If you’re thinking about adding TV viewing capabilities to your PC, you have probably noticed there are a lot of options out there. The easiest devices to set up are external TV tuners that use the USB interface to transfer data to and from the PC. Transcend’s TV-Box USB2.0 is one such device vying to meet your TV viewing needs. Read this review to find out if it can.
Are you viewing this website through a cable modem connection? Have you ever thought that it would be nice to take advantage of the other signal (you know, the television one) coming through that coaxial cable? Or, do you have a TV in the same room as your PC but it’s not in a convenient place to watch while surfing? Ah, channel surfing and web surfing simultaneously – it’s the holy grail for couch potatoes and web potatoes. One of the best and simplest ways to satisfy this desire is to add a TV tuner to the PC. It is also a very convenient way for people with limited space and resources (college students, studio apartment dwellers, etc.) to add a TV to their entertainment options.
The most convenient way to do this is using an external tuner, since it eliminates the need to crack open the PC. With the TV-Box USB2.0, Transcend is one company that is trying to appeal to customers who like or need the convenience of an external tuner. The TV-Box does more than just function as a tuner, though. It can be used to transform your PC into a digital video recorder. With a USB 2.0 connection and an adequate PC (see System Requirements below), near DVD quality video viewing and recording is an option with the TV-Box. Along with the hardware, Transcend supplies InterVideo’s WinDVR 3.0 for TV viewing and recording. The box can also be used to capture video and audio from DV camcorders, VCRs, DVD players or any other device that has an S-Video or composite video output and a stereo audio output that can be plugged into the TV-Box USB2.0.
Specifications & Features
- Part Number: TS-TVW2N (NTSC), TS-TVW2P (PAL)
- Size: 154mm x 84mm x 39mm (L x W x H)
- Operating Temperature: 0°C(32°F) to 45°C(113°F)
- Weight: 195 g
Minimum System Requirements (taken straight out of the User’s Manual):
- For preview only:
- Pentium III 800 MHz or above
- 128 MB of RAM
- Windows XP/2000
- Sound card or sound on mainboard
- For preview and capture video as MPEG format:
- Pentium 4 1.0 GHz or above
- 128 MB of RAM
- Windows XP/2000 for USB 2.0
- Sound card
- For recording in DVD file format:
- Pentium 4 1.7 GHz or above
- 128 MB of RAM
- Windows XP/2000 for USB 2.0
- Sound card
- Video Input Resolution up to 720*480 at 30 fps for NTSC
- Video Input Resolution up to 720*576 at 25 fps for PAL
- Full TV Channels
- USB 2.0 Supported, Plug and Play Compliant
- S-Video, Composite Video input, stereo audio line in and TV RF input
- IR Remote Control
- Power Consumption from USB with no power adaptor required
- Recording from TV or external video sources directly to hard drive
- Real-time MPEG 1 or 2 compression, and VCD/DVD file format supported
- Multi-Channel Preview
- Pre-scheduled TV Recording
- Per-channel parental lock via password
- 2-year Warranty
- TV-Box USB 2.0 Device
- Audio cabe (stereo to stereo)
- Audio and video connection cable
- USB 2.0 cable
- Software CD
- IR remote controller
- User’s Manual
- USB to DC power cable
Installation and Setup
Since this is an external device, the hardware should not take much work to set up, and it didn’t. I plugged my cable line into it and hooked up the USB 2.0 cable and the audio cable from it to the PC. I used the line-in input on my motherboard’s onboard sound, since this will allow me to control the volume from my audio driver software and the WinDVR software (via the remote control and the control panel). My other option was to plug it into the line-in jack on one of my Klipsch ProMedia satellite speakers, but this would limit me to controlling the volume only with the speaker volume level knob. The only thing about the hardware installation that I was unsure about was the USB-to-DC-power connection. Essentially, the TV-Box USB2.0 has a DC power connector that can be hooked up to a USB port. I say can be hooked up because the User’s Manual stated that this is optional. Unfortunately, it does not say why you would want to do it. Obviously, the device can benefit somehow from this extra power. I just don’t know how. When it was plugged in, I noticed no difference in performance from when it was unplugged.
On my Windows XP system, the software installation involved popping in the installation CD, choosing to install the software, and letting it do most of the rest. The drivers and InterVideo WinDVR 3.0 were installed fine. During the installation, I was asked to install a USB driver update for Windows XP (see KB822603). This updated the USB drivers that were included with Service Pack 1.
