Choosing an HDTV card for a computer can be a confusing experience, as indicated by the many postings on this topic here. The North American HDTV card landscape is evolving, making some older threads, or marketing materials on this topic obsolete (some company websites are pretty bad at keeping up with their own products!...). I have tried to keep this posting up-to-date, and do solicit feedback from experienced users to make it better. Finally, if there is some information which you canâ€™t find here, but would like to see added, do let me know.** As I'm no longer in an area where HDTV broadcasts are available, updating may not occur as regularly in the future. If someone is willing to take over the task of keeping this post current, please PM me**Disclaimers:
I use both AccessDTV and FusionHDTV cards, and have spent little or no time with the other cards on the market. I have tried to make this positing as unbiased as possible, sticking with easily checkable facts whenever possible (reliability is difficult to assess though!) â€“ I searched AVS, and visited the websites of the card suppliers to build this document
The purpose of this guide is to help each of us choose which card is best for our individual needs (i.e. make an informed purchasing decision). This is not a card specific FAQ or the place to ask for new features.
For now, this guide is limited to products available in North America. HDTV is also available in other parts of the world (Korea, Australia, etcâ€¦ even Europe), but compatibility is not a sure thing (although Korea comes pretty close).
Given that most HTPCs run under Windows, and that the overall HTPC HDTV market is not that large, this guide focuses on the solutions available for the microsoft OSes (There is one specific card and some software tools for Unix boxes, but Windows solutions seem comparatively more mature).
If there are some errors, or omissions, do let me know, so that I can adjust this post, and keep it current. Thanks!Common Features
There are quite a few cards worth considering at the moment, each with some unique features. Currently, the AccessDTV, MyHD MDP-120, HiDTV and FusionHDTV (II and III) can be purchased from various on-line retailers.
You may also be able to get older cards such as the HiPix, MyHD MDP-100 or FusionHDTV-I. The MDP-100 and FusionHDTV-I (and II) have been discontinued and replaced by the MDP-120 and FusionHDTV-III which share most of their features and design with their predecessors, while adding a few nice capabilities. Finding a new HiPix, MDP-100 or Fusion-I/II is going to be difficult, but there might be some good bargains on second hand cards or systems which use them. Given the purpose of this guide, we will focus on the latest version of each card family (itâ€™s also a little bit unwieldy to cover too many simultaneously).
Soon there might also be two new solutions: ATI has announced that it will begin marketing a card which appears similar to the Fusion card, at least in approach. Some USB2 based products could bring HDTV to laptops, although they are not officially distributed in the US (If you happen to be in Korea, you can get them ahead of us!). Once these products become available, we'll add them to the guide...
The general consensus is to stay clear from the WinTV-D and WinTV-HD cards, which are older designs, no longer in production, and not in the same league featurewise.
The â€˜goodâ€™ cards have a great deal in common, so letâ€™s cover the shared features first:
All the current cards can decode Over-The-Air (OTA) HDTV broadcast, as they all understand the 8VSB modulation system. Some cable TV systems rely on this standard for part of their broadcast, but most cable operators use encrypted or unencrypted QAM modulation insteadâ€¦ At the moment, very few cards can be used to view unencrypted QAM:
The AccessDTV card can view some QAM64 and QAM256 broadcasts (but not all, as it has some memory limitations). Note that this card cannot record such broadcasts â€“and it may never do so-.
DVICO has added partial QAM support in the third version of its card -the FusionHDTV III-. It seems that this card can be used to watch unencrypted QAM64 broadcasts, but doesnâ€™t support QAM256. DVICO makes NO CLAIM about the ability of its Fusion-III Gold card to support QAM broadcasts.
A new DVICO card (the 4th in about a year), the "FusionHDTV-III Gold QAM" is due out soon. This card should be the first one to truely support UNENCRYPTED QAM64 and 256. It is currently in beta test in the US, and early reports are positive...
While full QAM support would be a good thing, it seems that most premium CATV channels will never be available in the clearâ€¦
On the satellite side, if you are the lucky owner of a long discontinued Echostar Dish 5000 decoder and have the corresponding 8VSB HD modulator, you can view some of their HD programming (HBO HD, etc.), as this solution sends an 8VSB signal which all HD cards understandâ€¦ Unfortunately, recently added channels such as HD Discovery are 8PSK modulated and thus not compatible with the Dish 5000 QPSK internal demodulator. Furthermore, Echostar has indicated that it will eventually be migrating all its HD channels to 8PSK modulation.
All â€˜goodâ€™ cards can save HDTV broadcast to disk, without encryption (AccessDTV files were â€˜encryptedâ€™ in the past). They all save the full â€˜Transport streamâ€™ (@19.1 Mb/s), without any signal loss. When recording or playing, these cards eat/read disk space quickly (slightly below 9 GB/hr), but even 5400rpm disks are up to the task (such HDs will also be cheaper, and probably quieter and cooler). They all can play the saved files. They also let you view what is being recorded live.
