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TV/radio reception in PCs
This is some observations on TV/radio cards for fitting inside a
PC (or connecting to it, mainly for laptops). It is out of date
now while I'm writing it, let alone you're reading it.
Shown prices are what you pay, i. e. no v. a. t. to be
added - normally at stalls at computer "fair"s; note
that many stalls do not accept credit cards (some do, sometimes
with a few percent surcharge).
This document contains no images:- it's intended to be saved
for examination offline (though can certainly be read
online). [It might be an idea to select
landscape printing if you have it.]
Check cards for compatibility with your video card and the rest
of your system (DirectDraw etcetera).
Since I started to produce this file, a couple of new types of
device that can be used for video capture have appeared (or come
within the price range most people can afford): video (and
audio) only capture devices, and Firewire cards
for use with digital camcorders. This document only
covers devices incorporating an analogue TV tuner, all of which
also include the ability to take in baseband analogue video,
such as from an analogue camcorder (e. g. VHS, VHS-C, or 8), the
analogue output of a digital camcorder, or any other
source such as an ordinary video player.
(A further development has been the appearance of digital
TV tuner cards for PCs, for either terrestrial or satellite
reception; two of those [for terrestrial] is shown here.)
This was last revised 2004-1-2, so
be aware it's already incorrect!
Note: a feature not shown in the above table does not
mean it is not available on a particular card, unless I've
actually said "no"; if it is just blank, it means I
||external video inputs
||NTSC & SECAM (all have PAL)
||NICAM stereo||FM radio
|PINNACLE||PC TV RAVE||yes
||yes||1600 × 1200
||USB; need Windows 98 or 2000
||(DTV stereo radio as broadcast)
||USB; Digital Terrestrial; needs PIII
(min 500 necessary)
|(generic free-to-air digital TV
||USB; capture to 320 × 240
Quick summary: if you just want to watch TV on your PC,
all of these cards will provide that - in fact they usually
provide Teletext as well. Paying more will get you a remote
control, an FM radio receiver as well as the TV, NICAM stereo
sound on the TV, or various combinations of these.
Explanation of column headings:
This one should be obvious.
The name the manufacturers give the product, and (in a few
cases) the number.
external video inputs
As well as off-air, most cards also offer the facility to use an
external video source, such as a video recorder or camcorder, as
the source of pictures. S-video sources can give a better
quality image (the colour and brightness signals are separate).
The figures given are the maximum resolution the card can
reproduce on screen and capture to still or video file (most of
the cards offer both still and video capture, though the frame
rate of the video capture may differ). Note that video capture
files occupy vast amounts of disc space; they are usually
in the uncompressed .avi format, rather than
.mp[e]g or similar. Lower resolutions
are usually offered, to occupy less space on screen and make
smaller capture files. Note also that a video signal has 625
lines (525 in some parts of the world), and some of those
do not contain picture information (being used for
"flyback", "blanking" and so on, as well as
teletext); in brief, the 576 vertical resolution will capture
all the information there is in the original. In most cases, 768
is more than enough to capture all the horizontal detail as
well; it is only in the case of a very good quality
source - say, a studio feed, or feed from a good camera,
or very occasionally a signal from a very good aerial -
that more genuine detail (as opposed to noise) will be
captured by a higher resolution than 768 × 576.
To truly monitor multiple channels at once, the cards would need
multiple tuners (and aerials!); in practice, they switch between
channels - in other words, it is a feature of the software that
is supplied with the cards, not the cards themselves.
Nevertheless, the impression of multichannel monitoring
can be given, though the picture on each of the channels (they
are usually presented in a grid or matrix) is rather jerky.
Many of the cards mention 16 channels, implying that the number
of channels that can be monitored is fixed.
All the cards are able to receive signals in the PAL format, as
that is what is used in this country (and most of western
Europe); it was not always clear whether the other standards
(NTSC [north America, roughly] and SECAM [French and USSR
influenced areas]) were usable on off-air signals or just direct
TV stereo sound is broadcast in a digital form called NICAM
(Near Instantaneously Companded
Analogue Multiplex - there, I bet you've always
wanted to know that!) in a few countries, including the UK and
(I think) Spain; if the card has NICAM ability (and there is a
NICAM-encoded transmitter in your area - most of the UK by now),
you will get stereo sound with the TV pictures.
Fairly self-explanatory - some of the cards have a (usually
stereo) FM radio receiver incorporated as well as the TV. (You
used to be able to get cards that gave radio only, but I have
not seen any for some years.)
That's right - some of the cards come with a genuine remote
control handset, just like you have with your TV and video! I am
not quite sure what you'd do with it - after all, when using
your PC, you're usually right at it anyway (using a PC
just as a TV set seems rather expensive, and also it will
not work quite as well as a normal TV set as there are
features of the implementation - quantisation, refresh rate,
phosphor persistence, etcetera - which may be noticeable with
prolonged use). However, I daresay some people will find a use
I was quite surprised that shop prices compared quite well with
computer fair stall prices, for these TV/Radio cards; for most
things, stalls are somewhat cheaper.
Some of The Hauppauge units are USB - and thus I presume are
external units, intended primarily (?) for portable PCs, or
other situations where it is not practical (or possible) to fit
a card inside the PC.