Being able to watch TV on your computer as well as import video is a capability that is getting increasingly popular. We have reviewed several solutions before, including one from Compro (Compro VideoMate TV Gold Plus), but they all have been PCI-based solutions. What do you do if you are using a laptop or a system where you cannot add more PCI cards? Do not worry, Compro has a solution for that too! I have been using their USB2.0 based solution, the Compro VideoMate Live USB2.0, for a few months now and am now ready to tell you all about the good and bad points.
Being able to watch TV on your computer as well as import video is a capability that is becoming increasingly popular. We have reviewed several solutions before, including one from Compro (Compro VideoMate TV Gold Plus), but they all have been PCI-based solutions. What do you do if you are using a laptop or a system where you cannot add more PCI cards? Do not worry; Compro has a solution for that too! I have been using their USB 2.0 based solution, the Compro VideoMate Live USB 2.0, for a few months now and am now ready to tell you all about the good and bad points.
Features and Specifications
The Compro VideoMate Live USB 2.0 is a well specd tuner box. The key features are:
- DVD quality video recording
- Hardware MPEG-2 CODEC
- Real time MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 encoding and decoding
- USB 2.0 interface
- Supports up to 125 TV channels, view all available TV programming
- 16-channel surf-mode
- Still-frame capture
- Supports S-Video/AV(Composite)/Stereo inputs and outputs
- Portable – 177 x 115 x 23 mm and 300 g (7.0 x 4.5 x 0.9 inches and 0.66 lb)
- ComproPVR for TV viewing and personal digital video recording (PVR) capabilities
- ComproDVD for DVD playback
- 37-key IR remote control controls ComproPVR and ComproDVD
- Ulead VideoStudio 7 SE video editing software
- DVD MovieFactory 2 SE DVD authoring software
- Complete set of USB 2.0, video, and audio cables
|The VideoMate Live USB 2.0 has both S-Video In and Out in addition to a connector for the cable/antenna. S-Video out is only there for bypassing the S-Video In signal, not for outputting something from the computer.|
The tuner also has picture-purifying technology that promises a better image. On the hardware side we have the Philips SAA7114H 9bit video encoder with ADC chip and a new board designed to provide clearer picture quality. On the software side there is noise removal, de-interlacing, and video smoothing.
The specifications for the Compro VideoMate Live USB 2.0 are:
|TV format||NTSC, PAL, SECAM|
|Capture format||NTSC, PAL, SECAM|
|Video ADCs*2||9-bit Video CMOS Analog-to-Digital Converters (ADCs), digitalized DVBS or Y / C signals are available|
|Resolution (Screen size)||NTSC(720*480 / 704*480 / 480*480 / 352*480 / 352*240)
PAL (720*576 / 704*576 / 480*576 / 352*576 / 352*240)
|Video Compression||ISO/IEC 13818
|Stereo format||North America (BTSC and SAP)
Europe (NICAM and A2/Dual)
|Audio ADCs||24-bit audio ADCs support capture of audio signals|
|Sample rates||44.1KHZ / 48KHZ|
Average: 709mA / Maximum: 800mA
Average: 0A / Maximum: 0.1uA
Average: 303mA / Maximum: 350mA
Average: 33mA / Maximum: 40mA
Normal mode: (8.5W~9.6W)
Standby mode: (0W~1.2uW)
Normal mode: (1.52W~1.7W)
Standby mode: (0.165W~0.2W)
Normal mode: (8.7W~9.8W)
Standby mode: (0.165W~0.2W)
Since I received a retail box of the Compro VideoMate Live USB 2.0, I also got all the goodies that a normal buyer will get. As with the VideoMate TV Gold Plus, Compro doesnt cut corners in their bundle. In the package you get:
- VideoMate Live USB 2.0 TV Tuner Box
- Drivers and ComproPVR installation CD.
- Ulead VideoStudio7SE
- S-Video to S-Video and Composite patch cable
- S-Video to Composite patch cable
- S-Video cable
- Composite cable
- Audio to RCA jack cable
- Power adaptor
- USB cable
- Wireless Remote Control (batteries included)
|Compro includes every cable that you could need. The software bundle includes programs to watch and record TV as well as software to edit a movie and to burn the movie to a DVD.|
I definitely like the fact that you get every cable that you would need with the tuner box. You also get all the software you need: both VideoStudio and MovieFactory are SE versions, which means that they have fewer features than their full-grown brothers, but I still think that they are useful for beginners. The actual tuner-box is small and light and should be easy to carry with your laptop.
Installing the tuner box should be pretty easy since it uses USB. You first install the drivers and the Compro PVR, and then you hook up the tuner box to the computer. Dont forget to check Compros website for updates, as they do update their software and drivers fairly often; unfortunately, they do not release any info on what has been changed for each version. Even if you do not have USB 2.0, you can use the tuner box, but you will not be able to capture and view TV at the same quality due to the limited bandwidth of USB 1.1.