Besides HDTV broadcast, each card can display analog NTSC programming (either from your cable company, or from an antenna). Some of the cards (MyHD, HiDTV and FusionHDTV, and, *tentatively* the ATI Wonder HDTV) also allow you to capture these signals for later viewing (Keep in mind that a separate $40 TV card will give you comparable, if not better, results ). Most cards (AccessDTV and FusionHDTV-I are the exceptions here) also take composite and s-VHS signals for hardware scaling. This is a convenient feature, but dScaler â€“a software scaling solution- will give you better pictures with a low cost TV card (The FusionHDTV-II and III are directly dScaler compatible for the best of both worlds), if you have enough CPU power to handle software scaling. Because NTSC capture is done via software in the cards that can do it, this feature actually requires a more powerful CPU (800 MHz or more) than for HDTVâ€¦
With the introduction of the FusionHDTV cards, we now have the option of hardware or software HDTV decoding. All the other current cards rely on hardware for HDTV decoding (remember the hardware decoders for DVD playback from a few years ago?), but we should expect more software HDTV decoding solutions in the future (The USB-HDTV and ATI Wonder HDTV seem to be based on this approach too).
â€˜Softwareâ€™ decoding relies on the CPU and video card MPEG2 decoder (if any) to decode the transport stream. With selected video cards, a PIII at 800 MHz will suffice. If your video card canâ€™t help with decoding, a PIV at 1.8 GHz seems to be the bare minimum. Thatâ€™s quite a bit more than the ~ 400MHz CPU which the hardware based cards require for HD decoding. Because software decoding relies on your video adapter, picture quality will depend on your video card and drivers (This is a familiar debate to all of us who have been buying Radeon cards for the best DVD playback with Zoomplayer or Theatertek!).
Relying on the computerâ€™s video card has some consequences. On the pro side, you can choose any resolution supported by your graphics card (either by default, or added via PowerStrip), and connect to your display via either an HD15 connector (aka â€œVGAâ€) or DVI, if you have one. On the con side, if your graphics card doesnâ€™t support interlaced signals (such as 1080i), you wonâ€™t be able to view native 1080i signals and will have to convert them to something else (a few lucky people have displays which support 1080p â€“good for them!- others will have to convert the signal to 540p, 720p, and loose some detail in the process). Also bear in mind that most video cards only output RGB signals at high resolutions (the ATI component dongle does convert RGB to YPrPb, or component signals, but only at 480p, 540p and 1080i).
All hardware based cards send full resolution HDTV signals exclusively via an HD15 connector (the same type of connector found on a video card) which is on the back of the HD card. The HD signal can be encoded in two ways: RGBHV (same as computer monitors), or YPbPr (Component video, found on most HD-compatible RPTVs). You will need a cable to connect your HDTV card to your display device, as none of the cards ship with one (Probably because there are too many standards for the connectors on the display side). DVI is only supported by one of the hardware based HDTV cards, the MyHD MDP-120. Getting this feature to work requires an optional daughter card with DVI in and out (for passthrough functionality).
The hardware based cards can output HDTV (or scaled NTSC) signals to a limited number of resolutions, including 1920x1080i, 1280x720p, 704x480p and 1024x768p, all at 60Hz. Some cards also have other resolution options to better match fixed pixel digital displays, but none of these cards can send 1920x1080p or above signals due to hardware restrictions. They can scale HDTV/NTSC signals to any of the preset resolutions, regardless of the broadcast signal native resolution.
All hardware based cards can also pass-through the video signal from your video card. They use a supplied cable which connects to the HD15 connector on the video card (or, if you have the daughter card for the MDP-120, the DVI connector). Using this connection allows the signal from your video card to be sent as-is to your display (same resolution, same color system, etc.). Purists will tell you that you will actually deteriorate the signal a little bit (which is true: you â€˜payâ€™ for the convenience of using a single input on your display device. If you have two available inputs, you will be better offâ€¦). For a graphical overview of the connection options for hardware based cards, look at http://www.digitalconnection.com/Sup...ffnotes_14.htm
(this document is somewhat dated, as the good folks at DigitalConnection haven't updated part of their site for a while, but the connection schematics are still valid)
Besides the full resolution HDTV output, all hardware based cards can also send a lower resolution signal (480x704x60fps or below) to be displayed on your desktop monitor. This signal can be displayed in full screen (scaled to your desktop resolution then), or in an application window. All 5 cards can do this via your PCI bus (no cable needed, for whatâ€™s called Video-Over-PCI, or VOP). The HiPix and HiDTV Pro can also take advantage of a special connector which could be found in ancient video cards (No current card has this connector), using a technique called VIP.
