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Technology: TV on the PC? Easy PC! (3/9/2010)

By Rob Livings, AVerMedia

Most of us now use the same type of display when we watch TV or use a PC. LCD screens for both laptop and desktop PCs have got bigger, better and cheaper in recent years, and the same has happened with TV screens. Latest-generation LCD TVs offer superb resolution, and screen sizes that, until recently, used to require a complicated separate projector set-up.

So why not harness the opportunity arising from the convergence of PC and TV screen technology, and look at a new market - domestic PC TV? This lets users watch their favourite programmes wherever they are in the house, and avoids family squabbles over the remote control.

Converging TVs and PCs in this way is simple. It involves plugging a device called a PC TV tuner into a spare PCI slot for desktop PCs, or a spare USB socket for laptops and desktops. This allows users to pick up digital Freeview or analogue TV signals, either to watch live or record to their PC's hard disk for later viewing.

Here is all you need to know about the range of PC TV tuners and their features, enabling you to capitalise on this emerging market:

What types of PC TV tuners are currently on the market?

PC TV tuners are available either as internal devices (i.e. cards that fit into a PCI slot inside your computer's casing) or as an external, compact USB device. There is little to choose between them in terms of performance. So for users, the choice often comes down to a matter of cost, features, and preference.


The AVerMedia AVerTV Volar HD PRO A835 USB device includes a high-powered aerial and allows users to watch and record Freeview TV programmes up to 1080i.

On the other hand, USB tuners can be a great solution for customers whose computer's PCI slots are full, for those who don't want to open their PC's casing and fiddle inside, or if they want to watch TV on a laptop. Setting up a USB tuner is quicker than installing a PCI card because USB is plug and play, but in operation, they work identically.

Can users get Freeview?

Users can get full Freeview digital TV services on a PC TV tuner, complete with all of the features they would expect from a conventional set-top box (STB), such as an electronic programme guide (EPG), easy recording, and so on.

PC TV cards in the UK pick up Freeview using the same method as that of an STB or TV with built-in Freeview receiver: using digital video broadcasting-terrestrial (DVB-T). The signals transmitted using DVB-T travel from aerial antenna to aerial antenna, from signal blaster to home receiver, in a similar way to the old analogue broadcasts.

DVB-T broadcasters transmit data using a compressed digital audio/video stream, with the entire process based on the MPEG-2 standard. These transmissions can include all kinds of digital broadcasting, including HDTV. This is a vast improvement over analogue broadcasting, which required separate streams of transmission and is in the process of being phased out and switched off in the UK.

Is an aerial required?

Like TV or digital decoders in the front room, a PC TV tuner requires an aerial. In areas where analogue or digital signal strength is high, users might be able to use a free-standing indoor television aerial. Some PC TV tuners come supplied with a compact aerial, which may be sufficient, depending on where the house is situated relative to the nearest transmitter.

But in most cases, attaching the tuner to existing external aerials gives users the best results, using an additional aerial socket or an extension cable.


The AVerMedia Digi Super 007 PCI card can be connected to an existing aerial for digital terrestrial TV viewing.

What features are available?

As well as enabling users to activate features such as EPGs and recording to the PC's hard disk, some PC TV tuners also offer twin tuners so users can watch one programme while recording another. Another popular feature is picture-in-picture mode, so they can watch two channels at once, or watch a TV channel while playing a PC game.

At the time of writing, PC TV tuners only support DVB-T1 transmissions. However, units with DVB-T2 capabilities are expected to be available later in the year and will support UK Freeview HD programming, such as BBC and ITV HD channels.

Depending on their specification, some PC TV tuners also include inputs that allow users to connect external devices to their PC, such as DVD or Blu-ray players and games consoles (such as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and so on). With these composite inputs, users can capture high-definition content from discs, or direct from the games consoles, to let them record back-ups of favourite material.

Tuners for gaming purposes

It's worth knowing a little more about how tuners can capture HD content from other sources. Capture devices such as these provide an ideal solution to gaming enthusiasts who want to capture live gameplay onto their PC for later viewing or sharing. They also come in handy if users want to capture video from other HDMI sources, including camcorder footage for review, video demonstrations, and online learning.

As mentioned previously, if users purchase a PC TV tuner that provides inputs for external devices, then they can connect it to their games console and record live footage at maximum HD resolution. Devices such as these capture live video input from one source i.e. a user's Xbox or PS3, whilst outputting to an HDMI display on screen, such as their PC or laptop.

Unlike most image transfers, HD capture devices maintain the quality of the footage as they don't compress the image. This ensures captured content is free of stops and pauses. This also means that actual gameplay, and the recording of it, is simultaneous, making it a relatively quick and easy way for users to gather actual gaming footage to share with others.

Is special software required?

Most PC TV tuners, such as those from AVerMedia, are supplied with bundled, free software to help customers get up and running quickly.

They can also use Windows Media Center suite, which comes preloaded with Microsoft Vista Home Premium, Vista Ultimate, and all versions of Windows 7 except Starter. This suite can also work with PC TV tuners to enable recording and watching of programmes, and provides the ability to copy programmes to DVD and portable media players such as iPods.

Conclusion

With PC and TV screen technology converging, PC TV is a strong sales opportunity, allowing you to provide more flexible options for users to watch and interact with TV, wherever they are in the home. So why not jump on the PC TV bandwagon and reap the benefits that this new market will bring to your business?

Rob Livings is the UK Sales and Marketing Director for AVerMedia, a leading provider of digital multimedia technology.

www.averm.co.uk

 

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