Slapping a vogue-ish phrase like HD on the WinTV-Ministick is a sure way to attract interest in your DTT tuner but it can be misleading for UK buyers.
While tuners like the Ministick are indeed compatible with terrestrial HD services from countries including France and Spain which use H.264 compression, they lack the DVB-T2 chipsets that will be required for Freeview HD. Indeed, DVB-T2 tuners are not likely to appear in commercial products until late 2009 at the earliest and will likely come at a premium price initially.
So for those not planning to hop across The Channel, how suitable is the single DVB-T tuner-equipped Ministick for standard-definition reception? Well, being little bigger than a stick of gum, it's not the tiniest tuner we've come across but is slender nonetheless.
It plugs directly into a USB 2.0 port on your computer or can be set apart using a USB extension cable. Also included is an adjustable hinged portable aerial fitted with a magnetic base or you can connect the tuner to a rooftop aerial.
Predictably, the latter proves the best option as we were unable to get a signal in our London test area with the portable option either indoors or sat in the garden with the included signal monitor application showing figures stuck stubbornly in the red. Not great for on-the-go laptop users, then.
Also in the box is a basic credit card-sized remote which could do with some variation in button size to make it more intuitive. The tuner works well with Windows Media Center (with Service Pack 2 installed) or you can use the supplied alternative – version 7 of Hauppauge's also rather basic WinTV application. There's no support for the third-party TVTV application, however, which would have added such features as remote recording.
The software scans for channels on first loading, generating a single list from which channels can be searched for by name. This displays video in a re-sizeable Windows Media Player-style interface with the option to have it always overlaid over other items on your desktop and display video in 4:3, 16:9 or 16:10 including full-screen.
There's subtitle support but not teletext. You can view now-and-next data for channels from the main application or there's a grid-styled EPG populated by seven-day DVB data from which you can also view synopses and schedule recordings.
Recordings are also scheduled from a separate manual scheduler where you can specify channel, length and once, daily or weekly repeat options with the option to have the PC come out of standby to record if needed.
Alternatively, you can start recording directly from the main application window. Recordings are stored with their name, date and time in transport stream format, although Hauppauge has stopped short of including software for editing, conversion or burning afterwards.
The software keeps a running cache of what you're viewing in its pause buffer, allowing you to skip back and forward 10 or 30 seconds or in one-minute chunks. Buffered files can kept too (useful if you forgot to record what you're watching).
While we were not in a position to test its HD reception capabilities, viewing Freeview channels and playing back recordings on our reasonably powerful test laptop (Intel Core 2, 2GB RAM, GeForceT5600 graphics card) using a rooftop aerial proved a smooth experience with few glitches. Recordings also started on time with no hiccoughs.
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