AVerTV USB by AVerMedia|
You might be thinking to yourself "Why would anyone want to watch TV on their PC?". I found myself thinking the exact same thing while I was hooking the AVerTV USB module to my PC. But after using this device for about 2 months now, it has almost become a required part of my system (Its limitations aside). Having the ability to kick back in my chair, surf the web and watch TV at the same time is something you will become quite addicted to. There are many tuners available on the market in flavors ranging from Video Cards with built in TV Tuners to USB Devices such as the AVerTV module reviewed here.
Specifications and Requirements
- Input Signal:
- 75 Ohm Coaxial TV Antenna Input
- S-Video Input
- Composite Video Input
- Output Signal:
- Audio Output (Direct to Speaker or Loop to Sound Card)
- Dimensions: 5.31" X 5.51" X 1.57"
- Weight: 0.5 lb
- Warranty: 1 year parts and labor
- USB Port
- Pentium 233 MMX or better
- Windows 98 or Windows 2000
- 32 MB RAM
- 10 MB Free Disk Space
- Supports DirectX 5.0 or Higher
- For internet video phone applications:
- Sound Cards (Sound Blaster 16 or better recommended)
- Camcorder or desktop camera
"This Plug-n-Play external USB device comes with a built-in TV Tuner module and video decoder. Now you can watch television, capture video/images and do videoconference on your desktop, laptop or notebook computer.
Never again will you miss your favorite sports, soaps or movies because AverTV USB is a true plug-n-play external device that allows you to watch TV on your computer screen. With 181 channel cable ready TV tuner function, 16-channel preview, autoscan and more, your television viewing experience will surely be an enjoyable one."
- External USB TV devices with built-in TV Tuner
- Watch TV on your Computer Monitor
- Resizable TV Window from Icon Size to Full Screen
- Supports VGA Resolution up to 1024 x 768
- 181 Channel Cable Ready TV Tuner Function
- Closed Caption
- Parental Channel Lock-Out
- 16-Channel Preview
- Image/Video Capture
- Motion Capture and Playback
- Supports Motion JPEG and RGB 24 format
- Capture video up to 30fps
- Supports Coax, Composite and S-Video Input
- Full Screen (up to 640 x 480) Capture Capability
- Supports Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Hue adjustments
- Video Source and Video Standard Selection
- Video always on top
- Powered by USB Port
Everything up to this point sounds almost too good to be true doesn't it? Watching TV on your PC, setting up the VCR function to automatically record your favorite shows, and more! But does this device do everything they claim? Let's install it and find out.
Installation of the actual device is quite simple, as with most USB devices. Your USB port powers it so there are no power cables to deal with. I started my project by installing a splitter on my cable TV line, and connected the line to the RF input on the back of the AVerTV module. AVerMedia does provide a rather short coax cable to connect the AVerTV device to your cable TV line or antenna, but I found this cable much too short to be of much use.
In order for the device to properly output sound to go along with the lovely video we will be watching, you must connect speakers to the audio out port on the back of the unit, or use the provided stereo cable to loopback into the Line In port on your sound card. I choose to use the provided cable, and route the audio channel through my sound card, but it's important to note that a set of headphones or speakers, can also be connected to this port as well.
Alright - before we connect the device to the USB port on our PC we need to talk a bit about drivers, software, and the PC that is being used for this review. The PC that is being used for this review is running an ABIT BE6-II, PIII 600E, 392 Megs of PC100 RAM, Creative Labs Annihilator Pro video card, running under Windows 2000. The CD provided with the AVerTV USB device only contains drivers for Windows98, so I headed out to the AVerMedia website driver download page to see what I could find for my particular system. They had 2 sets of drivers which were available for Windows 2000, Version 2.0 and Version 2.1 (BETA). First thing I did was download the NON-BETA drivers, only to find that they are the exact same drivers that come on the CD - Windows 98 drivers! At this point, I only had one option and that was to download the Version 2.1 (BETA) drivers. Here is a copy of the driver download table from their site:
The Version 2.1 BETA drivers for Windows 2000 appeared to be exactly what I needed. They unzipped to find Updated Drivers, Software, and a new copy of the USER GUIDE in .PDF format. I then connected the device to my USB port, and pointed my system in the direction of these new drivers when prompted.
