This veritable Swiss Army knife of the PC TV world will bring to your desktop the wonders of both analogue and digital terrestrial TV, FM radio plus digital satellite.
And as if that wasn't enough, the remotely controllable HVR4000 is compatible with the 'S2' variant of DVB-S, thereby facilitating hi-def satellite reception. An analogue video input also makes video display and capture (albeit with software video compression) a possibility. Nominally FTA only, the HVR4000 can be upgraded with the CI reader that Hauppauge is, at the time of writing, about to launch.
Another new Hauppauge product is the WinTV Nova-HD-S2, essentially a stripped-down (and thus more affordable) version of the HVR4000. Gone are the video input and terrestrial tuners - this simpler card is satellite-only. But the DVB-S2 compatibility is retained (thus the 'HD' part of the name). The only other DVB-S2 capable product Hauppauge sells at the moment is the HVR4000. As with this product, the Nova-HD-S2 can be upgraded for pay-TV reception with the aforementioned CI 'dongle' and benefits from a remote control. It's also supplied with the same Cyberlink PowerCinema application, which features DVD and media playback in addition to digital TV.
Connections are minimal. The backplate -accessible from the rear of the PC after the card has been slotted into a spare PCI slot - sports an F-connector for your dish and a 2.5mm connector that's intended for use with the supplied infrared 'remote eye'. This attaches with a metre or so of cable, so that it can be positioned for reception of the commands issued by the handset. There is no IF loopthrough output on this card which, to our surprise, is sparsely populated by components. Bearing in mind what it can do, the screened tuner that's built onto the card itself is tiny. The optional CI reader will plug into a USB socket; no connection on the card itself is required.
Use and features
Installation on our test PC - hardware insertion, followed by the drivers and software - was easy. And that's with the latest Vista (Home Edition Premium) version of Windows, which is currently something of a compatibility assault course. Hauppauge's traditional WinTV software isn't supplied because it doesn't support the H.264 video codec employed by European hi-def channels. Thus the inclusion of Cyberlink PowerCinema, which is indeed ready for hi-def. The Nova-HD-S2 will work with WinTV, which can be downloaded from the Hauppauge website. Just remember that only standard-def channels can be viewed with it.
WinTV will co-exist with PowerCinema on your PC, along with any other digital TV software you care to install; the drivers are BDA-compliant, and will thus dovetail with third-party digital TV applications like DVBViewer. Microsoft's Windows Media Center is not supported because it makes no provision for digital satellite cards. Hauppauge could learn something here from competitor Azurewave, whose AD-SP400 card has a 'patch' that fools Media Center into believing that its tuner is DTT.
PowerCinema, which mimics the feel of Windows Media Center quite well, provides media playback (DVDs, photos and audio/video) as well as the viewing and recording of digital TV. Power Cinema is rather basic in digital TV terms but is relatively easy to set up initially; a wizard configures aspect ratio, speaker type, EPG source (off-air or from a third-party EPGdata.com internet service) and the compatible tuner(s) it finds.
A 'satellite settings' submenu caters for up to four satellites if you have a DiSEqC setup. Then there's the scan, which replaces all existing channels in its database with the ones that it finds rather than just updating them. Make any DiSEqC changes and all channels are wiped, necessitating a full re-scan. This is annoying, as is PowerCinema's inability to scan one of the four satellites individually.
But you can add channels manually via the 'channel settings' menu. Using another wizard, the parameters of the desired service - satellite, transponder frequency, polarisation and FEC - can be entered. Fortunately, the supplied version of PowerCinema supports DVB-S2 (earlier ones didn't) and so the delights of European hi-def TV can be enjoyed. Although separate digital TV and radio lists are provided, channel selection could be a lot easier. The program presents you with a list that can't be sorted. You can't even define favourite TV channels for quick selection.
All you can do is turn off channels that aren't required so that they don't appear in the list. Other features include teletext, timeshifting and support for now-and-next EPGs - the 'holy triumvirate' as far as desktop TV is concerned. Multiple tuners aren't simultaneously supported for recording one channel while you watch another; all you can do is switch between tuners. PowerCinema may improve over earlier versions (like the one supplied with the HVR4000) but the use of different software for digital TV is still advised, such as the flexible DVBViewer.
With PowerCinema, even single-satellite scans are slow, the Astra 1x cluster taking around 15 minutes to find all of the available DVB-S and DVB-S2 channels. DVBViewer, in contrast, took about five. As far as sensitivity is concerned the Nova-HD-S2 fares no worse or better than other recent tuner cards. Video performance, sadly, is lacklustre - certainly with PowerCinema. With the Vista test PC outputting at our Sony HD-Ready LCD TV's native resolution of 1366x768, high-quality standard-definition MPEG-2 TV is soft, often with obvious pixellation visible.
HDTV was also something of a disappointment, its extra potential for visual detail not being fully realised here. Clearly, the program's video decoders are not up to much, and you can't specify alternatives in the setup menu. Switching to DVBViewer rewarded us with demonstrably superior video. The remote control is also a disappointment as far as PowerCinema is concerned.
Not all of the program's functions are available. It's possible, for example, to change channel, but you can't bring up the list. Some other TV functions can be accessed, but because the remote's 'enter' button isn't supported they can't be engaged. This is also annoying for DVD playback, which is also spoilt by an inability to navigate through disc menus (but cue/review and chapter skips are possible from your armchair).
The WinTV-HD-S2 has a lot to offer in hardware terms but, unless you're prepared to seek alternatives like DVB Viewer, its software limitations rather let the side down