The Compro VideoMate is a great card for anyone looking for a Digital Video Recorder. The quality of the output is very good and will not make you dissapointed.
Youre in the middle of watching your favorite TV show. The detective is just about to tell everyone who’s dunnit when… the phone rings. What do you do? Ignore the phone hoping the caller calls back? Shout to someone else to answer? Why not just press Pause (like you do when watching a VCR program) and watch the rest of the show later? That is just one of the things you can do with a good TV-card.
Today, I am taking a look at Compro’s VideoMate TV Gold+, a very competent TV tuner card from Compro.
The specifications for this card are the following:
- PHILIPS SSA7133/4Hlvideo and audio broadcast decoder
- PHILIPS FM1236 Tuner
- 4-layer PCB for better noise-reduction
- Hardware Digital Scaling
- Dual Voltage Regulator
- Golden bracket
- TV antenna input (broadcast or analog cable)
- FM antenna input
- S-video input
- Audio input
- Audio output (for connection to sound card)
- IR receiver jack
- Stereo Sound
For the full specs, please look here (http://www.comprousa.com/products/vmtvgoldplus-spec.htm)
Together with the TV-card you also get:
- Remote control
- Bunch of cables including antenna cable for FM-radio
- ComproPRV software
- ComproDVD player
- ComproFM software
- Ulead VideoStudio 7 SE and DVD MovieFactory 2 SE
Installing the card was pretty painless. However, (contrary to how it usually is when you install a video card), this time it paid to read the manual first. The Compro VideoMate card has a very nifty little feature that you might miss, if you do not read the manual. The card can wake the computer up from shutdown or from sleep mode, record a show and then turn the computer back off. For this feature to work though, you need to plug in the 2-pin power-cord that is connected to the on/off button to the VideoMate card, instead of to the motherboard. Then you route another cable from the card to the motherboard. You can ignore this, but then you lose the functionality.
Other than this peculiar thing, installation was uneventful. An included CD has both drivers and programs, including the Windows Media 9 Encoder.
This is the main program that you use when you either watch TV or record something. In the program, you can search for channels both on Cable and on Antenna, and it will go through them all and automatically insert them into the list. Unfortunately, it works a bit too well, adding a lot of crap channels that aren’t really channels. While you can name each found channel, you cannot remove the ones that aren’t a channel from the list and even more importantly, you cannot change the order of the found channels. This makes it very irritating, since channel 1 on your remote isn’t necessarily channel 1 in ComproPVR but instead may show up as channel 21.
|While you can select which channels are saved in memory, you cannot delete the other channels or change the order of the channels you use.|
The program lets you choose the quality of a recording, and you can not only select from a bunch of presets (PAL DVD, PAL SVCD etc.), but also set the bit-rate manually.
|ComproPVR lets you choose from several different preset qualities.|
|You can also set up custom bit-rates.|
The most impressive feature with ComproPVR is the scheduler. While it is pretty standard when you set up the schedule, the real kicker is the feature that lets you start up the computer, make a recording, and then have the computer shut down. I’ve tried it out extensively, which you can read about later in this review.
|You can setup a whole list of scheduled programs, get the card to turn the computer on just before recording the show, and then after the recording is done, turn off the computer.|
As expected, ComproPVR lets you do Timeshifting. That is the feature that lets you pause in a program while doing something else and then continue to look from the point you paused. Depending on the quality of the recorded segment you can get anything from 30 minutes up to several hours of ‘timeshifting.’
|The Video bit-rate helps decide how long you can timeshift.|
This program works almost exactly the same as ComproPVR, but it’s for FM radio instead. Once again, you can auto-search for radio stations (and once again you end up with tons of channels that are only static). Luckily, in ComproFM you can delete the faulty channels (why doesn’t it work in ComproPVR??), so you only keep the stations you want in the list.
|The program finds a lot of empty channels (but at least you can delete them).|
As you would expect, you can record from the radio. You can either use Wav, MP3 (but only in 56 Kbits!!) and in WMA format. I think the lack of higher bit-rate in MP3 might be because Compro didn’t want to pay a fee for it. I still think it is a bit cheap.
|With the WMA format, you can choose from a large variety of bit-rates, but MP3 is stuck at 56Kbits.|
Another thing missing is the ability to schedule recordings from radio. This is yet another omission that I don’t understand.