WinDVR is the application that you use to do everything with the TV-Box. It is used to view video sources that are plugged into the TV-Box, record those video sources, schedule recordings of TV programs, and capture still images from the video sources. Of course, there are some settings that need to be tweaked for all of this. Here are some screenshots of WinDVR’s setup panel:
|The first three tabs allow browsing and editing of the current channel suite and changing the display and device settings.|
|The next three tabs are for the TV, recording, and storage settings.|
|The last tab is for setting up timeshifting preferences.|
Using and setting up WinDVR 3 was easy and fairly intuitive. The online help was useful as well.
In order to get a good feel for all of the TV-Box’s features, I spent a lot of time exploring each one and experimenting with different setup options. For reference, here are my test system’s specs:
- Gigabyte GA-K8VNXP (BIOS version F5) (review)
- AMD Athlon 64 3200+
- Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 80GB Serial ATA 7200RPM Hard Drive w/8MB Buffer
- Gigabyte Radeon 9800 XT (review)
- Corsair TWINX1024-3200LLPRO (2x512MB DDR-SDRAM) (review)
- Operation System: Windows XP with Service Pack 1
- Chipset Driver: 3.13
- Graphics Card Driver: Catalyst 4.4
- DirectX Version: 9.0b
TV Viewing / Video Playback
After getting everything installed and set up, I decided to start off with some basic cable TV watching. The picture quality seems to be average, meaning no worse or no better than what I see my standard televisions. It is easy to channel surf using either the remote control or the WinDVR interface. One of the cool features that WinDVR 3 allows is what is called “Video Desktop,” and it allows you to double-click on the WinDVR window to make your Windows desktop become the live video being played. It behaves just like your regular desktop, so you can access all your icons and work as normal with the playback window fully maximized.
Using WinDVR to play back programs that have been captured (or other media files) is also very easy. You just click on the Program button, and it lists all the programs that have been recorded and allows you to import other media files into that list. From there, you just pick one and click play, and it plays in the same window that all video sources are played in.
Recording / Still Capture
With a name like WinDVR, I would expect recording with this software to be quite easy. Fortunately, it is. At any time while watching a show, you can just click the record button to begin capturing it. Then, when you are done recording, you simply push the stop button and type in a file name to save the recorded program. I experimented with the various levels of recording quality offered by WinDVR. With each step up in quality, I was able to see a good improvement in video quality. Of course, each step up in quality requires more disk space, but I think it is worth it. One thing I really like about WinDVR is that it shows you how much more time you can record based on your current recording settings. You can see this in the image of the control panel below.
WinDVR also allows scheduling of recordings. A TV tuner package like this wouldn’t be a good option if you had to keep the software running for the scheduled recordings to work. To see how the TV-Box and WinDVR would handle this, I scheduled a recording and shut down WinDVR. About a minute before the recording was to start, WinDVR launched and changed to the appropriate channel and shortly thereafter began to record. WinDVR even shut itself down again after it was finished. I was very pleased with this, and it worked well each time I did it. Ideally, the PC would not even have to be on for a scheduled recording to work. This would allow you to set a recurring recording and not have to remember to turn your PC on before each scheduled recording. Unfortunately, that is not a feature of the the TV-Box USB2.0. I’m not even sure that it could be implemented, but it would be a wonderful feature nonetheless.
Not surprisingly, WinDVR 3 also allows users to capture still images from video sources. It did surprise me, though, when I could not change the quality or resolution of the still captures. I was hoping it would at least use the recording quality settings’ resolutions so that I could vary the image captures at least a little bit, but I found no way to do it. The resolution of all still captures was a measly 640×480.
Timeshifting is one of the coolest features of any DVR, and I am glad this feature is in WinDVR 3. Basically, this allows you to buffer to disk the current show you are watching, which allows you to pause it, replay parts, or start it over from the beginning while the rest is being recorded. The latter option is a good way to skip commercials, and that’s always a plus to me! To enable timeshifting in WinDVR, you either click the pause button on the control panel or you can right-click on the viewing window and select Timeshifting. Either option will begin buffering the program to the location you have specified on the hard disk. It does take a small amount of time for this process to start (I imagine most of the delay comes from this being an external device), which means you could miss a couple seconds of the current program. Also, occassionally after multiple pauses or other “timeshifts,” the audio and video can become unsynchronized. This was quite annoying and usually remedied by either stopping the timeshifting or fast forwarding a little bit. Overall, the timeshifting feature works prett well, and I enjoyed it!
Transcend’s TV-Box USB2.0 provides an easy way to add the capabilities of a TV tuner, a video input device (for VCR, camcorder, etc.), and a digital video recorder to your PC. Setting up the TV-Box is very easy since it is an external device that takes advantage of the high throughput of USB 2.0 technology. Transcend bundles InterVideo’s WinDVR 3.0 software with their hardware for controlling all of the TV-Box’s functions. Most of the time, it all works pretty well together to provide an enjoyable experience for watching and recording television.