Media PCs are all the rage these days: the sheer versatility of having an adaptable and upgradeable source device, such as a computer, hooked up to a TV or decent-sized monitor suggests they’ll be all but replacing traditional solutions at some point in the future.
If you’re building one yourself or upgrading an ageing unit you’re likely to want a TV tuner to form the basis of your setup. Videomate’s T750 is such a device and offers the sort of high-end features that challenge recent advances in the PVR market as well as a offering a number of additional benefits.
It’s a full-sized PCI card, so those with small form-factor media enclosures should check to make sure it’ll fit before they buy. You’re given detailed instructions on how to set up the device in the manual, which involves tweaking some of the connections on your motherboard somewhat to enable a range of additional features. This is well worth doing, though, as you’ll find it allows you to power up and shut down your PC with the supplied remote control, as well as having your computer boot up automatically when a scheduled programme is about to start, and shut down when it finishes.
If you choose not to do this (or aren’t sure you know how) you can still take advantage of the rest of the features, which begin with selecting a signal source (cable, digital TV or an antenna) to search the frequency range and populate a channel list. Once this is done you can browse television channels using the supplied remote control as you would with a TV.
The T750 has dual tuners, which means you can record one channel and time-shift another. The time-shifting isn’t automatic – the feature has to be enabled before it kicks in – but considering the nature of the product this isn’t a big issue. There are some powerful PiP (Picture in Picture) tools here that allow you to browse multiple channels at once before choosing one to watch, although there are serious overheads on CPU usage if you’re expecting smooth playback.
You can obviously record programmes directly to your hard drive, snap screenshots at will and innovatively record direct to optical disc if you find you’re running out of space. You’ll find support for up to 1080i HD resolutions, an EPG (electronic programme guide), Teletext and subtitles, so there are precious few drawbacks compared with conventional television tuners.
In addition to the tuner software there’s an FM receiver and associated application that’ll allow you to record content to audio format to play back at your convenience or transfer to a portable media player. You’ll also find ComPro DVD 2 in the box for handling DVD discs and other forms of digital media.