All hardware based cards rely on the Teralogic/Janus TL880 chipset, which explains why they are so similar in many aspects. (The only card to deviate significantly from the Janus reference design is the AccessDTV one)
DVD software decoders have pretty much wiped the hardware DVD decoders out of the PC market, and history might repeat itself with HDTV, as fast processors are becoming cheaper and as software is easier to upgrade than hardware. This doesnâ€™t mean that we are there yet for HDTV, as hardware cards have some key advantages too (by the way hardware DVD decoding is still better than software for video based DVDs!). Even if you have plenty of horsepower, have a video card which supports 720p, 1080i (or better), and donâ€™t need a component signal, the current video cards and software decoders are not as good as dedicated MPEG decoding chips when it comes to handling errors in the signal (the hardware cards will display a degraded picture with some pixelization, which is better than a freeze or no picture at all).
For now, it seems that the hardware based solutions generate a better looking picture than the software based solution offered by Dvico, or other software based HD players. Whoâ€™s to blame for this state of affairs is not clear, but the current crop of video cards are the likely culprits, as, among other things, they are probably not optimized for 1080i display (this may change in the future, although most video card development focuses on the needs of the gaming community, rather than those of videophiles). One should also keep in mind that the difference might not be noticeable to many (the display used might not be able to show the difference, and software HDTV decoding is still much better than DVDs and other common sources)
Each hardware based card has an S/PDIF connector to connect it directly to a receiver for AC-3 Dolby decoding of HDTV sources. These cards can also make use of your soundcard's S/PDIF output to send AC-3 signals to your digital receiver (Eliminating the need for a dedicated digital interconnect between PC and AV equipment for multichannel HDTV sound, although some users report problems with such connection). The Fusion cards do not have an S/PDIF connector, but they can send AC-3 signals to a receiver via many soundcards.
They all can send analog stereo sound to a sound card (for both HDTV and NTSC programs) over the PCI bus (all cards but the HiPix and FusionHDTV-I â€“ the latter being able to do so only with HDTV signals), or via internal cables/connector headers (all cards but the AccessDTV).
The myHD and FusionHDTV cards are currently the only cards which can make full use of the analog multichannel outputs of many soundcards: they can software-decode AC3 5.1 signals, without having to downconvert them to stereo (Note than some soundcards can create a multichannel signal from stereo using SRS or other approaches, but this is not the same as discrete 5.1 digital decoding)
All cards have an On-Screen-Display (OSD) feature. The amount, and flexibility, of the OSD feature varies from card to card, and some operations still have to be done from the Windows desktop. Note also that the AccessDTV card is the only one currently supported by a Girder Plugin, by the name of DVDSpy. This support makes it possible to send OSD-like information to an external VFD or LCD display... Also note that an advanced OSD is somewhat of a moot point with the FusionHDTV cards, as they will display anything you could want â€“and more!- on the screen (it is after all always showing you your desktop, and supports any type of dialog box, girder display options, etc). With the other cards, system error messages (and some advanced dialogs) are not displayed simultaneously with HD pictures on the same screen.
Most cards (AccessDTV is the exception) also come, or can come, with a wireless (IR) remote which provides some control over the card software (The IR remote is optional with the FusionHDTV cards) . To take advantage of this feature, you will need to have a serial port available (Or, in the case of some versions of the HiDTV Pro or â€“since recently- the FusionHDTV, a USB port). All cards can be controlled via Girder (and a generic IR or RF receiver), with the ability to control more features than the packaged remote.
In practice, the remote and the card software make these cards behave more like a VCR/TV combo than a PVR (Such as a ReplayTV or Tivo). The AccessDTV is the only card to come close, with features such as the ability to record shows with a given actor, instant replay or a live broadcast buffer (more on this in the â€˜Unique featuresâ€™ section of this guide). The second best alternative, if you're interested in instant replay and a searchable EPG, is to get a FusionHDTV card, and to install the -free-myHTPC (www.myHTPC.net
) plugin for it. Dvico, the makers of the Fusion family of cards have stated that they are working on adding instant replay/live broadcast to their card (hopefully we'll see the results of their work in the coming few months).
The software of each card allows you to easily pick which channel to watch, start or schedule recordings, and has basic playback functions (Play, Pause, Stop, Forward and Rewind by specific intervals such as 10sec, 30sec, 1 min, etc). To date, very few â€˜trick effectsâ€™ such as slow motion features, or 2x playback speed are available.
