Regular DVB-T tuner cards and tuner sticks will allow your PC to receive and record regular Freeview TV and radio programmes. Things are a bit more complicated if you want to receive Freeview HD, as it uses a new broadcast standard, DVB-T2. This is an improved version of DVB-T which can deliver 40 Mbps in a single channel, compared to a maximum of 24 Mbps from the original version. Another benefit is that it is far less susceptible to electrical interference, such as from tumble driers, heating thermostats or even Christmas tree lights.
The good news is that there are now a couple of DVB-T2 tuner products for PCs. Here at Infomania Towers we’ve been testing the PCTV nanoStick T2 290e. This is a single-tuner USB tuner stick which can tune in both regular DVB-T transmissions as well as DVB-T2. It comes with a software disk, remote control, a short USB extension cable and a puny stick aerial which will be of little use unless you happen to live right next to a TV transmitter.
Rather than install the software we decided to see how far we could get with Windows Media Center on a Windows 7 PC. Tuners for Media Center need to work with BDA drivers, which the PCTV stick does. Happily there was no need to do anything other than connect a TV aerial to the stick and plug it into a USB port. Windows got to work finding the stick and sorting drivers out. All we had to do was to start Windows Media Center, tell it our postcode so it knew which region to get TV listings for and set it up to tune the channels in. Although everything worked fine, tuning was a very slow process – far slower than any TVs we have come across. In fact we thought the software might have crashed except that occasionally the progress indicator did actually increment.
The HD signals in this part of the world are a little weak, as the region has not switched to digital yet. Fortunately the stick seems to be quite sensitive and we receive all the HD channels without a problem. Programme guide listing are another issue however. Microsoft haven’t yet added listings for the HD channels to the EPG. It is possible to get listings to show up for BBC 1 HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD by editing the guide setup for those channels and telling the EPG to use the listings for the regular versions of the channels. No solution for BBC HD as yet but we are investigating.
So our experience to date is quite positive except for the missing BBC HD listings. We have been able to successfully view, record and replay HD programmes, although sadly Microsoft seem blind to the benefits of Blu-ray DVD drives so it doesn’t appear possible to transfer HD recordings to Blu-ray disc.