Product Review (July 2008)
Pinnacle - PCTV HD Ultimate Stick

Pinnacle Systems offers a full line of PCTV™ products. The latest is their PCTV™ 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 stick’s 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
their 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.

Installation
The 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.

USB Stick
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.

Remote
The 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.

Setup
Once 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 to time.

Programming Guides
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 a DVR
.

TV 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.

Real-time HDTV
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.

Conclusion
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.

- Kevin Nakano






OneCall: Your Home Theater, Digital Camera, and HDTV Experts



Review System

Laptop: Sony Vaio VGN-N130G (Core Duo T2050 1.60GHz 1GB 80GB)
Rooftop Antenna: Terk TV-38 Terrestrial VHF/UHF/FM Outdoor Antenna


Review - At a Glance


Pinnacle Systems - PCTV HD Ultimate Stick



TV Standards

  • ATSC (HDTV up to 1080i, SDTV)
  • NTSC (cable, over the air)
  • ClearQAM (HDTV up to 1080i, SDTV)

Inputs

  • TV/FM antenna (F-connector/Coaxial)
  • S-Video, Composite Video (RCA), Stereo Audio (1/8")

Recording Formats

  • MPEG-1/2
  • DivX
  • MPEG-4: compatible with PSP or iPod (Trial Version)

System Requirements

  • Windows Vista™ (32-bit) or Windows® XP with latest service pack
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 2.4 GHz, Pentium M 1.3 GHz or AMD Athlon™ 64 processor (for HDTV reception, a Pentium 4 2.8GHz or Pentium M 1.7 GHz or equivalent AMD Athlon 64 processor is recommended)
  • RAM: Windows XP – 256MB (512MB recommended); for Windows Vista – 512 MB (1GB recommended)
  • Free USB 2.0 port
  • Sound / graphics controller with support for DirectX® 9
  • Hard drive with minimum 1 GB free space (20 GB recommended for TV recording)
  • DVD player/burner
  • Internet connection for registration/activation

System Requirements

  • Windows Vista™ (32-bit) or Windows® XP with latest service pack
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 2.4 GHz, Pentium M 1.3 GHz or AMD Athlon™ 64 processor (for HDTV reception, a Pentium 4 2.8GHz or Pentium M 1.7 GHz or equivalent AMD Athlon 64 processor is recommended)
  • RAM: Windows XP – 256MB (512MB recommended); for Windows Vista – 512 MB (1GB recommended)
  • Free USB 2.0 port
  • Sound / graphics controller with support for DirectX® 9
  • Hard drive with minimum 1 GB free space (20 GB recommended for TV recording)
  • DVD player/burner
  • Internet connection for registration/activation
Package Contents
  • USB 2.0 TV tuner for ATSC/ClearQAM/NTSC reception with flash memory and preinstalled Pinnacle TVCenter Pro software
  • Mini remote control including batteries
  • Portable telescopic high-gain antenna
  • A/V Adapter cable USB extender cable
  • Printed quick start guide
  • CD with Pinnacle TVCenter Pro and VideoSpin editing software

Company Information
Pinnacle Systems
A division of Avid Technology, Inc.
280 North Bernardo Avenue
Mountain View, California 94043

Phone: 650-526-1600
Fax: 650-526-1601

Website: http://www.pinnaclesys.com

Source: Manufacture Supplied
MSRP: $129.99


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