Review: Pinnacle PCTVpro Tuner/Capture Card - Software
According to the brochure you can watch TV, digitally record your favourite programs with realtime MPEG1 or MPEG2 compression then burn them at to VCD, SVCD or DVD resolution onto CDR or CDRW media.
If your computer's fast enough it even promises to provide a timeshift function just like the Tivo and Replay TV boxes.
Of course, as most of us find out at an early age, there's sometimes a world of difference between the promise and the reality -- and so it is with the PCTVpro's software package.
Yes, you can use it to watch TV on your PC. Yes it does allow you to record TV programs to your hard disk. Yes, you can burn those programs to CDR/RW media -- but not quite as nicely or smoothly as it should.
It's really only once we try doing the fun stuff that things begin to turn to custard.
To understand the main problem it's important to realise just how processor-intensive good video compression really is. Performing realtime MPEG encoding of any quality requires a lot of grunt and is usually best done by a dedicated MPEG processor on a separate card.
However, a dedicated hardware-based MPEG encoder is not cheap, costing many times more than the PCTVpro card itself so instead, the PC's own processor must shoulder the compression burden.
In order to make this practical, the MPEG routines used by the Pinnacle software are not particularly impressive in respect to the quality of image they produce.
There's quite noticeable pixelation on both MPEG1 and MPEG2 recordings - particularly if you stick to the standard bit-rates. Comparing the recordings made by the Pinnacle software with those created by a good hardware encoder or programs that don't try to operate in realtime is a real eye-opener.
This video quality problem also affects the timeshift mode since what you're doing there is effectively watching a recording made a few seconds (or minutes) earlier.
Rapid movement prodcues image tearing and pixelation that are quite distracting and, although you tend to become acustomed to this after a while, it's still disappointing and irritating.
Next: Pinnacle PCTVpro Review, The Software, part 2
Back to The main project page