I did run into some problems with the tuner box. At first, everything worked well, and my computer recognized the VideoMate USB Live. However, one day I rebooted my computer, and Windows XP complained that it had found an unidentified USB device and that it couldnt find any drivers for it. Pointing to the driver CD didnt work. Uninstalling the tuner didnt work. I even cleaned out the registry of all Videomate Live references (shame Compro, all this should be removed when I uninstall the drivers!) as well as removed any files that had been left by the uninstallation program, and it still didnt work! After a couple of days with it unplugged and uninstalled, I for fun tried again, and this time it worked…that is, until I unplugged it and put it into another USB port and screwed everything up again. Even a clean install of Windows didnt fix the problem.
I did find a reference in the VideoMate Live USB Live FAQ on Compro’s website to a ‘hot plug’ bug in the firmware. This bug seems to be able to produce this kind of error, and after I followed the suggestion in the FAQ and plugged in the tuner box without the powercord plugged in and then plugged in the power, it seemed to fix the problem. I did have to do this often though, in fact everytime I disconnected the tuner box from the computer.
I also did run into another issue when upgrading my computer to an AOpen VIA K8T800 Athlon 64 motherboard and a new Athlon 64 CPU. When I reinstalled everything and started up ComproPVR, the image just kept freezing. I tried updating WinXP with the USB 2.0 patch that Compro suggests, but so far I haven’t been able to get it to work on the new machine.
Bottom line – it has taken a lot more effort to get this tuner box to work than it should.
Using the Compro VideoMate Live USB 2.0
MSI nForce2 motherboard
1024 MB PC333 DDR
ATI 9800 XT
Sony 19 TFT
JVC 28 WideScreen TV with 3 SCART connectors.
The main purpose of a tuner box is of course to watch TV on your computer (and possibly record it). Compro provides you with the software for that purpose: ComproPVR.
ComproPVR is a decent program that allows you to watch TV, watch an S-Video/Composite source as well as capture from either to the hard drive. It also lets you schedule captures so that you can record that TV show you always seem to miss as well as timeshift anything you are watching. The program also allows you to capture your media in MPEG I or MPEGII format at different qualitysettings including VCD, SVCD and DVD quality.
|A higher video bitrate is the most important factor when you want the best quality. But that also means bigger files.|
I said that this is a decent program, unfortunately that is all it is. I wish Compro could spend some time to improve it or find another program to put their brand name on. The program has several major flaws: you cannot reorder the TV channels you find, or even remove empty channels when the program scans the channels. Just look at this image:
|When selecting a channel on the remote you must press 20, 21, 22 etc. even though there are no channels found on 1-19.|
When you use the remote you have to remember which channel number your channel has. So if the program picked up CBS on channel 22 then you must use 22 when switching to it even if you have nothing on channel 1-21. In the end it means that the remote is quite useless for switching channels quickly. All you can do is use channel up/down since you at least can make sure that the empty channels arent displayed doing that.
All this wouldnt matter if you could use another PVR software. With the VideoMate TV Gold Plus I use Showshifter to view TV and record programs in all sorts of formats including DivX. Unfortunately the Compro VideoMate USB 2.0 Live cannot be used with any PVR software except ComproPVR. I tried a few video-editing software programs and none could find the tuner box and use it as a source. I asked Compro about this but the reply I have gotten so far is that due to the drivers it isnt possible to use anything other than ComproPVR. This is definitely a must-fix issue for Compro. I havent used a USB 2.0 based TV tuner before but I have used a Hauppage USB 1.1 tuner and that had no problems working in other programs so it should be doable.
I decided to test the VideoMate Live USB 2.0 by watching TV, recording from TV, recording from my Xbox, scheduling a recording and using Showshift while watching a program live.
If you want to watch TV on your monitor the VideoMate Live USB 2.0 produces an ok to good picture. The quality of the picture is not only determined by the signal quality from your antenna but also by which format and which quality setting you decide you want to record in. If you choose VCD on the Record tab in ComproPVR the picture gets noticeably worse even while you are just watching TV without recording; the reason is that since all encoding is done in the tuner box it doesnt matter if you are recoding or not, the tuner box encodes in the format you choose anyway.
Showshifting a live program
Showshifting is easy with the VideoMate Live USB 2.0. You just press the pause-button and ComproPVR starts to buffer the live program to the hard drive waiting for you to get back. You can set up how much space this buffer can hold. I didnt have any issues with this feature and it is a great feature when you are watching something interesting and are interrupted by the phone.
