Available with terrestrial or satellite tuners, network tuners jack into your home network and stream channels to any PCs loaded with the included software or mobile devices with the necessary app installed. Elgato was one of the first vendors of such products but it no longer has this market to itself.
The new kid on the block is the attractively styled HD HomeFree Duet from AVerMedia. Like Elgato's EyeTV Netstream DTT, this boasts a pair of digital terrestrial tuners – and so you could watch different programmes on two computers or record the same channel on both simultaneously.
Despite the name, it's not HD at all – certainly not over here because the tuners only support DVB-T and don't cater for the DVB-T2 system that carries British HD TV channels.
On board are an aerial input, a socket for a power supply and a network port. You must connect the latter to a router for streaming over Wi-Fi.
Installation wasn't problematic. As well as the core AVerTV 6 application, you get HomeFree Manager, a utility that looks after network settings and firmware updates. Chances are that you won't need to run it, as the system is self-configuring.
Don't forget to tell your firewall software to pass the necessary 'traffic', though. However, one manual aspect of installation is inescapable – the channel scan feature of AVerTV, which searches for and stores channels. This needs to be done for every computer, as channel data isn't stored in the box itself.
The tuning process is surprisingly fast, considering that it covers the entire UHF band. A side effect of this is the duplication of channels, as ones from secondary transmitters might be found. You'll have to manually delete any unwanted channels, especially unreliable 'fringe' examples.
Timeshifting and recording
AVerTV gives you all of the functionality associated with UK PVRs, including MHEG-5 red button services (which were, alas, non-functional). Live TV can be timeshifted, your computer's HDD being used as a temporary buffer. The basic EPG will schedule timed recordings, while manual recording is another possibility.
UK TV services are captured in MPEG-2 format – and because the video and audio are 'snatched' directly from the off -air transport stream, recordings exhibit no loss of quality.
Picture and sound quality could not be faulted on our Yoyotech quad-core Vista 'reference' PC. However, viewing on a dual-core XP machine wasn't so enjoyable; live programmes and recordings alike being spoilt by random break-up.
We were more successful with a Wi-Fi-connected Samsung notebook running Vista. The simultaneous use of multiple PCs proved that different programmes can be independently received.
AVerTV cannot record one channel while viewing another on the same machine, even if the software isn't running elsewhere.
Another disappointment is the lack of open standards. You cannot, for example, use other software like VLC Media Player top operate it.
The AVerTV application is for Windows only; the only other option offered is a TV 'client' for streaming to an iPad. But that's something you'll have to purchase separately via the Apple app store.
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