Not Quite Prime Time

Published Date
01 - Jan - 2008
| Last Updated
01 - Jan - 2008
Not Quite Prime Time

Now isn’t the best time to go around looking for TV-Tuners—thus spake Agent 001

I’ve a good friend who recently moved to Mumbai. Being an IT guy, he’d brought along his PC and set it up here. He isn’t a gamer like me, so he gets his kicks elsewhere. I’m not talking booze and discos—nothing so dramatic—he’s a TV buff, and would spend his weekends back home glued to Star World.

One of his first purchases in Mumbai, therefore, was a TV… no surprises there. Problem is, he isn’t at home most of the time, so he decided to opt for a TV-Tuner card or box to record his favourite serials, the ones he just couldn’t miss. But after investing in a mammoth 500 GB hard drive (and the TV of course), he could only spend 3,000 bucks for a TV-Tuner. Naturally, we ended up at Lamington Road rather early in the day...

Unfortunately, I’d miscalculated, and very few shops were open upon our arrival. Well, even Agents trip up! A couple of Cokes later, we found shutters starting to open. The first shopkeeper greeted us with a toothy smile. Ahh, the joy of being first customers…

The smile done, he went on to show us a Pinnacle PCTV 50e (Rs 4,250). It’s a rather bland-looking external TV-Tuner that can record directly to DivX. We were also shown a Dazzle internal TV-Tuner for Rs 1,400; however, the box didn’t have any specific model number; there was just “Dazzle PCI TV Tuner”.

Dealer #2 showed us a couple of Leadtek TV-Tuners. One was an ultra-compact WinFast PalmTop TV, a cute, orange-coloured tuner box. The PalmTop TV has a host of powerful features including seamless playback for multiple video and audio files. It was priced at Rs 4,000. Next, we saw a Leadtek DTV 2000H. This PCI model is digital, and sports a host of features. The retail cost of the bundled software is more than that of the card itself! You can also directly burn programmes to DVDs. It costs Rs 4,600, but the DTV 2000H supports HD output as well.

Variety being the spice of life, it was on to dealer #3. Before entering the shop, my friend informed me that he would prefer an internal card, citing desk space as the reason. We came across a Leadtek WinFast TV Dongle. It was ultra-compact, a little larger than a pen drive. The voluminous feature set will go down real easy, especially when you consider its diminutive size. In fact, this miniature TV-Tuner doesn’t give up any features to its much larger brethren. The remote control unit, while feature-rich, does look bland with its array of similar buttons—like some sort of control panel. It costs 4,200 rupees, and the TV Dongle will be very suitable for laptop users due to its size. The guy told me he could arrange for a Hauppauge Win TV-PVR-150 for Rs 5,100. This card has all the features you’d need in order to set up a Media Center PC.

Incidentally, the Win TV-PVR-150 is digital. I was impressed by this guy’s contacts, because I remember wanting to buy a Hauppauge TV-Tuner myself a few months ago—and having given up either because people couldn’t get it, or were pricing it exorbitantly. We also saw a Compro VideoMate Gold Plus M500, costing Rs 2,200. This is an older model from Compro, proved by the bundle, which although rich, contains software versions older than what’s currently available. The evergreen Compro VideoMate Gold was also on display: Rs 4,500. This is a full-size PCI card. Once again, it’s a previous-generation product. It seems the latest Compro cards haven’t reached Lamington Road yet.

Decision time for my friend. I had filled him in earlier on the CAS (Conditional Access System) issue doing the rounds. CAS will mean encrypted channels, which a regular satellite dish cannot receive. It will ultimately prevent exploitation of consumers by TV operators who have been hiking prices for no rhyme or reason. CAS will mean investing in a set-top box and subscribing to individual channels, or a “package” of channels. For those who aren’t aware, once conditional access comes into force, TV-Tuners without digital connectivity won’t function properly, because set-top boxes use a digital cable. Your TV-Tuner will therefore only receive any analogue channels if they’re still being transmitted. Needless to say, your TV-Tuner remote will also cease to function. You’ll control channels with the remote of the set-top box instead.

Considering that digital TV-Tuners are costlier than their analogue counterparts, and that my friend wasn’t willing to upsize his budget, we decided to wait a bit before investing in a TV-Tuner. Sure, the digital ones won’t really be affected by the CAS decision, but my friend wasn’t willing to splurge. All considered, we decided to sit this one out a bit till things become clearer.

Agent 001Agent 001

I have a keyboard and I'm not afraid to use it, because I have a license to quill.