I decided it was time for a new AGP video/TV capture combo card. I have been using an Asus V7100 Deluxe Combo for some time. It combines a GeForce2 MX400 video card and Philips TV tuner. It comes bundled with a digital VCR package named, not so imaginatively, Asus Digital VCR. In spite of years of fiddling, I just never quite got the Digital VCR working the way I wanted. I could set it up to record a dozen shows while I was out of town for a week, but come back and find that half didn't record at all or had corrupted audio or something like that.
Unlike most purchasing decisions I make, this time I actually did some research. I searched the net, read forums, compared reviews, shopped around, and finally decided on the perfect new AGP video/TV capture combo card for my system. I went out to buy it.
And came home with a PCI TV capture card instead.
It turned out the local computer store did not have the particular card I was looking for in stock, though they could probably order it for me. But the young lady behind the counter reminded me that the last time I'd had trouble with my combo card, I'd said that next time I was going to buy a dedicated capture card. They did have those in stock. The fool and his money were soon parted.
This isn't a full review by any means, so I'm not going to bore you by rattling off the complete and total capabilities of the TV@nywhere card. I'll just mention the ones that interested me enough to buy it.
Here's the card itself and some details:
Before actually trying to install the card, I unistalled the capture drivers used by my old capture card, even though it was going to remain physically in my system. It turned out that both the old card and the new card used nVidia drivers.
Once I got started, physical installation was fairly easy. I had plenty of empty PCI slots, but I had to move around some fans and brackets to get to them. Knowing that some motherboards share interupts and other system resources between the AGP slot and the first PCI slot, I used the third one down. Windows 2000 SP4 booted right up afterwards, noticed the new hardware devices (video and audio capture), and offered to install some drivers for me. I instead followed the instructions and allowed the programs on the installation CD to do the driver installation, followed by a reboot, followed by the application installation, followed by a reboot.
During the reboots, I hooked up my cable TV coax, hooked the TV@anywhere Audio Out to my soundcard's Line In, run the FM antenna up the wall, and plugged in the remote control infra-red receiver. As you might can tell from the picture above, the port for that is a tad off center. I had just a little trouble getting it to plug in, but a little prying with a screwdriver took care of that.
After all the reboots were finished, I fired up the application, with turns out to be InterVideo WinDVR 2. WinDVR couldn't find any CATV channels at first. After fiddling with settings for a while, I found channels and could watch video, but there was no sound. It was while I was uninstalling the drivers that I found a new directory on Drive C: which contained, you guessed it, drivers. I ran the setup program I found there, rebooted yet again, and suddenly I had a working TV!
Of course, watching TV on my computer was only half of what I wanted. I also was looking forward to using the DVR or Digital Video Recorder. The first several test records looked good but had absolutley no sound. The problem turned out to be the MSI Radio software which I was also testing at the same time. For some reason, it mutes the Line In Record level when it runs. I'm not using MSI Radio for now, but I will eventually try to come up with some kind of solution, as I would like to be able to record off the radio.
I had to adjust various settings quite a bit before I was happy with the sounds levels on the recorded video. It tends to want to oversaturate and clip very easily. It is also possible to set the MPEG recording options such that WinDVR will create MPEG files which even it can't load.
Once I got past recording short test clips, I discovered another problem. When I'd try to record MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 at firstname.lastname@example.org, my personal definition of "full screen video," I'd get horizontal distortion and banding. This would happen right after scene changes, when there was a lot of action going on, or when the (real world) hard drive was accessed. This also seemed to result in dropped frames, though sometimes I'd have record for over an hour before I'd notice really bad A/V sync.
Testing showed that lower resolutions (e.g. 320x240) had less banding and fewer dropped frames, as did recording at lower framerates (e.g. 24 fps) and using codecs which required less processing power (e.g MPEG-1 instead of MPEG-2). I decided that my computer, even with it's 1729 MHz Athlon XP 2100+ processor and 7200 RPM hard drive, was a little too wimpy to do the real-time capture and conversion I was asking it to. I'd noticed this before, but had blamed it on my old capture card. Maybe it's my old motherboard and PC133 RAM.
But then again, the tests showed that I was at least in the ballpark. I went on a hack and slash tour of my computer, getting rid of some programs I didn't use anymore but which had loaders and utilities running in the background all the time anyway. I told my anti-virus software to stop checking files unless I tell it to. I also visited some sites that tell you how to tweak Windows 2000 performance. Finally, I set WinDVR.exe so that it ran with High priority instead of its usual Normal priority.
If there is any distortion, banding, or dropped frames now, they're not bad enough for me to notice. That's my definition of "problem solved."
I've never had a remote control for my computer before, so this helped sell me on the TV@nywhere Master. The credit-card-sized remote operates basic TV viewing functions, in addition to allowing time shifting. Time shifting is another thing I'm going to have to work on a bit. In addition to recording audio and video, WinDVR also has to play back the same file at the same time. On my system the playback stutters and pauses so badly as to be almost unwatchable at times.
One thing I can't figure is that WinDVR responds to most remote buttons instantly, as quickly as it would respond to a mouse click or hitting a hotkey. When I press the channel up or channel down buttons, however, it takes almost two seconds before the channel changes. It's quicker to type in the channel number than it is to hit the up arrow button.
I have a new icon in my system tray and it's driving me crazy. It's the InterVideo WinCinema Manager. At first glance, it just gives me another place that I can run WinDVR from. I'm sure it would also let me run other InterVideo products had I any installed. I wanted to get rid of it, but as it turns out, it handles the remote control functions. Without it running, the remote doesn't work. I guess this is necessary since the power button on the remote control actually starts WinDVR. So I can't kill the Manager without giving up the remote. Decisions, decisions.
The whole point of getting the TV@nywhere in the first place was scheduled recording on my favorite TV shows, which it does very well. WinDVR handles scheduling differently than Asus DVCR did, taking several dialog boxes instead of just one, but the end result is mostly the same. One thing I do miss from Asus DVCR is being able to set multiple days to record. Recording the same channel at the same time on Monday through Friday is just a matter of clicking a few boxes. With the WinDVR scheduler, I have to set up either 5 different entries, one for each day, or tell it to record "Daily" which records all 7 days of the week.
One thing I never liked about a Digital VCR is that I can't record one channel while watching another. Now, I have a AGP video capture device as well as a PCI one. Is it possible? Some day when I'm feeling froggy I'll try it out.
I almost forgot! Here's a screen grab to give you a rough idea of the quality of the video signal. It saves as BMP, but of course I had to compress it into a JPG, so it looks much worse than the actual quality I see every day.
Update Feb 16, 2008: I'm still getting a lot of requests for help and troubleshooting tips. I don't use this card anymore and can't really help you, though I'm honored that so many people seem to think I'm a genius or something. I suggest you go to the MSI Forum which covers TV@nywhere Master (and other MSI cards): $link:http://forum.msi.com.tw/index.php?board=34.0$ You really need to read this forum and ask your questions there instead of asking me! They'll have links to manuals and drivers and applications and FAQs and the like that I won't have.
Viewing/downloading stuff on the MSI forum requires registration, but it's worth it if you're needing help. Ask all your questions there. They know more than me!
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|This page last updated on Feb 16, 2008 by Troy H. Cheek|