Reliability is still not up to par with consumer electronics, as is evidenced by posts on this forum, and incompatibilities with other software or hardware do exist (Buyer beware). The older cards seem to have a lot of complaints, but they are probably the most common in the field, and their software is still improving in some cases. The newest cards also have to go through growing pains, as speed-to-market is a consideration. Anyone with up-to-date comparative data should feel free to share his/her experience, as this is a very important topic!
. It is frustrating to see that the most recently introduced cards often have to go through the same growing pains as the older ones, even for relatively trivial features. We will see if ATI bucks the trend in a few months (hope is free ;) )
If watching (or recording) only one channel at a time is not enough for you, there are now a few solutions. With a fast enough computer, you can have your HDTV card record while watching a recording of your choice with a different software application (for instance, DVHSTools, or Zoomplayer).
Want more? How about watching (or recording) TWO channels at the same time? This can be done three different ways: The MyHD cards have driver support for two cards, and can, with a little bit of effort, run two copies of the application simultaneously. Alternatively, a FusionHDTV card can coexist peacefully with any of the hardware based HDTV cards. Finally, is possible to have multiple cards in a network, and to record or view files over a network (Fast Ethernet, or 100 Mbps, and a switch, rather than a hub, is needed for this to workâ€¦ wireless is too slow for now). While these solutions do work, they have their own constraints, and have fairly poor ergonomics (no PIP yet, for instance).
The current crop of cards and software all support Win2000 and XP, some do support older Microsoft OSes as well. Windows 2000 and XP have the advantage of allowing to save the recordings in very large files, if your hard disks are formatted with NTFS, rather than multiple files of less than 4 Gb each. XP is the only OS which supports D-VHS decks (and has the corresponding drivers), it is also the OS of choice for each card. None of these cards work on Macs, or under Unix.
Most of the current cards can interface with thewww.titantv.com
format for scheduling HD recordings. The TitanTV website, while quite nice, is not a substitute for a full Electronic Program Guide. For instance, you cannot let it pick programs you like by genre. Currently, the HiPix, MyHD, HiDTV and Fusion cards support titantv. Keep in mind though that there is no guarantee that the TitanTV service will remain free or even available in the future for the cards that currently support it.
The AccessDTV software does not support TitanTV, but it offers a nice substitute for the very reasonable price of $10/year. Contrary to titantv's web browser approach, the AccessDTV EPG data is tightly integrated in the application. This means that it is easy to browse the grid with a mouse, and have access to advanced search features. For instance, you can set up the AccessDTV software to only record first run shows which feature your favorite actor, or games with your local sports team.
The myHD, Fusion and AccessDTV cards can also interface with myHTPC's EPG, which relies on XMLTV data. This free solution, once setup, has very nice ergonomics (it can be controlled from your remote, without a mouse) and offers advanced features, almost like a Tivo). Unfortunately, XMLTV is not as good a source for HDTV broadcasting as titantv is.
ATI will likely have a proprietary HDTV EPG solution, but too little is known at the moments about their plans.
Instant and manual scheduled programming (as on a VCR) is available with all cards, but not all cards can wakeup your PC (or the HDTV application) to start recording, forcing you to make sure that your PC is ready ahead of time, and not all cards play nicely with other applications while recording. For the HD cards which do not have the wake-from-hibernation/standby feature, it is sometimes possible to use a third-party software such as myHTPC (or the windows scheduler) to add this feature.
The files that these cards capture can all be post-processed by third-party tools. For instance, DVHSTool allows to transfer these files to a D-VHS deck. HDTVtoMPEG2 can remove commercials, and save the result as a transport or mpeg2 file. Relatively fast computers can also play these files without the need for an HDTV card.
Now that the common features have been covered, letâ€™s look at the unique features of each card (in order of market introductionâ€¦) â€“ Please note that the relative importance of each plus or minus varies greatlyâ€¦Teleman HiPix DTV-200
This card had been on the market up until early 2003. It is unfortunately no longer available (see: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...hreadid=333764
The most remarkable feature of this card, besides being the first good product, is that there was a group of AVS volunteers which had taken over a large part of the software development (they didnâ€™t have access to the low level software, but have accomplished miracles elsewhere!). These people understand our needs and desires, and have added unique features to the Teleman software (This is not open source, in case you ask). Unfortunately, the development by the HiPix AVS team has stopped.Pluses
+ Has automatic commercial detection/skip capability (for playback of recorded files)
+ Has bookmarking capabilities (allowing, for instance to skip a section of a recording, etc.)