We're almost ready to watch some TV at this point. The final stage of the installation is to install the software. If you are running Windows 98, the software provided on the CD should work just fine, but keep in mind that the new version I am using for this review (Version 2.1) may look different or have different features available. Installation of the software is pretty straightforward, and I am not going to walk you through clicking on next, next, next. Once completed, and upon first launch the software package will prompt you for setup / auto-channel scan (see image below). Choose the appropriate option for your configuration / tuner method and press the SCAN button.
When the channel scan is complete you should be able to watch TV on your PC, so lets go over a few of the available features. When the software is launched it will immediately start playing TV for you - in a very simple, easy to use window. In this mode you can change the channel, power off the viewer, adjust the volume, mute the audio, or launch the TV Control panel, which will provide with you some more advanced features.
As you can see in the picture below, the advanced control panel can look quite daunting at first. There are so many features available in this software package, and if I cover every single feature provided by the control panel, I would simply be re-writing the well-written user guide that comes with the product. I'll cover a few of the features here that I found make the software package stand out.
Auto sizing of your viewing window is accomplished by pressing the Resize TV Screen button. This will cycle the viewer between these three modes: 160 X 120, 320 X 240, and 640 X 480. Below are three thumbnail images, which were captured in those modes respectively. You may also grab the corner of the viewing window and resize it to suit your specific needs, or even jump into Full Screen mode (640 X 480 - 1600 X 1200) with the touch of a button. If you try to bump up full screen mode at 1600 x 1200 don't expect very good picture quality or very fast frame rates.
The 16 Channel Preview is also a very cool feature. It jumps to full screen mode, and previews 16 channels at a time - see something you are interested in watching highlight that channel preview box and double click. The full screen channel preview mode will then close and you will be watching the channel you selected.
Click to enlarge
If you don't think the features we have covered so far is enough to make you want to get your paws on one of these, how does the ability to change the skins on your windows sound. Well, you can do just that! There are a total of 6 different skins available to choose from that will change the look of your viewing window. You can also turn off the border on the viewing window completely for a less intrusive look.
At this point we have only covered a few, of the many features available to you in the software package. But like a said a few paragraphs ago, if I covered every single feature available in such detail, I would simply be re-writing the well-written user guide. But before we move onto our next topic, let me take a minute to cover a few of the other features available to you while in TV mode. You have the ability to remap your channels - essentially giving them a name instead of just a number. For example, if Channel 33 is MTV, you can give that channel an alias called MTV - simple, but handy. You can also lock out certain channels completely, or lock them out during certain periods of time. So if you don't want your kids watching Sex and the city on HBO, you can lockout HBO between the hours of 7:00pm and 9:00am. You can also perform screen captures with the touch of a button on the control panel or by pressing the little blue button located on the top of the tuner unit.
VCR Mode and Capturing External Video
Aside from the minor setback we had with obtaining the proper drivers and software for the unit, everything to this point makes the unit sound like the best possible USB TV tuner one can buy. But don't run right out and buy one just yet - We still have much more to cover! There are two additional modes that this unit can operate in - CD Player Mode, and VCR Mode. I am not going to go into CD Player mode, since it is basically just a plain and simple Audio CD Player interface - nothing fancy about it. So with that, let's move onto VCR mode. From the main control interface there are three primary buttons that allow you to switch between TV Viewing Mode, CD Player Mode, and VCR Mode. When you enter VCR Mode the entire menu system will change, and is shown in the image below.
