The Diamond XtremeTV PVR600 offers a comprehensive bundle of hardware and software for users who want to record TV programs on their PCs without the hassle of installing a PCI card. The heart of the PVR600 is a USB 2.0 TV tuner box, but the $149 package comes with lots of extras bundled, including USB and A/V cables and a remote control. Of the external USB devices we've tested, the Diamond PVR600 offers the best combination of performance and features, making it our recommendation for external TV tuners.
The external USB 2.0 box is about the size of a flask. Its front bezel contains an illuminated power switch, stereo audio ports, and S-Video and composite-video ports, all of which are color coded. The back panel supplies a USB 2.0 port and a coaxial connection, as well as a power jack. Although the PVR600 draws power from the PC's USB port, a DC power cable is included if you are connecting to a nonpowered USB hub. A Firefly remote and IR receiver are also included, but you'll need a separate IR blaster if you want to control your set-top cable box.
Installing the PVR600 is a breeze. With a USB cable, RCA cables, and an S-Video cable included, there's no need to hunt around or make a trip to the store for the necessary cables. The user manual provides several connection diagrams for different types of home video equipment. The SnapStream DVR software analyzes your PC hardware and software and can configure itself for use with the PVR600 box, the Firefly remote, and the multimedia files on the PC. Setting up the electronic program guide (EPG) is as easy as entering your zip code and selecting your service provider.
The PVR600 comes with SnapStream's Beyond TV and Beyond Media software, which provides DVR functionality in a friendly, Media Center-like front end. Unlike the Plextor ConvertX unit, which came with a watered-down version of SageTV's DVR application, this is a full version of Beyond Media that lets you manage all kinds of multimedia files, including video, photo, and music. Still, it's only a 60-day trial run of the Beyond TV application (called the Subscriber Edition), which includes a SnapStream.net account and access to the EPG. After the trial period expires, you'll have to shell out either $29.99 for the EPG listings or $49.99 for an upgrade to Beyond TV 4. You could, of course, use a free EPG service, such as TitanTV, or another media front end, such as Windows Media Center (if you are running that OS), but the included Firefly remote won't work with MCE--you'll need an official Media Center remote.
The Diamond XtremeTV PVR600 feature set would be useless if it didn't perform well in testing. We are happy to report that the PVR600 excelled on our tests. There were some artifacts and some signal noise, and the picture was not quite as sharp as we would have liked, but we've come to expect a certain amount of degradation in quality from all PC tuner devices, external or internal. Overall, the PVR600 tied with the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-USB2 for the best image quality in our roundup of USB TV tuners.
The Firefly remote worked well for rewinding, fast-forwarding, and pausing, and changing the channel was satisfyingly responsive. Programs recorded to the hard drive looked virtually identical to those of live TV, and the picture was clean and steady when hooked up to an external DVD player via the S-Video port.