+ Can play DVD directly over the HD output (solution relies on Zoom player, but leaves the overlay available, among other benefits)
+ Supports 1440x1080i and 1368x768p resolutions (Users of LCD, LCOS and Plasma display with such resolution should rejoice)
+ Allows to define unique resolutions per input (For instance, ABC is 720p, NBC is 1080i, Fox is 480p)
+ Can play back D-VHS tapes without transferring to disk first (but canâ€™t record directly to D-VHS as the MyHD, HiDTV or Fusion do)
+ Comes with an IR remote and serial receiver (but functionality is limited)
+ Supports wake from hibernation (Though reliability is unclear)
+ Has extensive OSD, allowing to schedule recordings (up to 32), for instance. OSD is customizable/skinnable to boot
+ Has â€˜instantâ€™ start mode for very fast playback or TV viewing
+ has composite video out (Active only if you're not using VOP), which outputs a low resolution video signal that can be viewed on a regular analog NTSC TVs (and recorded by a conventional VCR). While this is not of HD quality, you can view DTV channels with this output, and benefit from the advantages of digital broadcasts (No ghosting, digital sound, etc)
+ Supports PSIP EPG Data (a potential alternative to TitanTV, assuming that broadcasters include such information)
+ Has VIP capability
+ Can fast forward/rewind by 15, 30, 60, 120 seconds, and 10 minutesMinuses
- Runs hottest (and is not recommended if you have poor ventilation in your case)
- Has daughter board for SPDIF and analog video inputs which takes an additional slot in the back of your PC case (If one is creative, it can be relocated elsewhere, such as in a project box)
- Requires computer skills to install some of the features (DVD, etc.)
- Cannot send NTSC audio over the PCI bus (one has to use either an external 1/8" stereo jack, or connect to a soundcard's internal connector via cable)
- Development has ceasedAccessDTV Digital Media Receiver System
Itech (or www.accessDTV.com
) released this card in early of 2001. It is available directly from itech. The card used to retail for $379... but a package with an antenna is currently available for just below $200 (http://188.8.131.52/local/buyonline.htm
As should be clear from the description of the shared features, this card is unique in some ways. Its hardware has some unmatched capabilities. The AccessDTV card is still the only true self-contained consumer solution for instant replay of HDTV signals (The only other â€˜alternativesâ€™ require 2 HDTV cards, or tax heavily your processor and rely on third-party softwareâ€¦). The unique hardware also enables some other features, but the software is not yet taking full advantage of all of them at the moment (although there is real hopeâ€¦).
Itech â€˜handlesâ€™ the support for this card and has been adding features and releasing new software betas up until December 2002, though it must be said that their strategic direction, focus, communication policies and limited resources have generated many complaints on this forum.
There is an effort underway by a few brave members of this forum to enhance the software (see http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...hreadid=310478
). These few braves are under NDAs, but have access to the full source of the application, contrary to what happened in the past with the AVS HiPix effort.
Since October 2003, they have released new versions of the software which address many of the complaints people have had about this card. The new software releases also adds neat features which are unique in the market. The AccessDTV AVS team has demonstrated that it can deliver. Kudos the team!Pluses
+ Up to four hour instant replay buffer, an exclusive feature
+ Allows timeshift recording simulplay (aka chasing playback), to pause recordings in progress
+ Advanced electronic program guide (with automatic searches, scheduled data retrieval) integrated into the main application
+ BETA support for viewing of unencrypted QAM broadcasts (recording might
come later). â€“ this requires channels below 803 Mhz, and needs some testing to ensure that it works with specific cable operators -- Please note that it may not be compatible with your cable station due to some other hardware limitations
+ Support for networks (watch and record from any networked machine with an AccessDTV card, multiroom viewing with bookmarks, etc)
+ Supported by DVDSpy, the girder plug-in
+ Supports 1440x1080i output, in addition to commonly supported HDTV outputs
+ 5 fully configurable forward and backward skip increments
+ Can continuously display signal strength without requiring to open a dialog box
+ Supports close caption (for both ATSC and NTSC broadcasts)
+ Unlimited number of scheduled recording events
+ Has 2 antenna inputs which can both be used to receive HD signals
+ Beta support by SageTV (recording works well, but playback seems to need some improvement)
+/? Could theoretically play an HDTV recording, while recording another one (enabling this requires some driver rewrite work)
+ Some smart AVS team tweaks (XML based playlist rather than proprietary format, etc)Minuses
- No bundled remote or IR receiver (although third party solutions can be setup easily given the exhaustive list of keyboard shortcuts)
- No S-VHS/composite video input for scaling
- Requires 2 hardware IRQs
- Cannot take still screen shots
- No build-in wake-from-hibernation/standby capability (myHTPC, or the OS' scheduler can add this feature fairly easily though)
-/? No TitanTV support (but a moderately priced subscription based advanced EPG is available)
-/? No internal audio connectors to interface with soundcard (Sending audio to soundcard is only achieved via PCI bus)MIT MyHD MDP-100 and 120
The initial MDP-100 card was released over the Spring/Summer of 2002. It had great support from Digital Connection (the actual software work was/is done in Korea). Compared to the two older cards, a lot of the early issues were avoided, and the software seems to have become fairly stable quickly. The price of this card was attractive at $299 (and even $259, when group buys were in effect!), including a full featured dedicated remote.
