So mature has the market become for digital television that even Freeview boxes for sitting under a TV leave change from £30. The economies of scale in the market, of course, further extend to the PC sector, where we found the DVB-T USB 395U TV Stick from Kworld for well under its already low RRP. The cost now of upgrading your PC to the digital TV revolution is negligible.
There’s a degree of ‘you get what you pay for’ when you come to the box. Sparsely packaged, there’s a CD, a sheet of paper and the USB device itself, along with a small aerial to attach to the USB device. The aerial, to be fair, is so small that it looks like it’d struggle to pick up a signal from across the room, yet alone a transmitter, and so it proved in practice.
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. The first thing you have to do is attach the device to a spare USB port (although not an unpowered hub, given the required power draw), and then cancel the automatic installation of drivers. At this point you run the supplied CD and install the Kworld supplied software (HyperMediaCenter). It doesn’t take long at all.
Annoyingly, as part of the installation on our Vista testbed machine, the software insisted it wanted to restart our PC. Really: aren’t we through with this yet? We can install sophisticated video editing software onto our machine and use it the second it’s installed. Why do we have to restart to use a USB TV device?
That irritation done with, we started the software application again and set it off scanning channels. What a waste of time that proved to be. So pitiful is the supplied antenna that predictably the software didn’t pick up a sausage. Granted, said antenna did have a magnetic base which made it easy to attach to the side of our PC case, but it’s best purpose in life is decoration. And it ain’t that pretty.
Your best bet, therefore, is to defy the point of it all to an extent and attach a more powerful aerial. The software proves a bit happier then and actually manages to find something. It also allows you to schedule recordings and suchlike, and it turns out to be a limited but useful piece of software. As you might expect given the low asking price, there’s no remote control. You’ll have to do all the necessary work through a keyboard.
There’s an element of false economy about Kworld’s 395U, sadly, which at best can be regarded as a basic tool for the job. It’s passable, but in this case a no-frills price very much gets you a no-frills product. The need for a reasonably large aerial may be a deal-breaker, too.