Watching TV has got to be one of the most popular ways to pass or waste time the world over, next to probably our computers and the internet. Combining a computer with TV would make quite a bit of sense, especially with hi-def resolution monitors dropping in price and becoming more readily available to everyone. The majority of computers today do not have a built in TV tuner, so you’ll have to buy one as an add-on device, it can be either a PCI style or USB connection type. The PCI style means of course that you’ve got to open your computer and install the card and there it will remain most likely forever. Getting a USB style TV tuner is a much better option for most people as it requires no real installation and you can transfer it easily to other computers and even take it with you.
Pinnacle has recently released the PCTV HD mini Stick, it’s a TV tuner that is no bigger than your average USB thumbdrive. It’s capable of receiving digital and HD television along with radio as well, included with it is even a small remote control and a carrying bag so you can easily take it along with you if need be. The PCTV HD mini Stick is also a PVR or DVR, that includes pause, rewind and time shifting as well along with an electronic program guide so you can know what’s on TV and record it if you want to.
First up we’ve got the video unboxing for you, so check that out and continue on:
Ultra COMPACT, Brilliant HDTV and 100% DIGITAL
Pinnacle PCTV HD mini Stick is an ultra-compact, USB-powered TV tuner that’s the perfect match for super-slim laptops. The integrated signal booster improves reception sensitivity even if the signal isn’t strong. The easy-to-use TVCenter Pro software lets you watch, TimeShift and record TV. You can enjoy TV in full-screen mode or in a scalable window while using other applications. PCTV HD mini Stick comes with a mini remote control and high-gain telescopic antenna.
* Ultra-compact HDTV tuner stick with super-strong reception
* Watch free HDTV on your PC – no service fees
* Supports both digital over-the-air TV (ATSC1) and unencrypted digital cable TV (ClearQAM2)
* Includes mini-remote control and high-gain telescopic antenna
* Turns your PC into a PVR with TimeShifting: pause, rewind TV
* Stereo sound
* Electronic Program Guide (EPG3)
* Automatically record shows to your hard drive in MPEG-1/2 or DivX4 formats, or direct-to-DVD
* Compatible with Windows Media Center5 (Windows Vista™ Home Premium or Ultimate; remote kit sold separately)
* New: built-in slide-cap to protect the USB connector
* New: integrated signal booster improves sensitivity for over-the-air HDTV reception
* Bonus: VideoSpin video editing software
* Bonus: travel bag
First, if you look up top the specs you’ll see it mentions Windows Media Center compatible, I couldn’t get it to work with my version, Vista Ultimate x64. It partially worked, it found the tuner, found channels, go it all configured and then when I tried to watch TV it told me there was no tuner installed. I tried it on five separate occasions and got the same results each time, not sure why it won’t work for me.
First thing you need to do is pop in the disc and install the software and drivers, then plug in the Pinnacle PCTV HD mini Stick to let Windows install the drivers, and you can get started with configuring it.
Once that’s done you’re ready to watch TV and listen to the radio, it was easy to do, took about 10 minutes total and I was watching TV in HD and DT. There is an interface at the top of the screen and the bottom that will go away after a few seconds to allow actual full screen viewing. You can change channels from the selector at the bottom or you can have a small widow pop up with the channels listed. When you go to a channel on the top right of the screen you will see signal quality and signal strength bars and at the bottom it will show you what’s on the channel if it’s available. These bar will disappear as well after a few seconds, or you can make them stay there if you wish by clicking the ‘i’ for information button in the bottom bar.
Right clicking anywhere on the screen will give you another menu of several choices including channels, zoom, main menu, play/pause, mute, more actions, devices, options, recording profiles, window adjustments, settings and help.
Clicking the setting brings up a whole other set of menus and options to go through for more fine tuning of you viewing and listening experience. They’re just too numerous to list all of the options, so here’s screenshots of each menu section to look at if you wish:
The last page of the options is titled information, you can check for updates, register your product, benchmark your system and activate features. Now activating features is interesting because for some thing you’ve got to actually pay more money for, like HDTV H.264 and Sony PSP/Apple iPod recording, but the DivX recording is free. You’ll need to click ‘Launch’ and it will open in your browser giving you a few choices to buy the features or codecs, since the DivX was free I grabbed it of course. I got a key from the site and then came back to the information page and hit the ‘Enter’ button under the Enter Activation code option, this enabled me to record to DivX format.
The radio is not really a radio, it’s an internet radio, when I saw radio I thought it was an actual FM tuner especially since there’s an antenna, but no it just finds internet radio stations for you. A nice feature, but I would have rather had an FM tuner…
I did come across some small problems, the one I mentioned already, lack of Media Center compatibility, the second though is one that only happens every so often, the viewing area locks up and crashes. I’ll be flipping channels and the stations will go black, I can still change channels but there’s just nothing on screen, then it will lock up and crash. Why, I’m not sure, and it doesn’t happen all of the time, I can use it for hours, several times, and then it will do it. The software is up to date so I’m not sure why it does it at all as it just happens.
Using the Pinnacle PCTV HD mini Stick is very easy, the setup and everything is virtually automatic, you just make some selections and it does the work for you really.
The remote is kind of useful I guess if you’re going to be sitting far away, but I sit at my desk so I’ve got no need for it, but it works, and since I’ve got a 22" widescreen monitor it does allow me to get farther away and watch TV if I wish to.
Reception of course will vary wherever you are in the country and of course next year when digital television is mandatory there should be more channels available to everyone. My reception was fine with the little included antenna, of course it all depends on weather conditions, locations of antenna etc for the best signal quality. HD was beautiful of course, you can’t beat the full HD experience.
The option to use as DVR/PVR is nice as you can set it and go do something else then just rewind back to where you left off on a live TV show, other than that, it’s a basic TV tuner that is very portable and for the most part works very well.
The Pinnacle PCTV HD mini Stick is a great little product that will allow you to watch TV on your PC and easily take the whole setup with you while on the go. It’s a product that I think many people will very much like, and find very useful as it turns your computer into your very own television set in Hi-Def if you can support it.
There are a couple problems as I mentioned, but not real deal breakers, I rarely use Media Center so it’s not a big deal to me that it doesn’t work correctly but of course other people might care so I mentioned it. The crashing is something I’m not sure about, as I said it doesn’t happen all of the time just every once in a while.
Small and portable
Easy to use
Many options to configure to personal specs
Good reception in my area
Locks up and crashes every once in a while for some reason
Doesn’t work with Windows Media Center for me