Have a desire to upgrade your laptop with a TV tuner? And you decide: which model to choose? Yesterday, the electronic market was limited to models that could not meet the needs of the consumer. They were very expensive, took up a lot of space, and the image quality was poor.
Due to the dynamics of technology development, it has significantly expanded the market for mobile TV tuning. Modern models have become much lighter and more compact, and their price is simply pleasing to the eye! The choice has become larger, but not all models are able to cope with the main task: the quality of reception and transmission of cable and terrestrial programs.
In this article, I will try to compare several well-known TV tuner models for personal computers. And also I will share with you tips that will help you make the right choice.
To begin with, let's decide what should be your new tuner: external (USB) or internal (PCMCIA)? The choice depends primarily on the technical characteristics of the computer and personal preferences. If your laptop does not have a PCMCIA slot, then you need an external USB tuner.
Advantages of the USB tuner:
-universality. The device easily connects to any computer with a USB port, the main thing is to have the necessary drivers and software.
Disadvantages of USB tuner:
-large dimensions of the device and the presence of additional wires and power supply.
As an example, consider the well-known TV tuner "AVerTV USB 2.0." He clearly presents all the pros and cons of USB solutions.
If we are talking about a tuner for a laptop, then the size of the device and design features should be highlighted. The size of such a device should be optimal for comfortable use. The AVerTV USB 2.0 tuner is the best example of a competent case design. Its thin die-cast metal body doesn't take up much space and can be carried along with your laptop! And the convenient location of audio and video inputs, antenna jack, USB and line-out allows you to work comfortably both at home and outside.
The antenna adapter turned out to be a particularly competent solution, its design, when connecting the antenna cable, prevents damage to the antenna connector,
The next thing I would like to draw your attention to is the connection features. There are two types of signal transmission: audio and video transmission via the USB bus, and also using the audio line-out directly to the laptop. The first type of signal transmission (via the USB bus) is used in tuners with an MPEG encoder. These specifications depend on the device model.
Advantages of the first circuit using the audio line-out directly to the laptop:
-inexpensive and effective;
- only two cables, one of which can be used as a power supply for the tuner
-on a "weak" computer, the sound can either be ahead of the picture, or vice versa, lag behind;
-not every laptop has a suitable audio input.
Advantages of the first scheme when transferring audio and video via USB bus:
-Works great on "weak" computers.
-high power consumption. You will have to use an external power supply or an additional usb port of the laptop. Hence the impossibility of autonomous use, as well as reduced battery life;
- lack of an FM receiver - an integral part of a modern tuner
In the given example of the “AVerTV USB 2.0” tuner, we have a second connection diagram. This model has a chip with a Crescentec DC1100-A4 controller, with which a video stream can be transmitted at a speed of 25-30 frames per second. The speed depends on the expansion of the TV.
The Crescentec DC1100-A4 controller also supports 8-bit mono audio transmission at 8 kHz, but this is not enough for high-quality audio.For this, an audio line-out is used.
However, there is also a compromise solution that integrates the advantages of the first and second schemes. "AVerTV USB 2.0 Plus" is assembled according to the second scheme, but has a built-in chip that allows you to transmit audio and video using only one cable for connection, is equipped with an FM receiver and does not consume much power.
Besides the hardware solution, the software is also an important component of any tuner. Both functionality and video and audio quality depend on this. The software of most USB tuners has only basic functions: recording in different audio and video formats, timeshift (allows you to convert linear viewing to non-linear, pause or watch the program you like again) and a scheduler. It differs only in the implementation of functions and support for additional filters.
The AVerTV USB 2.0 tuner is equipped with standard software: a simple interface, a set of basic functions, support for filters that provide high image quality, like tuners with MPEG encoders.
Thus, USB tuners are relatively large in size and the need for additional wires, which limits the possibility of use and movement. Also, the hardware content of almost all modern USB tuners is inferior to modern PCI models that support all the advanced technologies of modern television. And USB tuners are expensive ($ 100 to $ 150).
PCMCIA tuners. Features.
Do you need a more compact, functional, and most importantly, affordable tuner? I recommend PCMCIA tuners. I will run a little, saying that these tuners have advantages over USB models, both in terms of size and functions.
The design of PCMCIA tuners is based on the use of the same technologies as in modern PCI tuners assembled on the Philips SAA7135HL chip.
Today there are many models of PCMCIA tuners with prices ranging from $ 40 to $ 100. Differences: first of all, functional features and a number of imperceptible, at first glance, features necessary when choosing.
Externally, PCMCIA tuners are similar, but there are differences:
- the design of the outer part, where the HF unit is located, two IR receivers that allow remote control of the tuner from either side of the laptop;
- connectors for TV and FM antennas;
- The most important design feature of any PCMCIA tuner: a connector for a block of low-frequency audio-video cables.
The design is considered not very successful, where the antenna connectors are located on the tuner board itself, and the low-frequency inputs are connected to a round connector, like S-Video. Under the weight of the TV cable, the antenna connector can, over time, break or fall out, you must admit that in real-time capture mode, it will be just awful. A similar design is found in cheap tuners such as the FlyTV Cardbus.