Recording from TV
You can choose to record in VCD, SVCD, SIF (?), 1/3 DVD,1/2 DVD and DVD quality. You can also set up which bitrate to use as well as the quality of the sound. I have recorded 10 second clips from CSI at various settings as well as recorded the CPU usage. The CPU% usage when not doing anything was around 6%.
|Format/Quality||Dimension (NTCS/PAL)||Bitrate||CPU %||My opinion about the image quality||Link to short clip|
|VCD||352×240/352×288||1.1 Mbps||~ 6%||Lots of artifacts||View clip (1.3 MB)|
|SVCD||480×480/480×576||2.2 Mbps||~ 10%||Better than VCD but still a lot of artifacts||View clip (3.3 MB)|
|SIF||352×240/352×288||4 Mbps||~ 8 %||Not that many artifacts but the image is ‘grainy’|
|SIF||352×240/352×288||15 Mbps||~ 18%||Better than with 4 Mbps but still quite grainy.|
|DVD 1/2||480×480/480×576||15 Mbps||~22%||Pretty good, a bit grainy|
|DVD||704×480/704×576||4 Mbps||~ 14%||Good, very few artifacts||View clip (5.4 MB)|
|DVD||704×480/704×576||8 Mbps||~ 18%||Good/Very good||View clip (11.6 MB)|
|DVD||704×480/704×576||12 Mbps||~ 23%||Good/Very good||View clip (17.6 MB)|
|DVD||704×480/704×576||15 Mbps||~ 26%||Very good||View clip (21.2 MB)|
|DVD||720×480/720×576||15 Mbps||~ 26%||Very good|
Overall the quality is good, at least if you move up a bit in the quality settings and use a higher bitrate. A CPU-usage of 6-26% isnt bad and I could surf and do other stuff with the computer while it was recording without any problems.
Recording through SVIDEO-In
Since the VideoMate Live USB 2.0 has S Video In (and Out) I decided to hook it up to one of the SCART connectors on my TV. The special feature with this particular SCART connector is that I easily could decide what to output through it, either a normal TV signal or the input from one of the other SCART connectors.
Watching TV through the S-Video In connector worked pretty well. The quality is of course similar to when I go through the cable directly but I did notice that it looked like there was some small interlacing issue (or is it de-interlacing issue?). Even if I specified that it should use PAL-B I didnt get a perfect image.
I then tried to display the image from my Xbox. Unfortunately I ran into some problems here. First everything looked ok. I got full colors and the only issue seemed to be the same interlace/deinterlace issue as noted above. However, when I removed the game from the Xbox to put in another one something happened: first I lost the colors, then the image became distorted and got stuck. After a while the tuner box realized something was wrong and tried to set up the image again, this time in grayscale. Nothing I did could get the colors back. When I switched back to the TV signal I did get the color but the image was extremely jerky for 15-20 seconds before it started to move as usual again.
It should be noted that using S-Video In this way works great on the VideoMate TV Gold Plus so it isnt an issue with the TV.
In addition to ComproPVR you also get ComproDVD, a decent DVD program. This is actually a branded version of PowerDVD 4 so if you have used that before you know what awaits you. Unfortunately this is only a 2-speaker version so if you want more you will need to shell out $29.95 from Cyberlink for the multi-channel audio pack.
Both Ulead VideoStudio7SE and MovieFactory 7 SE are good programs even though they are not the full versions. I used VideoStudio 7 SE to create a movie from a visit to Microsoft where I was looking at the new game Sudeki and except for a few crashes it was a pretty painless affair.
Ive already mentioned how ComproPVR is lacking as well as my disappointment of not being able to use another PVR program of choice. Another issue is that the whole tuner box actually is quite noisy. It has a fan in it that is quite loud, something I found quite irritating when I was watching a movie.
I started this review with high expectations. The Compro VideoMate TV Gold Plus that I have reviewed before still sits in one of my other computers and is a kick-ass product. I therefore had high hopes for the VideoMate Live USB 2.0. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to my expectations. It’s not that it is a bad product, it just has too many flaws that in the end almost manage to completely overshadow all the positive sides it has.
On the positive side we have good image quality (if you use a higher bitrate), a stylish exterior and a good bundle. I am also impressed that they keep pumping out updates, both for ComproPVR and drivers. Their website also has a good FAQ. On the negative side we got the limitation in choice of PVR program, issues when installing it, a pretty noisy fan as well as some issues when using the S-Video In connector with my Xbox. Im also not sure about the price: the best I could find was $219.95 at www.iocombo.com (look for Eumax Compro products). There are (on paper) comparable products from Pinnacle, Hauppage, Adaptec etc. which cost between $80-$160.
- Good image quality
- Watching, recording, scheduling and timeshifting works well.
- Good bundle with all the cables you ever will need plus decent software
- Quite stylish exterior nothing you need to hide from view
- Remote included
- Good driver and application support on their website.
- ComproPRV can be frustrating to use when setting up a lot of channels
- Am I really just having bad luck when installing it or is there a real compability issue with the tuner box?
- No way to use another PVR-program or even use the tuner box as source in a video-editing program.
- Has a noisy fan
- The price feels to high compared to the competition
In the end I award the Compro VideoMate Live USB 2.0 a score of 6.5 out of 10.