Leadtek DTV1000 T digital TV tuner
Review There have always been TV tuner cards for PCs but it's fair to say that Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition has given them a new lease of life. So much so, in fact, that if a card isn't compatible with MCE, it's hardly worth mentioning.
Leadtek's DTV1000 T digital tuner card is certainly MCE 2005 compatible but ironically there's actually good reason not to use it with MCE, as the supplied software provides access to a set of tricks that aren't available under Microsoft's OS.
While this Leadtek card has only just been released, it's actually been around for some time as the OEM LR-6650 card. Leadtek's version comes with its own software and a remote control.
The card is powered by two Conexant chips, a demodulator and a decoder. Connectivity is good. First of all there's an antenna port into which you connect the cable from your aerial. Beneath this is an antenna pass-through port. This unusual addition is for looping to a second card or through to your TV. In this configuration, the card can process four channels simultaneously. MCE 2005 supports dual-tuner cards, enabling you to record one channel while watching another.
There's also a composite connector, which should really be avoided due to the very poor image quality it delivers, and lastly there's an S-Video input. These can be used for capturing from analogue sources such as camcorders or from set-top boxes. Finally, there's a connector for the supplied remote control dongle.
I installed the card in my home Media Center 2005 system - an old Shuttle box with a modest 2.2GHz Celeron CPU and 512MB of 333MHz RAM. I only use it for video as the analogue TV tuner only picks up four of the five terrestrial channels and does so pretty poorly. Replacing the analogue cards with the DVB-T capable Leadtek paid immediate dividends, and MCE 2005 was able to pick up a host of channels straight away. MCE 2005 downloaded the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) over the Internet and I was away, setting up the machine to record the whole series of Desperate Housewives.
I was immediately impressed by the image quality, though that's not saying much compared to what I had before. There was some ghosting on fast motion but the main limitation is the relatively low bit-rate used by the UK's terrestrial digital TV system, Freeview. One of the options the card offers is something called Eagle Vision. This can't be selected when another option, Hardware Assist, is enabled but as it adds some noticeable sharpness and vividness to the picture I left it on.