In my opinion, in the design of PCMCIA tuners, the reference will be "AVerTV Hibrid Cardbus". The tuner uses a gold-plated connector and connects to a shielded TV antenna adapter. It relieves the pressure of the TV cable on the tuner board.
A similar mount can be found in the new PCMCIA tuner "Behold TV Columbus". There is an opinion that the use of an additional adapter (or additional contact) leads to a deterioration in the image. This is not true. Thanks to the gold-plated connector, a firm contact is ensured and the picture quality does not change in any way. And do not believe someone who will assure you otherwise.
The same connector is used to connect the FM antenna in the “AVerTV Hibrid Cardbus” tuner, although the usual 2.5mm connector is used in “Behold TV Columbus”, but it doesn't really matter. I have already paid attention to the use of the usual round connector in the FlyTV Cardbus tuner, which does not provide reliable contact and staggers from the weak movement of the cable itself.
I would also like to draw your attention to the external module: the shorter and thinner the module, the better.The size of the module depends on the design of the tuner, and in particular on the HF unit. Today, two types of blocks are used in PCMCIA tuners: "traditional" technology and "silicone".
"Traditional" HF-block in the tuner "Behold TV Columbus"
A “traditional” RF unit is a relatively large shielded unit made up of discrete active and passive elements. A "silicon" block is a small microcircuit, all the elements of which are made on a silicon crystal.
"Silicone" HF unit Philips TDA 8275 in the "FlyTV Cardbus" tuner
As you have noticed, the "silicone" tweeter unit takes up noticeably less space than the "traditional" one, which means that the outer part should be minimal in size, but in fact the opposite is true. The “FlyTV Cardbus” tuner has the largest external part, which is due, for some unknown reason, to the use of an additional fan. The tuner, "AVerTV Hibrid Cardbus", which also uses a "silicone" HF unit, has the thinnest but longest outer section. And finally, the tuner "Behold TV Columbus", which uses the "traditional" HF unit, is the most compact due to the efficient structure of the printed circuit board.
Perhaps the story about the HF units used, their dimensions of the outer part may seem highly specialized, but believe me, it's not just that. After all, the image quality depends on the HF unit used. Traditional blocks, due to the possibility of manual adjustment of some parameters, provide high sensitivity, selectivity and effective automatic gain control. Whereas in the silicone block, there are no such manual adjustments. And the silicone type of RF units has technical disadvantages in sensitivity, selectivity and automatic gain control, thereby degrading the image quality. Such units are found in cheap PCMCIA tuners, for example, the FlyTV Cardbus. Such savings lead to the following results. Examples of screenshots taken simultaneously on the “Behold TV Columbus” and “FlyTV Cardbus” tuners.
HF unit 175MHz Traditional
HF unit 175MHz Silicone
HF unit 215MHz Traditional
HF unit 215MHz Silicone
HF unit 487MHz Traditional
HF unit 487MHz Silicone
HF unit 519MHz Traditional
HF unit 519MHz Silicone
HF unit 535MHz Traditional
HF unit 535MHz Silicone
HF unit 671MHz Traditional
HF unit 671MHz Silicone
HF unit 783MHz Traditional
HF unit 783MHz Silicone
As you can see, as the frequency increases, the image quality on the silicone HF unit is lost: snow, noise and other defects appear. Which leads to a complete loss of visibility of the image. There are exceptions, though. For example, the tuner "AVerTV Hibrid Cardbus" by its design has a "silicone" HF unit - X-Ceive XC3018. This block has the best sensitivity and selectivity, as well as automatic gain control. Hence the highest picture quality!
What options do tuners have?
Tuner functionality is directly related to hardware and software components. As mentioned earlier, modern tuners are equipped with a Philips SAA7134HL chip, which provides TV programs in NICAM / A2 format and stereo sound. There is also a Philips SAA7135HL chip that contains additional audio processing capabilities. It is this chip that functions in all the tuners described in this article. Although not all devices make full use of its maximum capabilities, due to limited software capabilities.
About cheap tuners.
In order: from the functional side, the FlyTV Cardbus tuner attracts me least of all. It includes the Honestech TVR software, with a simple interface, and supports a basic set of functions, including Timeshift and MPEG2 / 4 recording.
Unfortunately, I did not find the possibility of controlling the functions of the 35th chip, standard filters that help to eliminate the "comb" effect, and since it has a "silicone" RF block in its design, the model is the worst in terms of quality. But maybe I am demanding a lot from a PCMCIA tuner that costs about $ 40.
Digital and analog television
If you need a universal tuner that can work equally well with digital and analog TV, I recommend looking at the AVerTV Hibrid Cardbus model. Two digital TV channels operate in Moscow: TNT and NTV.Three digital radio stations: R-Love, RADIO SOFIA and RADIO-7. Maybe this is not enough for the all-Russian transition to digital broadcasting, but it is possible to compare and assess the possibilities.
Digital broadcasting surpasses analog television in quality and capabilities. After all, you can achieve high quality audio and video reception even with the included miniature antenna.