A new card, the MDP-120m became available in May 2003. The MDP-120 is mostly similar to the MDP-100. It's key benefits are a newer -more sensitive- NXT2002 demodulator- which improves signal sensitivity, a better NTSC picture (4H comb filter which improves video from the tuner or the composite input), a slightly smaller footprint (below 7in vs over 8in card length), and an optional DVI daughter board. It is available from www.digitalconnection.com
and other vendors at $279 for the basic card, and $89 for the optional daughter board...Pluses
+ DVI passthough (MDP-120 ONLY, with daughter card required) â€“ exclusive feature among the hardware decode cards
+ Adds 1440x1080i, 1360x768p, 1280x1024p, 1280x768p, 800x600p and 864x480p (all at 60Hz) HD output capabilities to accommodate a wide range of fixed pixel displays
+ Can do software decode of multichannel AC-3 broadcasts
+ Can pause recordings (to save on disk space), like HiPix
+ Has 2 antenna inputs which can both be used to receive HD signals
+ New generation tuner (MDP-120 ONLY)
+ Can play HiPix files directly (no playlist/post processing needed)
+ Can record and playback D-VHS files without post-processing
+ Can send stereo PCM over its own SPDIF output when watching NTSC programming (same as HiPix)
+ Latest beta can play DVDs upscaled to HD resolutions. Most features of a typical STB are available when playing DVDs
+ Can capture NTSC signals (or S-VHS/composite) with a video codec of your choice (Divx seems popular...)â€“ Viewing requires another application such as Windows Media Player
+ Has extensive customizable OSD (including menus to configure card/display, schedule recordings, or show signal strength)
+ Supports wake from hibernation before a recording
+ Can select between Main or SAP audio tracks on both HD and NTSC broadcasts (and HD recordings)
+ Supports PSIP EPG Data (a potential alternative to TitanTV, assuming that broadcasters include such information)
+ Up to 50 scheduled recordings
+ One-Touch Recording (fixed duration or 'infinite')
+ customizable jump forward (FF, FF*2, 4 or 8) and backward increments (-RW, -RW*2)
+ A set of (old) beta drivers allow to run 2 cards in the same machine (application has not been redesigned to handle 2 cards transparently, requiring opening two instances of the software for now), some drivers are also said to support Hyperthreading (with no performance gain, though)
+ DVI Daughter card adds optical SPDIF out
+/? Could theoretically support QAM and 8VSB decoding (Same NXT2002 demodulator chip as AccessDTV)Minuses
- DVI daughter board consumers an extra slot which has to be adjacent to the card
- Price (although this has to be put in perspective given the cost of an HD compatible display)HiDTV PRO 2.0
This card family is the second most recent on the market. It is directly sold by the Korean manufacturer (and must be bought via Paypal). Additional support is available via a bulletin board (//pc-dtv.infopop.cc/6/obb.x?a=rgi&S=692604811
). Some experienced members of this board have reported a very good experience with this card, although upcoming support appears uncertain at this time.Pluses
+ Can pause recordings (to save on disk space),
+ Can freeze picture (while Audio is still active)
+ Offers both VOP and VIP (like HiPix)
+ Can record and playback D-VHS files without post processing (like MyHD or Fusion)
+ Sold with either a serial remote receiver (std edition), or a USB (Pro edition). The Pro remote is a Zapstream model which supports other applications as well.
+ 4 forward and 4 rewind speeds which are all individually customizable
+ Can select between Main or SAP audio tracks on both HD and NTSC broadcasts (and HD recordings)
+ Can do analog recordings (MPEG1/2 codecs only, not best of breed though)
+ Can define â€˜Favoriteâ€™ channels, and give them explicit nicknames
+ Skinnable desktop interface (with 4 supplied skins)
+ Has 10 video adjustment memories (brightness, contrast, saturation) which can be associated with specific channels
+ Can play unencrypted VOBs (as 'extracted' from DVDs), but doesn't have full blown DVD playback ability (no menus, etc.)
