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
Review Date: 8 Feb 2011
Reviewed By: Sasha Muller
Price when reviewed: £48 (£58 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
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.
Author: Sasha Muller
You had more luck than me!
"A quick manual edit of the TV channel sources to disable the DVB-T tuner on the HD channels quickly rectified matters"
I spent ages trying to get it to work with my other tuners(I did eventually). However if i'm recording any channel it uses the HD tuner first so I cant watch the HD channels
This is a problem with Media center and not the tuner though, which works very well.
By JStairmand on 8 Feb 2011
Media Center, lovely as it is, can be a right pain.
The solution to your problem is to prioritise the DVB-T tuner above the DVB-T2 tuner on the SD channels.
It's a bit of a faff, but right click the channel name in the Guide and select Edit Sources. You should get a list of the available tuners, and you need to simply press the up arrows on the tuner you wish to 'promote' to be the primary tuner.
I'll try and do a blog explaining how to setup a DVB-T2 tuner (and get the EPG listings!) when I get a spare nanosecond. I have a feeling some people might find it helpful!
By SashaMuller on 8 Feb 2011
Netting needle aerial.
So, how many channels can you get with that one element netting needle aerial, one inch from the computers metal casing again?
Hope you can plug in a proper roof top aerial.
By MarkA on 8 Feb 2011
Yes, it comes with an adaptor for a standard aerial. The portable one supplied is useless.
Infact on the packageing it says it wont work indoors or in a moving vehicle. I guess a field near the local transmitter will be OK though!
By JStairmand on 8 Feb 2011
Dual Tuner cards are here... for a price
Sasha - internal DVB-T2 cards are available.
I've only found one so far - Blackgold have a dual-tuner PCI-E x1 card available, the 3620. I bought one last week and it works in MCE, though it doesn't get any channel listings - so I'm assuming that MCE doesn't support DVB-T2 guide listings yet (I manually copied the listings for BBC1, ITV1 and C4 - BBC HD is still a problem).
It's £89 ex-VAT - around £115 once P&P & VAT are added.
By thewelshbrummie on 8 Feb 2011
just a bit of a noobish question i know, but is it ok to attach these to a standard arial that i have on the roof at the moment or does it have to be attached to a dish thats on the roof to get HD??
By martinburman on 8 Feb 2011
Dual tuners and aerials...
thewelshbrummie, I have a BGT3620 now and will be doing a review shortly. :)
martinburman, any normal TV aerial will do, but I'd check to see whether Freeview HD is available in your area first at http://www.freeview.co.uk/HD
By SashaMuller on 9 Feb 2011
The review completely missed the biggest problem with the included TVCenter software. That your channel numbers will be completely random, as the program cannot figure out what the number of each freeview channel should be. So at the moment TVCenter has BBC News as channel 3 (instead of 80) and Sky News as 8 (instead of 82), with no way to change it.
The company freely admit that their software cannot workout proper freeview channel number assignments. But still insist that their software 'fully supports freeview', I beg to differ. And to me this is a major failing. But then others may not place much importance on channels being on the numbers you expect them to be on. In which prepared to learn all new channel to number assignments.
But this seems to be completely missed by the reviewer who was more insterested in talking about other unimportant features rather than the basics. I know most use Media Center, but for those of us with XP or who hate it, knowing what the deficiencies of bundled TV software is important. And knowing whether something basic as having the right channel numbers, is much more important than whether the EPG opens in a separate window....
By phobos on 6 Apr 2011
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