Given the pending digital television switchover in the UK, and the increasing affordability and feasibility of media PCs, it’s inevitable that the influx of sub-£50 digital viewing solutions is going to look appealing. Compro’s VideoMate S500 is one such product, a red box of tricks selling for a few pounds less than £50 online.
For that you get a box that contains the unit itself, a small instruction book, a remote control (more, inevitably, on that later), the power adapter, the software and a USB cable. The software, which threw up what appeared to us to be false Trojan warnings in Kaspersky, is Compro’s DVT 2 and DVD 2 packages, along with the driver and an SE copy of Ulead PhotoExplorer 8.5.
The box itself mounts different connectors on different edges. On the side is a composite line in, audio line in, S-Video in and the power connector. On the end, meanwhile, you’ll find the USB connector as well as RF-in and RF-out ports. No standard analogue aerial input here, and that’s the way it’s going to be from now on.
The unit was a breeze to set up and was easily detected by our test machine’s copy of Vista (although the packaging does warn that 64-bit Vista and XP are no-nos).
Once up and running the inevitable next idea is to run a channel scan and, to be fair, the ComproDTV’s cluttered interface is well explained in the user guide. There are plenty of options here and most people will choose the Easy Mode to get going with.
Once the scan is complete, then you have the usual options to name channels, select favourites and record. The package supports independent waking up should you want to schedule a recording for when you’re away from your machine.
One neat feature here, in a solid, flexible and rounded solution, is the channel surfing option that lets you have a collection of channels on-screen at any one time. It feels a little bit more sci-fi than useful, but it’s cool to have.
The video desktop is more interesting, turning your otherwise standard Windows backdrop into something far more distracting! Inevitably, we couldn’t find anything to help support non-free to air channels, sadly, but the unit did pick up a good collection of the many available that fit that criteria.
What lets the side down, as usual, is the awful, credit card-style remote control. We hoped that these would disappear along with analogue broadcasting, but for some reason PC TV products are still lumbered with them.
Nonetheless, this is a solid, well-priced media option, with a good few features and enough to keep most users content. Cutting edge it’s not, but suitably flexible and good at its job it is.