As Ethereal Technology deals with all aspects of technology, I thought I might as well share my opinion on some products that I have personally tested. In this case, the product I will be reviewing is the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1250 internal TV tuner card.

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The purpose of this card is to allow you to watch and record television on your desktop PC, similar to a set-top Digital Video Recorder (DVR) device that is common among many cable and satellite companies. However, with cable and satellite companies, you are forced to pay a monthly fee to use the DVR, and that isn’t always an option for everybody. Thus, devices like the WinTV-HVR-1250 satisfy the need to those who occasionally watch TV and would like to record some shows.

To begin, the HVR-1250 is a hybrid video recorder, which means that it can receive both the current analog over-the-air television signals as well as the digital streams, which will become the only broadcast signals in the United States after February 2009. According to the packaging, the HVR-1250 can receive high-definition content through the over-the-air digital signals, up to 1080i (that’s 1920×1080) resolution. (As a side point, the HVR-1250 receives clear QAM signals, for those who have that type of setup.)

The card connects internally through a PCI-express connection. It is compatible with both x1 and x16 PCI-express bus types, making it much more accommodating. Installation on my Windows XP machine was fairly easy. I simply opened up my computer, connected the card to my open PCI-express slot, sealed the computer, and booted up my system. Windows detected the device, and asked me to insert the disc that came with the card. I did, and a few minutes later, the drivers had been successfully installed. I restarted my computer, and the card was ready to go.

The card itself has a two video inputs: a hybrid analog NTSC, and digital ATSC coaxial input, and an S-Video input. It also has a 3.5mm audio input jack, and an IR receiver port for the bundled remote control. In addition, the card comes with a S-Video to Composite switch, widening the compatibility of its input methods. The included software is called WinTV and allows you to watch both analog and digital broadcasts after a quick channel scan. It gives you the ability to record, pause and rewind the streams, although only on the current channel being watched. The WinTV software also allows you to take snapshots of the broadcasts and save them as a JPEG image. Overall, the WinTV software is a fully featured program, although at times it isn’t always quite user friendly, and looks like a software program from the Windows 98 era.

Combined, the card and the software let you do essentially the same thing a set-top DVR, with a few problems. To begin, the digital streams are very graphics-intensive, so if you don’t have a powerful graphics card, or you have integrated graphics (like I do), the streams will be very choppy and very un-smooth. Even standard-definition digital streams suffer from occasional hiccups, something that is very disappointing. The package recommends a 2.2GHz Pentium 4 processor or equivalent, and I have a 2.19GHz AMD Athlon series, so I think I meet that requirement. Still, the digital streams are not quite as sleek as I was hoping, even though the picture quality is astounding, especially during high-definition broadcasts.

The next problem involves the HVR-1250’s recording capabilities. While it does allow you to record, pause, and rewind and fast-forward TV programs, it feels very clunky and unpolished. To pause a live TV stream, it takes approximately fifteen seconds to accomplish, and during that time the TV broadcast is interrupted. To begin recording takes about the same startup time, although that feature seems to work smoothly. Rewinding and fast-forwarding is a nightmare, however, as the WinTV program becomes very unresponsive when during that time. Sometimes, the program will not rewind at all, and at other times, a paused stream will not unpause. This wouldn’t be such a big of an issue if the card was compatible with Windows Media Center, and although the package states that it is, I was unable to get Media Center to recognize the card on my XP machine.

Finally, recording TV shows takes quite a bit of disk space. Analog streams consume about 1.5GB per hour at the standard quality setting, and high-definition content can be over 5GB per hour. Although I was expecting to have large files, these files seem to be unusually large.

In the end, the WinTV-HVR-1250 is a nice package, and for the price allows you to get quite a bit accomplished. It boasts a number of great features, even though not all are well executed, has easy installation, and even has a responsive remote control. Despite its flaws, and graphics-heavy system requirements, the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1250 is recommended to anyone who wishes to watch and record their favorite TV shows on their PC without paying a monthly bill.

***Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10***

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