While in VCR Mode you have the ability to capture what you are watching, but before you go clicking on the Record Button you should head into Video Configuration first. This will allow you the option to give your captured files a static name, or you can choose to Enable Auto-Allocation of file names, so that your previously recorded video is not overwritten by the next capture. You can also choose to enable, or disable the capturing of audio along with your video - as well as choosing the resolution of the capture. There are two choices of resolution available: 320 x 240 and 640 X 480.
If you would like to take a look at how this device actually captures video, I captured a 5 second clip at 320 X 240 without audio, which can be downloaded by clicking on this link. Also keep in mind that if you are going to set this device to record an hour-long show, you are going to need a substantial amount of disk space to store the AVI file. The 5 seconds of video captured in the above link took up 1.9 megs of space!
One of the things you might be thinking at this point, is what good is a VCR Feature if you can't set it to automagically record your shows for you. Well - you can do that too! There is a scheduling feature which can be launched from the program group in the Start Menu, or by right clicking on the icon in your system tray. The scheduler allows you to set daily, weekly, or monthly jobs that can either auto-start the viewer, or to record a particular show for later viewing. In the screen capture below, I have scheduled two jobs, one to autostart the viewer so that I don't forget to watch DragonBall Z and another to record daily between the hours of 17:00 and 18:00.
Click to enlarge
VCR Mode is also the place where you have the ability to capture Video from an external source. I tested out this feature by connecting our Sharp VL-AH50 video recorder to the video-input port on the back of the device. It worked well - you can watch what you recorded on your PC, and have the option to capture specific portions of your video as you choose. The quality is not nearly as good as you get from watching TV, but that was partially because the camcorder used was not a digital. If you were using a Digital Camcorder, along with the S-Video input port, I would suspect much better quality. We should also mention, that while the device has an External Video input source, there is not External Audio input port available.
Sounds Great! - Should I buy one?
We have spent a great deal of time so far dealing with the features and functions of the AVerTV USB Module, but have left the most important topic for the end - Performance. When discussing performance of the device I am speaking about 2 things here - Frame Rate and Audio / Video Synchronization. If your frame rates drop too low it will not be a very enjoyable viewing experience - if you want to know what I mean, try playing Quake III at 10 frames per second for a while. The AVerTV USB Module does a good job with Frame Rates, but keep in mind the frame rates you achieve are going to be CPU dependant. Solely your CPU does all video processing, with the resulting images sent to your Video Card for display. In addition, your CPU also has to take on the role of controlling your USB root hub. AVerMedia recommends a Pentium 233 as the minimum processor to support the device - personally, I would not attempt to run this device on anything less than a PII 400 - preferably higher. Simple TV viewing at 320 X 240 on my PIII 600 machine with 392 Megs of ram, eats up about 50% of my CPU time. Even at 640 X 480 frame rates were quite smooth, and would only drop when I would attempt to dynamically resize the window by dragging the corner of the viewing window - about 1 second after resize the frame rates would peak back up.
We can't leave out the second, equally important performance factor - Audio Video Synchronization. It is in this category that the AVerTV USB Module finally meets it's maker. You will immediately notice, as you begin to watch TV using this device that the Audio channel is not completely in sync with the video channel. There is about a half-second delay between the Video and Audio. At first I thought it was just me, or the fact that I was running it at 640 X 480 resolution, but even at 160 X 120 the delay still exists. If you are watching cartoons, where the characters mouth doesn't always match up exactly with the words, you'll be just fine, but it becomes quite annoying when your trying to watch humans speak. I contacted AVerMedia about this lag, and their comment was simple "That is a technical limitation of the device, and it cannot be corrected." A technical limitation eh' - OK.
AVerMedia definitely gets Two Paws Up from us for their innovative, easy to use software package. However, because of the "Technical Limitation" of the device - the inability to properly sync Audio and Video, I personally would not spend my money on this one. Shop around for another device, and keep reading those reviews - hopefully we just saved ya some cash.
Copyright © by LWD All Rights Reserved.
Published on: 2004-09-07 (25565 reads)[ Go Back ]