With HD-ready TVs still costing far more than comparable analog TVs, adding Hauppauge's $399 WinTV-HD card to your PC is a much cheaper way to check out digital television and HDTV. The easy-to-install card packs a lot of features for the price, with just a few small drawbacks. With HD-ready TVs still costing far more than comparable analog TVs, adding Hauppauge's $399 WinTV-HD card to your PC is a much cheaper way to check out digital television and HDTV. The easy-to-install card packs a lot of features for the price, with just a few small drawbacks.
The next step up the digital ladder
You may be familiar with Hauppauge's earlier DTV card, the WinTV-D, which was able to receive and decode HDTV signals. However, it couldn't display them at true high-definition resolution. The WinTV-HD overcomes that hurdle and displays any DTV or HDTV signal at its native resolution or at any of 12 up- or down-converted resolutions that you select.
The WinTV-HD's package contains everything you need. You get the PCI card, a CD-ROM with drivers and software, an infrared remote control, and a small IR sensor that you connect to the computer. The included pod cable offers connections for a second monitor or an HD-ready TV and an A/V input for a VCR or DVD player. To run the WinTV-HD system, Hauppauge recommends at least a 400MHz Pentium III computer with 64MB of RAM and either Windows 98 (Second Edition), 2000, Me, or XP. Our PIII 866MHz PC with 128MB of RAM and Windows 98 SE provided more than enough horsepower for the task at hand.
Installation of the card is quite easy; in addition to the photocopied quick-start sheet that comes in the box, there's an extensive, well-written manual in PDF format on the supplied CD-ROM, with plenty of photos to help novices install the card properly. In most cases, your PC should recognize the card and get the correct driver from the CD-ROM (our test unit came with software version 1.9). Before you close up your PC's case, don't forget that the card only has one audio output. For surround sound, you must change a jumper on the card itself to switch the audio output from analog to digital. Hauppauge provides instructions for this somewhat awkward step. Problems with a driver installation error on some Windows machines have been reported, but Hauppauge attaches an addendum sheet that shows you how to deal with this minor glitch so that you can complete the installation.
When watching DTV on your PC, the image appears in a resizable window with a control panel on the left for changing channels and such. This window can be resized from 4:3 pan and scan to 4:3 letterbox to true 16:9. Like a normal TV, the WinTV-HD card can search for analog and digital channels automatically (it has two separate tuner inputs, so you can plug in an antenna and a cable line), or you can simply enter channel numbers directly. A simple right-click brings up a menu that lets you name channels, for instance, by call sign or network.
The WinTV-HD PC card is quite sensitive and plucks digital broadcasts from the air nearly as well as the that we've tested from Samsung and Princeton Graphics. As a bonus, the card can tune analog and digital channels sequentially. Pull-down menus let you set the aspect ratio that best matches your TV (4:3 or 16:9), as well as save suites of TV channels.
Recorder lacks features
The card's software lets you record the decoded MPEG-II data stream to a hard drive and requires about 9GB of space for each hour you record. To record a file, you simply pull down a menu and active the Transport Stream Recorder. To stop, you pull down the same menu and shut it off. Files are saved in the folder you choose with the name that you give them, and they are not encrypted, which may set pirates hearts' alight. Recording and copying HDTV programs is a hot-button issue for broadcasters, Hollywood, and electronics manufacturers. Alas, when you play back a file, there are no controls to pause, fast-forward, or rewind the video, like the ones found on most digital video recorders and on the comparable AccessDTV Digital Media Receiver PCI card.
Should anything go wrong, Hauppauge offers a 30-day money-back guarantee and a two-year warranty, plus tech support for the life of the card. The call is on your dime, but you can reach the support line in New York from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET. Hauppauge's Web site also has downloads and a brief FAQ.
A growing number of technically minded enthusiasts enjoy tinkering with computers and integrating them into home theaters. If you're one of them or if you just want to watch live digital TV broadcasts on your PC, the WinTV-HD card will do the job. But otherwise, the AccessDTV Digital Media Receiver's superior video recording and playback features make it a better choice. And a standalone HDTV decoder set-top box will be easier to integrate into your home theater if you already own an HD-ready TV.