KWorld DVB-T 310U USB TV tuner
PVR on your PC
Review Computers will soon come with TV tuners built-in as standard - the electronics are certainly small enough - but for now if you want to turn your PC into an 'idiot's lantern' you've got to opt for an add-on. USB now provides the bandwidth and the simplicity of connection, so you won't even have to open up your computer - handy if you're a notebook user...
The DVB-T 310U is one such new-style USB-hosted tuner. It's a wedge-shaped gadget about the size of a small mobile phone. At one end, under a cap, is the USB connector - you'll need a host with USB 2.0 support. The other end is home to an s-video-like connector and a co-axial aerial socket. KWorld provides a short DVB-T antenna and a short adaptor cable that plugs in alongside it and terminates in s-video, composite-video and stereo audio ports, and the receiver module for the bundled remote control unit. The short video leads are inputs only - use them to hook up other sources, such as VCRs and camcorders.
The 310U gets hot during operation, but not excessively so - you could quite easily leave it plugged into the back of your Media Centre PC provided there's a good airflow around there. The remote control cable's only 20cm long, so on a large machine it may not reach round to a place where you can get good line of sight from where you'll be sitting.
The remote worked well, controlling all the key components of KWorld's TV software, Hypermedia. You can switch between windowed or full-screen views, change channels, adjust the volume, activate or deactivate the PVR functionality. The remote also presents four colour-coded buttons in the familiar red, green, yellow and blue. Here, though, they control Hypermedia features like screengrabbing and the multi-screen preview system, which displays thumbnails of all the available channels - including, bizarrely, radio stations - to aid selection.
To view digital teletext, you need to resort to Hypermedia itself, which displays the page in a separate window - though not when I tried it; I got fed up waiting for it to "process the signal". Hypermedia does the job, but boy it's got an ugly user interface. Quite apart from the naff skins the software ships with - there's even a bovine-themed offering; an attempt to win the support of Gateway, perhaps? - it's cluttered and poorly thought out.
The channel scan panel, for example, provides an array of options, some that can't even be changed, it seems, and many of which I didn't even understand. A Freeview box doesn't throw all this at you, so why should a PC application? If the extra settings are necessary, tuck them away behind an Advanced... button, but don't scare consumers with them.
The timed-recording panel is similarly over-complicated. Yes, it lets you adjust the quality of the recording, choose the format, bitrate, framerate and a host of options, but again, there are too many options for most users seeking PVR-like functionality.
The software features an electronic programme guide button. Pushing it brings up a basic EPG window, but clicking on Start to populate it - well, I assume that's what the button's for - left the window empty even after a long wait.
Hypermedia also provides disc burning and format-conversion and video-splicing facilities, mostly through bundled standalone applications. Alas there's no description of these in the paper manual, leaving you at the mercy of the Taiwanese-to-English online help. There's a manual on the CD, but it's for a different version of the software. Some screens match Hypermedia's, others don't.
I tested the KWorld package on an Sony Vaio notebook with 512MB of memory and a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 CPU. Hypermedia hogs processor cycles, so you won't want to perform other tasks while you're using it, at least not without a more modern, dual-core processor at your disposal. Using the on-screen UI or the remote to change channels, turn timeshifting on or off, trigger a spur-of-the-moment recording all yielded significant pauses, to an extent it was hard to know whether I'd actually set anything in motion.
But if the KWorld software is poor, the hardware works well. The bundled antenna isn't great for digital, but it found a good selection of channels and it's fine for analogue reception. If the tuner's going into a fixed-location machine, you can easily connect up a standard aerial. But it's crying out for a third-party to take in on board and produce better, more appropriate applications for whatever territory they're targetting.
Still, for a mere 50 quid it seems churlish to complain about the software. Then again, you can buy comparable products from the likes of Terratec and Hauppage for the same sort of price, all with the same features but better software and, in some cases, a nicer remote control too.
KWorld's DVB-T 310U is an entirely acceptable USB TV tuner. It's just a shame the software's so weak. All the functionality's there, it's just implemented poorly and unnattractively. Rival firms may not offer better hardware, but they do provide superior software. ®