Systems offers a full line of PCTV products. The latest is their
HD Ultimate Stick,
a self-contained DTV solution for watching and recording free SDTV and HDTV. The
system is designed to deliver instant TV viewing and recording on any PC or laptop
with no software installation required. The FlashPVR technology makes this possible
by allowing the included TVCenter Pro
software to run directly from
the sticks onboard flash memory. Up to 2 hours of TV can be recorded directly
to the stick for playback on any PC. Users can also save recordings to
hard drive in MPEG-1/2 or DivX formats or even direct-to-DVD. Full functionality
(play, pause, rewind and fast forward) on live TV is made easy with the included
IR remote. The PCTV HD Ultimate Stick, comes with a high-gain telescopic
antenna allowing the product to receive HDTV/SDTV or analog TV wherever you go.
The system supports both analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC) TV signals and is hardware
ready for ClearQAM (unencrypted digital cable) reception.
PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is a unique product that launches the installation
software when the USB stick is plugged into the computer. Unlike most devices
that need drivers loaded prior to plugging in the USB device, the PCTV
HD Ultimate Stick is a mass storage device that includes the installation
software. Our tests were run on a Sony Vaio VGN-N130G (Core Duo T2050 1.60GHz
1GB 80GB) using version 4.98 of the TVCenter Pro software. A shortcut was
created for the software and placed on our desktop during the installation process.
The USB stick is larger than some of the other PCTV sticks, most
likely due to the amount of hardware inside of the unit. This stick has the ability
to store a lot of data including the program to operate the PVR. The opposite
side of the USB interface is an F-connector for attaching the included external
antenna. This F-connector can also be attached to cable TV. The USB stick has
a small side connector that mates with the analog audio/video cable provided with
the system that gives the PCTV Ultimate the ability to record material
from analog sources such as camcorders, game consoles, VCRs or DVD players.
included remote has all the standard controls including PVR functions. Volume
and channel buttons are included. The Power button starts or stops the
TVCenter Pro software while the Pinnacle button acts like a right-click
on the mouse to control features in the software. Once activated, the buttons
around (right/left/up/down) the "5" button are used to navigate through
the menus. The good news is that the remote runs from a pair of "AAA"
batteries instead of the less common button batteries making replacement easier.
the TV Center Pro software is installed, the Setup Wizard helps the user
to scan for local channels. Here in Los Angeles, a total of 26 ATSC digital television
stations were detected using the portable antenna included with the system. There
were also 32 internet radio stations found during the scanning process. While
the portable antenna works reasonably well in most cases, there is a significant
improvement in signal quality when using a rooftop antenna. When we ran the same
channel scanning with our huge rooftop antenna we detected a significant number
of additional channels. We also found that our reception was much better with
the larger antenna due to the strong signal level. As a portable system the PCTV
Ultimate did well especially outdoor here in Los Angeles. We also had reasonably
good results near windows with occasional dropouts due to weak signals from time
The Program Guide screen displays the shows being broadcasted.
This screen also has a Manual Record screen that allows the user to define the
day, time, and channel to be recorded. The user can target a file (DVD, DivX,
MPEG4, or transport stream) or record directly to a disc. The user can also specify
the frequency of the recording (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). The software
can also be told to shut down once the recording is complete. There is a tab that
displays all the scheduled recordings as well as those programs that have already
been recorded. Clicking on any of the previously recorded programs will start
the playback. This is where the TVCenter Pro software really works like
Center Pro Settings
The TVC software included with the PCTV Ultimate
Stick is very powerful and has a variety of settings that the user can define.
Setting include TV channels, radio channels, Electronic Programming Guide (EPG),
capture settings, display preferences, audio settings, remote control testing,
hardware configuration and general system information. Users can adjust the skip
back and forward time when the remote button is pressed. Video display settings
(brightness, contrast, sharpness, hue, and color saturation) are available as
well. The aspect ratio can be set manually or to auto (changes based on content).
The software has a benchmark test that can be run to determine the performance
of the PC. System information such as processor, memory, graphics card, hard drive,
USB controller, and primary sound device are displayed for the user. A Performance
Summary is displayed below the tests with the results of the benchmark test.
According to the benchmark results, our laptop lacked the processing power to
decode DVB H.264 streams.
Based on our previous experience with the TVCenter software,
this new version is much improved both in performance as well as stability. We
found program recording to be more reliable and playback to be very stable compared
to earlier versions. The four icons at the top of the screen are for controlling
TV, Radio, Playback, and Program Guide/Recordings. We recorded several programs
as part of our testing and they played back perfectly. The Pinnacle TVCenter
Pro software is processor intensive so it is wise to stop all unnecessary
background tasks when using the program. The time-shift feature was really cool
allowing us to pause live programs and watch them when we were ready. The software
takes several seconds to respond to button clicks on the laptop or remote, so
patience is needed.
The PCTV HD Ultimate Stick ($129.99) is an impressive product for the price.
Having the ability to decode and record HD and SD content on a laptop is really
cool especially when traveling. We also liked the ability to record from external
A/V products using the included adapter. The onboard flash memory PVR is a great
idea that makes it much easier to get the product up and running. Pinnacle's PCTV
HD Ultimate Stick will give you and your laptop powerful new capabilities
while on the go.