Hauppauge nanoStick T2 PCTV 290e review
An affordable way of adding Freeview HD to an existing PC or laptop, but not without the odd niggle
Freeview HD has been slowly rolling out across the UK since December 2009, but while Freeview HD-equipped TVs and set-top boxes have been available for months, it’s taken almost a year for the first PC-based TV tuners to arrive. The wait is finally over, though. Hauppauge’s PCTV 290e is the first to hit the market supporting the new DVB-T2 standard, and with it, the four-strong selection of free-to-air HD channels – BBC One HD, BBC HD, ITV HD and Channel 4 HD.
The PCTV 290e is equipped with a single DVB-T2 tuner, which means that, unlike dual-tuner equipped cards, you can’t watch one channel and record another. As it’s a USB tuner, though, installation is as easy as popping it into a spare USB port. As the new DVB-T2 hardware is backwards compatible with the existing DVB-T protocol, it’s able to pick up the usual roster of standard definition Freeview channels in addition to HD.
Delve into the box and you’ll find a miniature remote control, a tiny (and desperately ineffective) portable aerial and a CD-ROM containing the drivers. A little aerial adapter plugs into the USB stick to connect to a rooftop aerial. Hauppauge also bundles the PCTV 290e with its own TVCenter software, as well as a 15-day demo of its DistanTV mobile streaming service.
The DistanTV element of the software is nicely executed, allowing the PCTV 290e to stream TV via the host PC to smartphones and tablets. It’s a neat way of jetting TV around the home, but you’ll need a broadband connection with a fast upload speed if you’re keen to stream TV while you’re out and about. Regardless, it seems somewhat redundant given the existence of TV streaming apps such as TVCatchup.
TVCenter, Hauppauge’s own take on Media Center, works well enough for quick channel-hopping, but extended use sees it struggle against the likes of Windows 7 Media Center. Elements such as the EPG opening up in a separate window feel needlessly clunky, and the interface lacks the slick appeal of Microsoft’s software. However, those using Windows XP or Vista Media Center will just have to make do with Hauppauge’s TVCenter for watching HD – neither supports the HD channels natively.
Adding a DVB-T2 tuner to an existing DVB-T card wasn’t a completely hassle-free experience, however. As Windows 7 is incapable of distinguishing between DVB-T and DVB-T2 tuners, Media Center kept trying to retrieve the HD channels from the standard DVB-T tuner we had installed on our test PC. A quick manual edit of the TV channel sources to disable the DVB-T tuner on the HD channels quickly rectified matters, however.
We also had to download the excellent freeware application, Guide Tool (http://1geek1tool.com/guidetool), to get EPG listings for the HD channels, as Media Center isn’t capable of decrypting the Freeview HD guide listings. Scanning through the available channel list and selecting Virgin Media’s listings, rather than the official encrypted ones, solved the problem.
When we first glimpsed Hauppauge’s PCTV 290e, it was retailing for over £71. Now, after a few months, its price has dropped to £58 inc VAT. Serious media PC enthusiasts may want to wait until dual-tuner cards appear, but as a simple way of adding Freeview HD to an existing PC or laptop, the PCTV 290e is a capable and affordable option. Before you take the plunge, however, do make sure you can receive HD broadcasts in the first place, by heading over to http://www.freeview.co.uk/HD.