ATI USB Tuner Puts TV on Your PCATI simplifies TV viewing on the PC with a $99 TV Tuner card that plugs into a USB port.
Tom Spring, PCWorld.com
LAS VEGAS-- To Web surf or to channel surf? These are the things we ponder in the twenty-first century.
To help solve this contemporary conundrum, ATI Technologies announced here at the Comdex Trade Show a new Universal Serial Bus-based TV Tuner card called TV Wonder USB Edition. Available next week for $99, the camera case-size device makes it as easy to watch television through your PC as it is to surf the Net.
Tune In From the Outside
Ease-of-installation is TV Wonder USB's chief advantage over competing PC Card-based TV Tuners, many of which are now built into graphics cards. (See "Graphics Card Mimics TV.") Because TV Wonder plugs into a PC's USB port, you don't have to crack open your PC's case to install it.
The guts of the TV Wonder USB consist of an analog-to-digital converter and the hardware necessary to translate and send signals across the USB. The device has a standard coaxial input for connecting to cable TV, videocassette recorders, camcorders, and DVD players.
Other than a free USB port, TV Wonder requires a PC with at least a 500-MHz processor and 128MB of memory. The TV Tuner card stores video using MPEG-2 video compression in either 640 by 480 or 720 by 480 image sizes. ATI estimates that it takes about 1GB of hard disk space to save one hour of programming at 30 frames per second and at a size of 720 by 480.
Software Makes It Special
Bundled with ATI's TV Wonder USB is an impressive suite of software, which turns your PC into a digital video recorder. The suite includes the Gemstar electronic TV program guide and a feature for capturing still images from video feeds.
The Multimedia Center software marries digital video recording with the program guide. You can browse through a week's worth of TV programming or search by keyword or genre. If you see something you like, simply click on it and ATI's software asks whether you'd like to record the program when it airs. So long as your computer is on and the software is active, ATI will record the show for later viewing through your PC.
One interesting feature joins Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser with the ATI video feed to embed a TV screen window into the upper-left corner of the browser window. As you watch TV you are free to surf the Web.
The TV Magazine feature grabs closed captioning text and saves it as a text file with or without images. You can even set the tuner card to monitor the closed captioning text for Hot Words that indicate specific programs you want to see. When a Hot Word is detected, TV Wonder USB alerts you by bringing the TV screen to the foreground of your monitor.
While ATI's TV Wonder USB is not the first USB TV Tuner (see "USB Brings TV to Your PC"), its software and feature set do create a solid package for finding and recording the best of TV right on your PC.