TV Cards

TV Cards:

I’ve been a fan of watching TV on my computer for a long time now. I guess I could just buy a small TV and sit it next to my computer, but having TV in a little window on my Desktop is so much more fun.

However, with such cool technology comes lots of headache.

At first, the idea of a TV card may sound complex to some. The actual physical device isn’t really that complex though (compared to some of the other computer hardware out there). The biggest issues with TV cards are on the software side.

The TV card will have a tuner and a decoder chip. The tuner speaks with the decoder chip on the hardware (so you usually don’t have to worry about how that works), and then the decoder chip talks to the computer via drivers and software.

Some companies release some software and then disappear. Over time, issues may be found in the drivers or software, or a new OS comes out that doesn’t work with the drivers or software. The user who has purchased the TV card is out of luck though, as the company that made the card may be gone.

When I bought my STB TV PCI card, STB provided some VXD drivers for Windows 95. In 1999, Microsoft released WDM on the world. Windows 2000 wouldn’t work with VXD drivers (it requires WDM). By that time, STB was gone. I was stuck with no drivers, and therefor no TV card if I decided to leave the VXD-compatible Windows 9x platform.

Luckily, a friend gave me his Hauppauge WinTV PCI card. It wasn’t as a good as my STB TV PCI (feature-wise), but it had real software support from a company that was still around.

Over time, generic drivers came out that supported a lot of TV cards, including my STB TV PCI. There were also a lot better choice in TV viewing programs. Generic drivers and DScaler allowed me to use my STB TV PCI again in Windows 2000 and even Windows XP.

Time changes things. Instead of everyone using basic BT8x8 cards and DScaler, people want more than just TV viewing. They want their computer to act like a digital video recorder. It’s not just that, there are issues with Windows Vista now. Programs like DScaler that force overlay mode don’t get along with Vista.

To top it all off, more and more TV cards are now coming out with DIGITAL tuners.

Digital tuners require new drivers. Vista requires new drivers and TV viewing software. It’s like the 1990s again. People are buying all this new TV viewing hardware and running into driver and software issues again.

Personally, I use my TV card just to watch live TV. I don’t record TV or do “time shifting”.

Software I’ve used to watch TV:

– Analog –
DScaler 4 (Free), XP
ChrisTV (Free and Shareware), XP and Vista

– Digital –
WatchHDTV (Free), XP

My driver page (HERE), has some tweaks for the STB TV PCI card.

Other TV card viewing software. I may have used them, but I am not familiar with them:

FlyDS (Shareware)
GB-PVR (Free)
Got All Media (Free)
Beyond TV (Commercial)
MediaPortal (Free)

You can look for more at Their list doesn’t tell you which programs are for Windows, which are free, which work with digital tuners, etc.
Their forum is full of people posting random questions to random threads, and usually with bad English, so it may be a little hard to navigate and read.

TV cards I have:

STB TV PCI (1996), BT848 Chipset
Hauppauge WinTV PCI (1999), BT878 Chipset
KWorld PlusTV ATSC/HD 120 PCI, (2007), CX2388X Chipset
Encore ENLTV-FM PCI, (2008)
KWorld UB435-Q USB, (2009)
Hauppage WinTV-HVR-2250 PCIe (2009)
KWorld Plus TV “Analog Lite” (7134SE) PCI, (2009)
SiliconDust HDHomeRun, (2009)

In case you haven’t noticed, I like TV cards.

STB TV PCI Features:
– Stereo Sound
– S-Video and Composite Video Input
– CD-Audio output cable.

Pros: Well supported BT848 chipset. Works in Windows and Linux. Stereo output cable hooks to the CD audio-in on sound card.
Cons: Well, after a decade of use, the coax plug snapped off. The old BT848 chipset doesn’t support any of the filtering newer TV chips use.

Hauppage WinTV Features:
– Well supported by company.
– Composite Video Input

Pros: Even after 9 years, you can still download current drivers for it on manufacturer’s web site. Well supported BT878 chipset. External sound cable.

Cons: Mono sound. Sound cable takes up Input port on sound card. Sound output has high-pitched whine. The “WinTV2000” application doesn’t support Vista/Win7.

KWorld PlusTV ATSC/HD PCI 120 Features:
– Hybrid Tuner (two in one, Digital and Analog)
– Stereo Sound (Analog Tuner)
– 5.1 AC3 Sound (Digital Tuner)
– S-Video and Composite Video Input (Analog)
– 1920x1080i HDTV Support
– FM radio support w/ included extra antenna.
– TV remote included.
– Comes with decent MediaCenter style software package.

Pros: Digital tuner, great picture, new technology.

Cons: Poor driver support. Poor software compatibility. Internal sound with no volume control. TV remote software usually takes up constant CPU when doing nothing and is designed to only work with the bundled software. No QAM support. Doesn’t display the digital signal correctly (it shows only “0%” if no signal, and “100%” for everything above that).

Encore ENLTV-FM PCI (2008)
KWorld UB435-Q USB (2009)
Hauppage WinTV-HVR-2250 PCIe (2009)
KWorld Plus TV “Analog Lite” (7134SE) PCI (2009)
SiliconDust HDHomeRun (2009)