The Rest of the Programs
ComproDVD is a branded version of WinDVD and of course is just as good. Ulead MovieFactory 2 SE lets you author DVDs and is a great program, and Videostudio 7 SE is a good program for editing the video files.
This isn’t a program that was included, but it is a program I recommend looking at if you have any TV-Tuner card. Showshifter is a kick-ass product that transforms your computer into a media center for TV, video, DVD, images and music. It actually works best on a set top box that is connected directly to a TV and controlled with a remote control, but of course you can use it on your regular computer. It comes with DivX 5 Pro and lets you encode in DivX format if you want.
|ShowShifter is a very good program for any TV-Tuner card. Unfortunately, I havent figured out how to capture the actual Video-image.|
I’m working on a separate review for this program, and I seriously recommend you look at it if you get the VideoMate or any other TV-tuner card for that matter. You can find the program here: http://www.showshifter.com.
How Well Does It Work?
Before the Compro VideoMate, I had a Hauppage USB WinTV. This is an external USB box with a TV-Tuner in it. I can’t say I was very impressed with it. The quality of the movie was so-so and the recordings were not very good. The VideoMate is an entirely different beast. Its much more powerful and thus gives much better quality.
Unfortunately, I cannot easily show you how good the quality is. One problem is that our signal from the cable has a lot of noise (snow) in it. This is apparent on the TV. However, the VideoMate managed to give me the same output on the screen, much better than the Hauppage.
|Image from Hauppage|
|Image from VideoMate Gold Plus|
|The VideoMate can take a snapshot of the running TV-image, which is saved in BMP format. The Hauppage USB box can also take a snapshot. The image is saved in JPEG format. As you can see the quality from the VideoMate is much better. Any graininess you see in the VideoMate image is due to a noisy signal it also appears on my TV.|
Below is a small recording I did from one of our music channels. The actual MPEG2 file was around 19 MB, and I encoded it in Windows Media 9 format (1 Mbps VBR, CD quality sound). The end result is a 2.5 MB file with very similar quality.
The recording in PowerVCR works great. I set it up to record 30 minutes at 8AM, turn off the computer and then 30 minutes at 11AM. Then I turned off the computer and went to bed. The day after it had started up the computer, finished the recordings, and shut down again, just as I wanted. This feature should be extremely useful when you are going away and don’t want to keep your computer on all the time but still want to schedule some recordings. The only complaint I have is that when scheduling, it is hard to figure out if the time you are setting is AM or PM. As soon as the recording is scheduled though, it displays the time in 24 hour format so you can change it if you got it wrong.
The quality of the FM-radio was excellent. I usually use a web-based radio station, but with the VideoMate I could use it for listening to music. There is a nasty bug though in the program that must be fixed: Quite often, the sound in ComproFM switches from radio to the sound from one of the TV channels.
The VideoMate Gold+ is indeed a great card. The quality of the image is great and the quality of the recordings is top notch. The only negatives are the bugs and quirks in ComproPVR and ComproFM; I hope Compro updates their programs. I’ve used both a Pinnacle PCTV Rave and the current Hauppage WinTV USB. The VideoMate Gold Plus beats them both, at a great price.
|TV with Stereo Sound. FM Stereo Radio. Power up Scheduling. MPEG2 recording. The card has it all (almost).|
|The bundle gives you a program for everything from recording, editing, and creating DVDs.|
|The recommended price for this card is $69. Thats a steal in my opinion.|
|Final Score: 9||Even though the included programs have a few bugs/quirks, the VideoMate Gold Plus is a great card.|