NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2008
Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick Review
By Bill James, APCUG Director; Editor & Webmaster, Computer Club of Oklahoma City
bjames(at)apcug.net (click to email author)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

Some computer products just have a ‘wow’ factor on first sight; the Pinnacle PCTV HD Stick is one of those devices. It is a TV tuner on a USB stick and not just any TV tuner but one that is capable of pulling down Standard Definition (SD) and High Definition (HD) content to your PC.

On seeing the Pinnacle presentation on their PCTV HD Stick at the APCUG Convention in 2008, I have been itching to get my hands on one. I was imagining a new widescreen computer monitor coupled with this device as a means of having a really cheap HDTV. So I purchased a new widescreen monitor (22”) and the PCTV HD Stick. The USB device comes in 3 flavors, PCTV HD ($69.99), PCTV HD Pro ($99.99) and the top of the line PCTV HD Ultimate ($129.99). There is also an internal card version ($79.99). All these devices are designed for Windows XP and are Vista Certified. There is a separate device with similar features for Mac users ($129.99). I opted for the ‘Ultimate’ model because of its onboard memory DVR and software. More on that later, but the Ultimate is a plug and play that allows you to start watching and record SD and HDTV almost immediately.

The packaging contains a mini remote control including batteries, a portable telescoping high-gain antenna, A/V adapter cable, A/V adaptor cable, a USB extender cable and the usual manuals and CDs. With the Ultimate model you also get a neat soft leatherette carrying pouch.

Setting Up
Setting up the PCTV Ultimate could not be easier. This model has all the software preinstalled including the Personal Video Recorder (PVR) that allows you to record up to 2 hours of video. You just plug it in and follow the onscreen instructions and start enjoying live TV within seconds. The on-board memory on the Ultimate can also be used to store additional files. You run setup once, even if you use the device on a different PC, the settings and preference are stored on the device.

You have 3 options in setting up the PCTV:

    1) Antenna (for digital/analog TV reception);
    2) Cable (analog TV reception);
    3) Capture from Cable/Satellite Set-top Box.

For this review we will be using Option 1 – Antenna (digital/analog TV reception). During setup, the PCTV will scan for SD and HD signals via the included antenna. The antenna is designed for digital and analog TV reception in regions with fair to good signal coverage.

When using the antenna, it should be fully extended in the upright position as high as possible and near a window. The base of the antenna is magnetic so it should not be placed near a cathode ray tube monitor, television or similar equipment as the electromagnetic field of such devices might deteriorate the signal quality. Also be careful with the magnetic base around other objects that are sensitive to magnetic forces – i.e. PC hard drive. In my region I was able to download all the local SD and HD stations available within my region via the antenna.

Packaging Software
When you first install the PCTV HD Ultimate Stick, it checks whether all the required drivers and the .NET 2.0 Framework are already on your computer and, if necessary, installs them. After the initial startup, every time you start the program, a TV screen appears immediately on your desktop. The integrated memory on the PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is divided into 2 different areas or drives.

    · A re-writable memory area (removable media area) with the TVCenter Pro program and available memory for recorded shows or other user data. The drive is labeled PCTV flash.
    · A read-only memory area (CD-ROM area) contains the drivers. This drive is labeled PCTV

Packaging Start
Also included in the package is Pinnacle Studio QuckStart that allows you to edit your recordings or home movies and transfer them to DVD, complete with custom menus and soundtracks.

Packaging Controls
The package comes with a full-featured remote control. Although small in size it does give complete control of the PCTV. If you elect to use Windows Media Center, the included remote will not work. You will have to purchase a compatible Windows Media Center remote that is available from Pinnacle.

Packaging Display
The first time Pinnacle TVCenter Pro is accessed, you will see the Player. This screen can be full-screen or resized to suit. There are navigation icons that select settings, channels, TV or Radio and the program guide.

Packaging FM Radio
As sort of an added bonus, during setup PCTV stick also scans for available internet radio signals for play back on your PC. It categorizes them by genre rather than call letters. Unfortunately, the software does not provide any other information regarding the available stations or for the music that is being played.

Packaging Picture Quality and Sound Quality
The quality of picture and sound is dependent on your monitor and speakers. The PCTV HD stick is capable of providing digital sound, SD and HD quality picture that if is available within your region.

Packaging Windows Media Center
If you have a PC equipped with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate or Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and you want to watch and record TV using the Windows Media Center application, then you will have to run TV setup in that application. I’m running Windows Vista Ultimate on my PC and using the Windows Media Center software for my TV viewing and recording, but you can use either product. There is not a conflict between the included software and Windows Media Center. However, the Windows Media Center software overrides the included TVCenter Pro software for TV viewing and recording. The included remote does not work with Windows Media Center; however you can select channels directly by keyboard input and/or by mouse when viewing TV via Windows Media Center. You can also opt to purchase a compatible Media Center Remote control that is available from Pinnacle for $29.99. Again, to get the PCTV HD stick to work with Windows Media Center is the matter of selecting the TV setup in Windows Media Center and following the onscreen instructions. Window Media Center will recognize the device and do its own scan and download a TV guide that is used to identify the channels and for time shifting. The time shifting feature allows you to record your favorite TV shows and play them back at a later time. Windows Media Center does not support some of the onboard memory features of the PCTV HD Ultimate stick.

Packaging Conclusion
I now have my cheap HDTV and so far I have not been disappointed. The PCTV HD is pulling free off the air HD signals and displaying them on my monitor in full HD. The PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is a slick ultra-portable USB device that will allow you to watch and record SD and free HD TV. The TV tuner and personal video recorder software run directly from the Stick’s on-board flash memory, so you can plug it into any PC and start watching and recording TV in seconds – no installation required.

It supports both analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC) TV signals. The tuner hardware is also ready for ClearQAM (unencrypted digital cable).

You can record up to 2 hours of TV directly to the stick for playback on any PC and save recordings to your hard drive in MPEG-1/2 or DivX formats or even direct-to-DVD.

This article has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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