The sixth version of the AVerTV program used in the "AverTV Hibrid Cardbus", in comparison with the previous version, has undergone a number of changes:
-Mechanism of fast search for TV programs;
- advanced functions of the scheduler. Even in hibernation and standby mode, the scheduled task will be executed.
Functionally, everything remained unchanged: a convenient "timeshift", unfortunately, is in English.
However, there are features of image quality in digital and analog mode:
- image compression. Limited bandwidth appears as cube defects during fast scene changes;
-good picture quality if a high-quality antenna is used in analog mode.
Channel Capital - analog broadcasting
Channel Culture - analogue broadcasting
TNT channel - analog broadcasting
I would like to draw your attention to the high quality in the entire frequency range, even on the old "silicone" HF unit.
Tuner "AverTV Hibrid Cardbus" is a worthy choice for those who want to switch to digital TV and radio reception, however, the high cost (110 $) and the presence of a unique competitor tuner "Behold TV Columbus", one could have chosen.
Most modern tuner
The models discussed above indicate the fact that the use of the most modern hardware filling is not enough to obtain a broad-functional tuner. The most important thing for any tuner is the software that supports all hardware features and expands the functionality of the device. This is what distinguishes the entire line of “Beholder” tuners, which also includes a new unique model “Behold TV Columbus”.
Above, I described in detail the design and few hardware features of this tuner. Now let's deal with the software.
Enough has been written about the capabilities of the "BeholdTV" program. I would like to dwell only on the most basic features, as well as on the innovations that were implemented, at the time of publication, in the latest version 4.58.
- Unique program structure.
- A powerful core with basic functions, additional plugins, modules for expanding the functionality of the program. In addition, plugins do not require the installation and registration process in the system; it can either be enabled or disabled. This ensures maximum operational reliability. I would like to note the most interesting plugins that allow you to improve the image, the presence of deinterlacing filters and modules that eliminate the effect of the received signal, as well as expanding functionalism. Plus, ad-free recording modules and video surveillance systems are useful.
- Strict interface. Convenient for novice users who use the tuner as a digital tape recorder for recording "numbers" or usually TV, and for advanced users who use the device to its fullest. And this is all thanks to the high-quality design of the main control panel and the presence of a context menu.
- An interesting feature of the viewer is menu # 1 and menu # 2. by default, a menu appears with the necessary functions, however, the user has access to an extended menu, where there is access to all the functions of the program.
I would like to note some more "interesting things" in the "BeholdTV" program:
- transparency of the viewing window. Previously, this was only in the external autonomous tuner "AVER TV BOX 9". Transparency can be set in the video setup menu. Here you need to select: the type of output surface, after which the ability to set the transparency level is activated.
- it became possible to set the aspect ratio 16: 9 Anomorphic.An essential feature for today's widescreen laptop screens.
Prior to that, such a possibility was found only in the “AverTV Hibrid Cardbus” tuner in HDTV resolution.
Completing the features of the video window, I would like to draw your attention to the extended capabilities of the on-screen menu. This was not the case in any tuner, which was described earlier. The BeholdTV program, in addition to the ability to quickly manage video parameters, includes a powerful mechanism for working with a TV program, provided by a convenient navigation panel that allows you to see programs of other channels at a given time, as well as a complete program for the channel being watched. Moreover, for the selected channel, there is a brief help on this program or movie. This information depends on the developers of the TV program base, which, starting from version 4.58, can be loaded automatically. This function is now built into the "BeholdTV Agent" utility. Automatic update of the TV program base, allows you to turn on the computer from sleep or standby mode, and perform a previously scheduled task.
- Possibilities of channel setting. Compared to the models described above, it is necessary to mention the unlimited customization possibilities for each channel. Even customize video and audio parameters, auto gain control, audio and video standard, and line sync mode. The automatic scanning mode allows you to maintain a good search speed both in the list of terrestrial or cable channels, and throughout the list.
- Developed means of recording in various formats, competent "timeshift", broadcasting to the network.
In general, all the possibilities of the “Behold TV” program can be described for a long time, but it is not necessary to do this. On the Internet, you can find a large number of reviews of this program.
Tuners PCMCIA and desktop computers
It is believed that when purchasing a PCMCIA tuner, its use with a desktop computer is limited. This is not entirely true. You just need to buy an adapter for the PCI bus, their assortment is presented in various formats. And you can easily use the PCMCIA tuner with your desktop computer.
It is convenient and economical: buying one PCMCIA tuner and adapter, you save about $ 50.
Having studied in detail the features of various models of tuners for a laptop, you can answer the main question: What tuner to buy for a laptop?
-Expensive and takes up a lot of space;
-To connect, you need up to three cables;
-Functionally inferior to PCMCIA, but
-Provides good quality especially in models with hardware MPEG encoder.
-Compact and inexpensive;
-Not inferior to PCI "brothers";
-Suitable for any modern laptop.
However, when choosing, pay attention to design, hardware and software features. Do not rush to cheap models with modern chips, as you will not be able to take advantage of its capabilities. And you will not achieve good image quality either.