Leadtek – Winfast DTV Dongle review

USB digital television tuner and aerial
Photo of Leadtek – Winfast DTV Dongle
£36

The Leadtek Winfast DTV Dongle is a USB 2 device, a little larger than a typical memory stick, which allows you to view and record free-to-air digital TV on your PC. It is designed to be used for viewing digital TV on the go; with a laptop in a hotel room, for example.

The product is supplied with a USB extension lead, a portable aerial, a remote control and a whole host of software for viewing, recording, editing and burning video to DVD.

The aerial is plugged in via an adapter that plugs into a small socket in the DTV Dongle. This looks quite fragile, so using the USB extension lead is sensible since it means the aerial puts less physical strain on the tiny socket. The aerial also acts like a kind of heat sink for the device, which runs quite hot in use. This must be what Leadtek means by ‘advanced thermal design.’

In our tests, software installation was a bit fiddly and the instructions didn’t quite match what was required of us. The install disc also used an annoying Macromedia Flash interface, which we considered irritating and confusing. It would have been easier and quicker to simply navigate to the right directories on the disk to install the drivers and core applications. However, eventually we managed to get everything installed. Our advice is to allow an evening to install and familiarise yourself with the product before taking it on the road.

The main application is called Winfast DTV and is the same application as can be found in other Leadtek TV products. In operation it’s better than some we’ve seen, but can still be a bit flaky. We quickly got used to application crashes, but at least they didn’t take the system down as well, and just needed re-launching. We found this software did pretty much what we wanted, although some aspects take a bit of getting used to, like the channel list pop-up which was cunningly hidden.

Since the DTV Dongle comes with a BDA driver (Broadcast Driver Architecture), it should work fine with other applications, like ShowShifter.

After installation the device needs to scan for channels. Using the supplied aerial, you’ll be hard pushed to find any stations unless you live right on top of a transmitter. We tried the device in a couple of towns. In one, we couldn’t detect any channels at all, but the other was near a transmitter, and here some channels were detected and received medium-quality signals so long as the aerial was held in a certain position.

If you intend to use this device on the road, we’d strongly recommend buying a decent portable aerial. For remaining tests we plugged the device into a conventional fixed aerial and had no further issues with channel scanning or picture quality.

Features such as time-shifting, recording to MPEG-2 file format and scheduling are included, as is direct burning to DVD. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get this particular feature to work correctly, since Winfast DTV kept crashing before the disk could be extracted. We’d recommend recording to MPEG-2 format files and then burning to disk afterwards, since this is less likely to fail and disc burn failure will not result in loss of video data. A half-hour show will use approximately 600MB of disk space and can be burnt to DVD or SVCD using the bundled software.

The supplied remote control is a card-type device, which is well suited for portability but not as easy to use as a conventional type of remote control. We also found that the DTV Dongle wasn’t very sensitive to the remote. Presumably this is down to the size of the sensor. We quickly resorted to using the mouse for everything, and if we took the Dongle on travels, we’d certainly not bother to bring the remote.

While it may seem that nothing worked at all, the core application worked fine most of the time for viewing, recording to MPEG-2 files and time-shift recording (pausing live TV). Additionally, the software bundle is very good, with applications like ULead VideoStudio 9 SE, ULead DVD MovieFactory 4 SE and Cyberlink PowerDVD. We’ve used all these applications before and found them to be very user-friendly and quite useful for video editing and DVD authoring.

With many retailers no longer selling VHS recorders, DVD recorders are now on the rise, so it would be nice if the DTV Dongle could replace the function of one of these devices. Certainly it tries, offering features like Direct-to-DVD and scheduled recording from the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) with subsequent automatic PC shutdown if required.

While the Direct-to-DVD function didn’t work for us, in reality we’d be more likely to record to MPEG format since more can be done with it afterwards and it saves on blank DVDs. With programmes in MPEG format, they can be saved and burnt to DVD in batches, for instance. Additionally, if you have a Media Center PC situated in your living room, there’s really no need to burn to DVD to watch a recording.

Company: Leadtek

Contact: 00 31 36 536 5578


Verdict
This is a fairly decent core product, with good picture so long as you can get a decent reception. Unfortunately the package is let down by flaky software, inadequate documentation, a laughable aerial and an unresponsive remote control. Even so, this product could still be a good buy, especially given the great software bundle and giveaway price.