+ Should be compatible with low end HTPC (VIP, internal audio cables to save on PCI bandwidth, etc.). Minimum requirement is PII at 333 MHz
+ PCI card is slightly smaller than full length (1/2" less), thanks in part to an integrated tuner solution (the other cards have a tuner and a separate ATSC demodulator)
+ Sensitivity (ability to pick weak stations) of Thompson DTF8603 integrated tuner is reported as above average (and better than HiPix) by some users (Unclear if it beats the MyHD-100/120 and AccessDTV implementations)
+/? The PCI card is said to support a 3.6v 66MHz PCI bus, which may provide compatibility with future motherboardsMinuses
- Only one antenna input (all the other cards, but the Fusion-I, have two, allowing to connect an antenna and a cable box simultaneously)
- Standard remote doesnâ€™t have fast forward/rewind keysFusionHDTV-I, -II, -III Gold and -soon- -III Gold QAM)
These cards have all been introduced in the US market over the last 12 months (some additional variants are also been sold on the Korean market, where they're coming from). www.DigitalConnection.com
used to sell the F-I card for $139 (plus $19 for the optional remote). The F-II, was introduced shortly afterwards. It went for $159 (plus the same $19 for a remote) and has since been replaced by the F-III Gold. The F-II added a second antenna input, analog video inputs (composite, S-VHS and stereo sound), and external stereo outs, making it simultaneously an HDTV card and a full-fledged dScaler compatible NTSC capture card, thanks to its BT878 chip. The F-III is similar the F-II in capabilities, but relies on a CX23881 chipset and has a few additional benefits (It also lacks a separate composite input, although a dongle is provided)... The current F-III (Gold) doesn't support QAM recording (and DVICO makes no claims about it), but DVICO is beta testing an upgraded version of this card, the F-III (Gold) QAM, which suports this feature. - It is unlikely that DVICO will offer a retrofit program for the purchasers of the III Gold, as they hardware of the new card is different.
Software is improving but some features are missing or require more work (Scheduling recordings lacks reliability for instance). Yet, Dvico is working on adding new capabilities (they plan on adding instant replay/live buffer features in the coming months, for instance). It should also be noted that the Dvico hardware can be used by some third party applications.
For those of us who live in places where ATSC signals are available, DVICO recently released some DVB-S and DVB-T HDTV cards. These are only sold in Australia for now...Pluses
+ Supports any resolution supported by your video card (exclusive)
+ Can output via DVI
+ Can do software decode of multichannel AC-3 broadcasts
+ Can bookmark recordings (for future editing)
+ Can freeze picture (and save stills to disk)
+ Only card with smooth fast forward capability (similar to what a DVD player would do -- all the other cards only skip forward)
+ Can play and record D-VHS files without post processing (like MyHD or HiDTV)
+ Can timeshift HD and SD using an external -free- application (see www.myHTPC.net
for more information)... support within the bundled application is also in the works
+ Can do analog recordings (via any external application which supports WDM drivers, or from the provided software). The Fusion-II and â€“III variants even support dScaler.
+ Offers 5 video controls (brightness, contrast, saturation, hue, sharpness)
+ PCI card has smallest footprint (comparable in size and complexity to a sound card) - The FusionHDTV-II is actually smaller than its predecessor, and the FusionHDTV-III is even smaller (it comes with two L-brackets, one of which is low profile for SlimPC applications)
+ Sensitivity (ability to pick weak stations) of Sony/Temic integrated tuner/demodulator is above average (FusionHDTV-I was actually better than FusionHDTV-II, which I have found in turn better than AccessDTV) â€“ It seems that the Fusion-III (and its upcoming QAM version) is really good in this regard
+ The Fusion-III appears to support QAM64 unencrypted broadcasts (although Dvico makes no promise about it). QAM256 doesnâ€™t work and may never work. The upcoming 'Fusion-III Gold QAM' should, as its names indicates, support all these formats
+ Lowest cost solution (save maybe for the ucoming ATI cards, although little is known at the moment abot this product)
+ Fancy display overlays (similar to PowerDVD/WinDVD), including EPG, signal strength, scheduled recordings, etc... yet, some people find the overlays to be a little bit old fashioned (too much 20th century ;) )
+ Includes postprocessing software to facilitate the production of DVDs from HDTV recordings (among other capabilites). The Fusion-III bundle actually includes a DVD editing/authoring software (Ulead Media Studio 7SE).
