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Two Tiny TV Tuners Bring Video To Your PC

If you think connecting a lipstick-sized gizmo to a USB port on your laptop might not be the best way to watch television, you'd be half-right.

It can be a return to yesteryear, when TV pictures were filled with washed-out colors and interference. But if that keeps you from trying one, you may miss out on the cheapest possible ticket to a carnival of new things to do with video -- like use your computer as a personal video recorder, capture programs in file formats that you can transfer to your video iPod or other portable media player, or even capture and edit video from camcorders and other sources to edit and burn to DVDs.

And best of all, a USB tuner can introduce you to high-definition digital video. On Feb. 6, 2009, all U.S television broadcasts must be digital. Analog TV signals, with their snow and ghosts, will finally be gone, and good riddance. Depending on where you live, the broadcasters in your area probably already are experimenting with digital transmissions. In my suburban Boston neighborhood, I can attach a foot-long antenna to a USB tuner and pull in 11 analog channels and 20 digital signals, including digital signals from the Public Broadcasting System channel and the CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox affiliates. The pictures are sharp, bright, and vivid, more like playing a DVD than watching broadcast television.

The Set-Up
I worked with two USB tuners for this review: the WinTV-HVR-950 from Hauppauge, and Pinnacle's PCTV HD Pro Stick. Both connect to a USB 2.0 port. They're about 1.5 by 2.5 inches, and come with a short telescoping antenna and Windows software. The Pinnacle unit, which lists for $130, also comes with a thumb-sized remote control and an A/V adapter for analog video capture from VCRs and other video sources. The Hauppauge tuner lists for $99, and you can buy a standard-sized remote control and A/V adapter on the company's Web site for an additional $17.

(Click image to enlarge.)
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