Home theater PC enthusiasts are a fickle bunch, and many off-the-shelf products from name-brand TV tuner card manufacturers do not meet the needs of their specific setups. Specialty vendor Vista View has a new card that is a good fit for users who want a high-quality dual analog TV tuner that works with Windows XP Media Center Edition and can fit into a low-profile x1 PCI Express slot. While casual users will be happy with a basic internal card, such as the ATI TV Wonder 650 or an external USB box, such as the Diamond XtremeTV PVR660, the $159 Vista View Saber 2020 offers excellent image quality and a feature set tailored for DVR wonks.
The Vista View Saber 2020 is a low-profile card with two coaxial connections for TV and FM radio and a port for connecting a two-input S-Video breakout cable. The card supports a variety of common TV standards, including NTSC, PAL, and SECAM.
Installing the card was easy using the setup CD, which included basic drivers and a custom DVR application called SaberView. The card also works with Windows Media Center Edition and third-party apps, such as SageTV. While you can use a standard MCE remote if Media Center is your front-end application, the card doesn't include a remote for use with the bundled SaberView DVR application.
SaberView will appear very stripped down to anyone used to Media Center, SageTV, or Beyond TV. There's a lack of hand-holding while setting up your TV signal, and the interface has a sparse Windows Explorer look, unlike the icon-heavy 10-foot interfaces common in other DVR apps. Still, for basic viewing and recording of a TV or FM radio signal, it suffices, and it gives non-MCE users a fully functional DVR setup right out of the box.
While using a PC-based TV tuner always involves certain compromises in quality, we found the image quality of live and recorded programming to be excellent, with no discernable difference between the live and the recorded signals. The card's onboard hardware encoder handled two video inputs simultaneously, without any stuttering or slowdown. The overall image quality meets or exceeds that of our previous favorite TV tuner card, the ATI TV Wonder 650.
Remember that you'll need a free x1 PCI Express slot to use the card and that, unlike your cable-company DVR box, you'll need two different signals to use the dual tuners (to watch one show while recording another or watch two shows at once with picture-in-picture). Also, note that Vista View has fixed some initial bugs with driver updates, and you should download the latest drivers before installing the card.