+ Presumably the only card compatible with multiprocessor/multithreaded systems (none of the hardware based cards work reliably on such machines),
+ The Fusion-III adds some valuable features: its A/D converters operate with 10 bit precision (vs. 8 bit for the F-I and â€“II). This new card doesnâ€™t require a cable connection (internal or internal) for NTSC audio. As indicated above, its TEMIC tuner is also quite sensitive.Minuses
- Only one forward and backward jump increment which requires editing the registry to change its duration (The featured slider and the smooth FF capabilities provide a substitute in some cases)
- Lacks some convenience features such as last channel recall, subtitles, background recording
- Fusion-I lacks S-video/composite video input for scaling, Fusion-III only offers one connector for either S-video or composite (a dongle is provided)
- Fusion-I has only one antenna input (all other cards, but the HiDTV, have two, allowing to connect an antenna and a cable box simultaneously). The Fusion-II and -III do have two antenna/cable inputs
- Picture quality depends on video card (potentially negating some of the savings), and is not as good as with the hardware based solutions
- Wonâ€™t output YPrPb or 1080i, unless your video card supports these formats (which pretty much requires a Radeon video card with some specific drivers)
- Puts higher demand on CPU (unless video card can assume some of the load) -- although most recent systems won't have any difficulty handling the load
- Requires a solid signal to avoid picture freezes (doesnâ€™t pixelate as the other cards do)
- Requires internal hardware connection for NTSC sound (or external connection in the case of the Fusion-II) â€“ the Fusion-III doesnâ€™t suffer from this issueATI Wonder HDTV
ATI recently announced its decision to sell an HDTV capture card: The ATI Wonder HDTV. This card will likely be sold as a standalone product as well as bundled with various ATI cards. There are conflicting rumors about the ability of this card to work with All-In-Wonder video cards. It seems likely that this card will only support OTA HDTV (as no mention of QAM support figures in the information that ATI released).
The standalone product is said to have a target price around $100, although this is not from an official source.
The ATI Wonder HDTV will be based on a Philips tuner and a NXT2004 VSB/QAM receiver, and it seems that this card will be a direct competitor of the FusionHDTV-III, as it appears to rely on software for the decoding.
Little is known about the accompanying software solution. Letâ€™s hope that ATI wonâ€™t stay true to its reputation for software developmentâ€¦ Stay tuned for more information during the Spring of 2004.Closing Comments
Each card has its own set of pluses and minuses, and I donâ€™t think it is possible to pick an overall winner. Depending on budget and what one wants to do, one card might emerge as the #1 choice (The good aspect of this is that there many good choices!).
The software of each of the cards keeps on improving, sometimes very fast and there are good and bad surprises! There is room for improvement with each solution, and I do hope that 2004 keeps on bringing new features to each of the current cards, and â€“who knows- maybe an even better next generation card (The upcoming ATI, USB2 HDTV solutions might provide some improvements, but it's too early to say how well they fare).
Due to recent FCC rulings, none of these cards will likely be available for sale in the US after 2005. Some new hardware designs will be required to comply with a newly mandated anti-piracy scheme, although the current cards will still work. While some progress in other aspects of the cards/applications may make the current cards obsolete by late 2005, there will likely be a second hand market for the older designs thanks to the FCC. For more information on this topic, here's a good starting point: http://www.technologyreview.com/arti...030304.asp?p=1
**** Recent changes
-Updated Fusion-III QAM and ATI information (or lack thereof)
-Updated AccessDTV (newer software release) and Fusion-III info (future products/features)
-Updated to reflect availability of FusionHDTV-III and upcoming ATI Wonder HDTV
-Update about AC3 decode capability in myHD, comments about upcoming products (ATI, Fusion III, and USB based tuners). Removed comments about SDK availability for Fusion products (as this was just a rumor)
-Update about EPG support (titantv)
-Release of my AccessDTV application, and myHTPC/Tv ToGo support of the Fusion cards
-MyHD beta release with full DVD support, thanks to Cliff and the MIT elves ;)
(12/14/03 and 12/02/03)
-Minor updates (MDP-120 NTSC, HiPix availability, Adtv price and +/- etc.)
-Updated information on Fusion and AccessDTV
-Updated information on all cards
-Incorporated features of new AVS AccessDTV software
-Misc edits (discontinued models, typos, etc.)
-Fusion beta with TitanTV support added
-Misc updates (Fusion beta software, AccessDTV AVS development team)
-Price reduction on AccessDTV
(05/09/03 and 05/12/03)
-Fusion II and MDP-120 released, with some new information on each of these products
-Edits per edmc's suggestion, and updated Fusion feature list (to 1.12 beta)
-Included initial observations about FusionHDTV-I (and announcements about FusionHDTV-II and MyHD MDP-120)
-Added information on dual card capability of myHD drivers (thanks to RTK)
-Updated information on Titantv, and move to encryption
-Added explanation related to upcoming software decoding solutions (Fusion, etc.)
- Added new resolutions for myHD (1280x768) as per new beta
- Clarified (and corrected) minimum processor requirement for MyHD
- Added information about upcoming software decode cards
- Updated MyHD feature list to include newly released beta (with a lot of very nice improvements)
- Updated info about CC capabilities of AccessDTV (also works with HD)
- Updated MyHD ff/rw details
- Added info on HiPix composite out
- Misc edits for clarification (thanks to Rfutscher)
- Reduced pricing on MyHD
- Rewrote section on satellite modulation (Thanks to miimura)
- Adjusted statements about analog audio, and driver development for HiPix