Hauppauge – WinTV PVR 350 review

TV tuner/recorder and FM radio card
Photo of Hauppauge – WinTV PVR 350
£149

It’s happened to all of us at some time. Your favourite TV programme is showing, and you’re fighting a growing urge to go to the toilet. Of course, you won’t have time to fumble around with a video recorder. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just press a button and pause the TV like you would with a VCR?

This functionality might seem familiar to some – products (e.g. TiVo) already exist that look like VCRs and offer ‘time-shifted’ TV and hard disk recording of video, but the new Hauppauge WinTV PVR 350 fits inside your PC as a PCI card and serves the dual purpose of providing TV viewing and recording on your PC.

The PVR 350 is an analogue TV tuner device with built-in MPEG encoding to allow a video source to be recorded (stored in a video file format on your hard disk) or ‘paused’, where the video source is captured into a buffer, allowing users to catch up with a program screening. It isn’t limited to TV channels, but also has an S-Video input for other analogue video sources such as a VCR or camcorder, and also has an FM radio tuner thrown into the bargain.

Where this product differs from the type of video recording device mentioned above is in what you can subsequently do with the video files. Since you are recording video onto a PC as a conventional file, you can edit it (with the included ULead DVD Movie Factory) or create your own VCDs or DVDs if you have the appropriate hardware. This is a good way to move some of those precious old videos onto a modern medium for playing on a DVD player.

Because the encoding operation is performed by hardware, the WinTV PVR 350 doesn’t consume massive system resources, although some recording formats will tax your PC. It mostly depends on the video data rate you choose for your video. For two minutes of video, a file could range from 20 megabytes for an MPEG-1 VCD file to 182 megabytes for the top quality 12Mb/sec MPEG-2 format. However, given that it’s analogue video being recorded, it’s unlikely that 12Mb/sec is going to be of much use to most people, since that’s higher quality than standard DVD format.

The WinTV PVR 350 is supplied with a variety of cables to get you going, including a SCART lead for connection to a TV, and the card itself has FM and TV RF connectors, an S-Video input for other analogue sources, a mini jack for audio input and a connector for the supplied infra-red receptor.

A decent remote control is provided which handles volume control, channel selection and other functions. However, despite the range of connectors and cables supplied, it seems that the one you need is always the one missing. Most budget VCRs have SCART and RF output but not S-Video output, so you’ll need to buy a SCART to S-Video adapter which will allow you to watch output from a VCR without tuning the signal in, and will also provide a better quality picture and NICAM stereo.

Of course, the TV tuner capability is only useful in this country for five channels unless you have analogue cable, and we suspect that the target market for this type of device will have digital TV of some description. So, much use will probably be made of the single S-Video input, for connecting digital cable or satellite boxes. We suspect that many users will need a SCART to S-Video adapter to use this feature.

Company: Hauppauge

Contact: 020 7378 1997


Verdict
The Hauppauge WinTV PVR 350 is a capable device with some really good features, but be sure that you want to capture analogue video before you buy. If you want to watch terrestrial TV or convert a lot of old videos, it's a great product, but if you want to record satellite TV or digital free-to-air TV, you'll be better off looking at a different product, such as the Hauppauge WinTV Nova-T. Also, analyse your hardware requirements first. A big, fast hard disk and a CD/DVD writer are recommended.