With the recent launch of Freesat and the promise of a range of both standard and high definition channels helping it to gather momentum, we’re going to be keeping an eye out for devices that let you take advantage.
One such product is the WinTV Nova-S-USB2 from Hauppauge, which adds Freesat to a range of Sky channels and standard Freeview fares to offer a massive range of content.
Rather than a traditional set-top box, this is an external TV tuner for a computer, so you’ll be using it to keep yourself entertained via a desktop PC or notebook. We’d assume most consumers would use it on the latter since it needs to be wired directly to a satellite dish, or rather to the port that your Sky box connects to on the wall, in order to scan for programmes. This led us to the first problem we had. The WinTV does not behave as a pass-through device and so you’ll need to unplug your existing connection and wire it up whenever you want to use it. An alternative to this awkward process is to buy something called a Satellite LNB splitter, which costs around £30 from places like Maplins.
Once you’ve resolved this problem you can get started settings things up, which requires you to choose a satellite to scan from a rather unhelpful list of random code numbers provided in a drop-down box. Once connected to your device via USB you can start the software and scan for channels, which is a fairly automated process but takes quite a while (around 30 minutes in our test) and manages to freeze up while scanning, offering no feedback on progress.
Patience will get you there in the end though, and you’ll find a healthy selection to choose from; a total of 533 channels in our case (though this included radio). The main application will offer you access to playback and recording features, and allows you to choose what to watch by either selecting from a drop-down list, filtering the list with search criteria or using the "Surf" feature to load channel previews in the interface.
The latter will only be useful for those with high-end machines, since we struggled to get anything responsive enough to use from our mid-range notebook and in fact even had issues with viewing a single stream in full-screen mode. Despite having more than enough power according to the recommended specifications on the box, occasional skipping and stuttering did affect the viewing experience, and obviously if you’re looking to record programmes it’s not really acceptable.
There’s not a lot else to the software aside from a separate scheduling application that simply uses Windows’ startup tools to fire up the main application and alert you or start recording when a programme starts.
You will find a remote control in the package which we found fairly responsive, though all it really does is duplicate the controls found on the interface.
If you’ve got a high-end PC and aren’t put off by the awkward nature of the setup (or are happy to buy a splitter), there’s no doubt that the WinTV makes a massive range of content available. We really think the interface could have been far easier to use, particularly in terms of browsing channels considering there are so many. While reasonably priced, the Freesat compatibility is the main selling point here and we’d be happy to wait to see what else appears in the near future.