Installing a digital satellite card in your PC allows you to keep up with all your favourite satellite TV channels - and listen to satellite radio - on your computer desktop while you work.
It also lets you timeshift and record programmes, which you can then convert into high-quality DVDs or DiVX files.
The Hauppauge WinTV Nova-S-Plus is the latest card from one of the most established names in the PC-TV business. It's a standard PCI card that needs to be fitted internally, so if you have any qualms about opening up your PC you're better off opting for a USB alternative instead.
It's also of the single-tuner variety, meaning that you can't view or record more than one channel at the same time - even if they're on the same transponder.
Based around a Conexant chipset, which is compatible with third-party software such as TSReader, the Nova-S-Plus has an audio analogue-to-digital converter that let's you record from external analogue video (PAL/SECAM/NTSC) sources - unusual for a PCI card. On the backplate you'll find a single IF input for your LNB, composite and S-video inputs, plus a 3.5mm jack for audio.
The Nova-S-Plus is compatible with DiSEqC 1.0 for use with up to four satellites via a switch-box. Unfortunately, DiSEqC 1.2 is not supported - presumably because the dish motor would load the PC's power supply too much.
There's also a socket for a trailing IR sensor. Recording external sources is also possible, but because software rather than hardware compression is involved, you will need a relatively powerful PC.
On the board itself is a multi-way connector that also accepts the AV input if you have a front-panel connector bay. Unfortunately, the pinout of this connector is not given.
The software is fairly basic and simple to use. Two versions are installed - WinTV32 and WinTV2000 - which provide identical functions, albeit with a different look and feel.
Although the Nova-S-Plus will only work under Windows XP SP2, WinTV32 has been included because it will be familiar to owners of previous Hauppauge cards. An infrared monitor program that starts up when the PC does is also installed.
The Nova-S-Plus is supplied with a remote handset for waking up the application, changing channel and accessing standard teletext. Unfortunately, the remote cannot be programmed to work with other applications.
When you run the software for the first time, you're do this, you need to specify your dish configuration. You can choose a single satellite if you're using a standard fixed dish, for those with DiSEqC, the LNBs relating to each satellite must be selected.
Scanning is rather slow - it took around 10 minutes for the Nova-S-Plus to work its way through Astra 2. Although this is a free-to-air product, encrypted channels are also stored, though thankfully, the Windows user interface makes it easy to delete channels you can't view, even if you do find radio and TV channels mixed together on the same list.
You can view selected TV channels - or AV sources- within a window or in full-screen. One useful feature is channel surf', which grabs images from the various channels and displays them in a 4x4 grid. And talking of grabbing you can also use the software to capture stills.
Pressing the pause button engages the timeshift facility, which uses your PC's hard disk as a temporary buffer, but only with TV, not radio. More permanent recordings (saved as MPEG-2) can be made manually, or automatically using the WinTV-Scheduler.
The Nova-S-Plus is also compatible with the tvtv subscription EPG - but this, alas, is about as close to an EPG as you'll get.
Video and audio quality are excellent, so clearly Hauppauge's MPEG decoders are up to scratch. The unit is not as sensitive as standalone receivers, but it will be good enough for reception of the Astras and Hot Birds.
Unfortunately, we had many problems with the Nova-S-Plus - the tuner in our first sample was faulty. A replacement card got us going, and we were able to enjoy PC-based satellite TV. However, that too, stopped working after a few days - starting either WinTV program rewarded us with a few seconds of reception before the familiar not responding' message appeared.
Maybe we've just been unlucky here - previous Hauppauge cards we've tested have never given us trouble. But as reviewed, we can't recommend the Nova-S-Plus despite its strong AV performance and simplicity of use.