - might be two factors that make you reconsider the Avermedia. If you’ve previously not bothered with a TV card though, it might as well have all the bells and whistles. Also if you’ve already junked the CRT for a TFT Flatpanel monitor, chances are you’ll get the best use out of the DVB-T. For certain programmes like soap, you can listen to them in the background while getting on with other things anyway - it’s not like you’ll miss anything.