The VideoMate Action Ultra is compact TV-tuner which still packs a lot of features. Björn has tried it and given his verdict. Curious? Then just read the review.
I work the best when watching TV. At home I have a nice big TV on the side of my computer which always is on showing a movie or just a random TV-channel. Obviously at work I cannot do the same and need to solve this in another way. Luckily Compro came to the rescue and let me test one of their latest external TV-Tuners, the Compro VideoMate Action Ultra tuner.
TECH SPECS AND FEATURES
VideoMate Action Ultra is a nice little compact TV tuner box. Let’s take a closer look at what we are getting:
• High-speed USB 2.0 transmission
• Real-time TV viewing (ok, that was pretty obvious)
• Support S-video, composite video and stereo audio input
• MPEG 1/2/4 format recording
• Still frame capture
• Video/audio capturing
• Stereo sound
• No need for an external power adapter.
• 44-key full function card size remote controlNo need for external power adaptor
• Has a 3D Y/C separation chip to separate the video inputs from TV and composite into Luminance and Chrominance signals for a crystal clear picture for watching, recording, and capturing.
• ComproPVR 2, ComproDVD 2, ComproFM 2, and Ulead PhotoExplorer 8 SE software
• Ulead DVD MovieFactory 2 SE, Ulead VideoStudio 7 SE
The VideoMate Action Ultra really is compact, something I know most users will like. It is also interesting that it doesn’t need an external power adapter. All power is provide through the USB 2.0 bus. This though means you got to make sure it can provide enough juice. I had some issues on my work-PC where the front USB-port didn’t provide enough power.
Composite, SVIDEO and Line-In. On the back you have
TV antenna/cable and FM-antenna
Installing the VideoMAte Action Ultra was a breeze. I first installed the drivers and applications from the CD and then added the little tuner box. As I mentioned before it draws power from the USB bus. It does this by having a small cable going from the power connection on the box to the USB connector that you then insert into the computer. It looks a bit cumbersome but works well.
Both cables hook together at the end and are inserted into the USB-bus.
I recommend getting the latest versions of both the driver and applications from www.comprousa.com right away since it fixes some very nasty bugs that the shipping drivers/applications have.
THE SOFTWARE AND HARDWARE
Not much has happened with the software that Compro ships with their TV Tuners.
This software is used for both TV viewing as well as recording. In addition of supporting both cable/antenna it also allows you to view video coming in through the SVIDEO or the Composite connector.
The first thing you do when starting it is to scan for channels. I choose to let it scan for cable-channels since I’m in an apartment where we get cable. It managed to quickly find the 10 channels that we get.
In older versions of this software you could not reorder the channel list. This has now finally been fixed. By using a favorite list you can reorder the channels exactly like you want. It’s still needs a bit of work since you still have to remember the channel number when using the remote. This means that even though I’ve set our channel 1 (SVT1) first in my favorite list I still need to press 20 to switch to it since it is the channel number it is on. This is a minor gripe though and it is much better than before.
You can choose from a variety of quality settings when recording from TV including setting up the bitrate etc. yourself.
I did run into a problem when recording though. While recording some Doom 3 matches from my Xbox (through SVIDEO) several times it lost the signal while recording. If I paused the recording and restarted it the image came back. This happened a lot of times during that session. It might be a problem with the computer I had it set up on since I had huge problems getting the TV viewing to work on that TV. In fact it never really worked fine. Several other computers worked fine though so I won’t completely put the blame on the VideoMate Ultra Action.
Timeshifting works by recording the program in the background allowing you to pause/play/move forward and backward ‘Live’ TV. It’s a cool feature that allows you to make sure you won’t miss anything if you get a phonecall or have to run to the bathroom during something you don’t want to miss. You can set up the quality used when timeshifting and the default value of 640×480 pixels is actually pretty bad. I suggest using the best setting right away (720×480/720×576).
Something I don’t like with the way ComproPVR 2 handles timeshifting is the fact that you have to actively turn on the feature before being able to pause during a program. If you sit and watch a program, not planning on timeshifting, and you suddenly have to run away, you first have to turn on timeshifting and then press pause. Other programs allow you to just press pause and it automatically starts to timeshift. It just feels like an extra unnecessary step to first turn on timeshifting and then press pause.
The image quality from the TV tuner is good. My signal is pretty noisy and the quality that the cable network is providing not the best but the quality on the screen is comparable on what I get on my LCD TV.
The VideoMate Action Ultra also supports FM-radio. It has an antenna not unlike the ones you see on wireless routers. The software allows you to listen to music as well as record it. It can record in Wav, various WMA and 56 bit MP3 format. Yeah, the MP3 bitrate is disappointing but I guess they don’t want to spend any money on a license to be able to use better bitrates.
I let the software scan for stations and it did find a few of our local radio stations. It doesn’t support RDS which means you cannot see what station you’ve picked up (just the frequency) and you have to name the stations yourselves. It did miss a lot of the local stations and when I manually tuned them in I noticed that there was a lot of static meaning that the antenna has some problems getting strong signals.
If you get a good signal the sound quality is good. A good verdict on the sound is the fact that I’ve been listening to a rock-station while writing the review and not once gotten annoyed at bad sound quality. There’s a few stations I like to listen to and which do not have any way to listen to them through the web and for them the Compro VideoMate Action Ultra is perfect.
Something I do miss is the ability to timeshift radio. It would be really cool to be able to just pause during a broadcast.
Just as with ComproPRV2 you can schedule a recording in ComproFM 2. It uses the same setup and allows you to define a lot of settings for your recording.
In addition to these 2 programs you also get:
• ComproDVD – ok DVD program which supports “multichannel sound”
• Ulead PhotoExplorer 8 SE – lets you categorize your photos
• Ulead VideoStudio 7 SE – edit your captured video
• Ulead DVD MovieFactory 2 SE – create DVD’s of your edited videos
It is an all-in-all ok bundle of software.
The only included hardware (except the Tuner box of course) is the little thin card sized remote. It works ok although I think it is a bit too small. It is also very easy to loose which is illustrated by the fact that I at the moment have no clue where I put it.
It should be noted that unlike the old VideoMate Live USB 2.0 I reviewed a year ago this TV Tuner works perfectly in other programs like ShowShifter. This means that if you don’t like ComproPRV 2 you can use other PVR-software.
After the pretty mediocre VideoMate Live 2.0 that I reviewed a year ago I wasn’t sure what to expect from this TV Tuner. It seems though that Compro has learned their lesson. The VideoMate Action Ultra is a very good external TV-Tuner that hasn’t any obvious flaws that would make me not recommend it.
Pros and Cons
|+ Very small
+ No need for an external powersupply
+ Good quality, both audio and video
+ Can be used with other PVR-software
|- Needs a lot of power from the USB bus
– Still room for improvements in ComproPVR 2 and Compro FM 2
– Has some problems with weaker radiostation signals
– Just 56 Kb bitrate for MP3’s
Final verdict: The Compro VideoMate Action Ultra is a competent external TV-tuner that has no obvious flaws. I give it a rating of 8.5 out of 10 and a Seal of Approval Award.