|ASUS MY-CINEMA PHC3-150 TV-Tuner Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Accessories|
|Written by Dan Ferguson|
|Tuesday, 23 February 2010|
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TV-Tuner Card Final Thoughts
Software installation and setup may be the single most reported problem with TV tuner cards. The more advanced features typically result in more headaches. Novice users will have best results when sticking with the software that comes with the cards. Advanced users should expect to encounter hiccups and incompatibilities when implementing more comprehensive software packages. Some users report no hang-ups using any software. For those willing to invest the time and patience to configure a system will reap the rewards of a supreme media system.
It also took some time to get accustomed to the slowness of digital broadcasting. Channel changing is noticeably slower than analog. This was also true on the 650 HD. When first opening TotalMedia and switching to TV viewing mode there is a long delay while the PHC3-150 collects channel information. This isn't a full channel scan, but it is apparently loading some kind of information into memory. After this initial pause, channel changes occur much faster, but still not as fast as analog.
The My Cinema PHC3-150 had no issues updating electronic program guide information. With other cards and other software the EPG has always been one source of frustration. With other packages the EPG data embedded in the stream would not be updated or had to updated manually, and in some cases the update would dominate computer resources until the data was acquired. With TotalMedia there were no issues. The update was happened automatically, behind the scenes and seamlessly. During the very first use it was a surprise to find all the information immediately available. This really reduced the frustration when scheduling a favorite show.
As for scheduling, there were no frills. The available options were to pick a show from the EPG, manually schedule according to channel and time, or record live TV. Scheduled recordings could be set to repeat based on selected rules.
It seems lately that instruction manuals keep getting slimmer and slimmer. Once upon a time, computers came with near comprehensive manuals that covered everything from first time installation to servicing the hardware. Any more there is little more than a quick-install guide with one or two, inapplicable troubleshooting steps. This is a particular pain with TV tuner cards since they are notorious for being tricky to install. I would love to see ASUS or any other company do a thorough job of documenting the typical problems that will be experienced during installation and use.
ASUS PHC3-150 Conclusion
When pitted against the ATI 650 HD, the ASUS My Cinema PHC3-150 performed quite comparably. The bundled hardware and software combination from ASUS required slightly more CPU to both stream and record than the ATI bundle. During recording, the PHC3-150 provided a more stable live picture at the expense of CPU while the 650 HD seemed to provide a choppier live image in trade for a smoother recording. This may be important depending on your viewing needs. To obtain videos that could be compared between cards, the PHC3-150 had to be set to its lowest quality while the ATI had to be set to its highest quality. This might be an indication that the PHC3-150 has more to offer in higher quality. Videos recorded at the same resolution had very similar quality and shared similar defects. The PHC3-150 consistently showed a slight advantage by capturing at a higher bit-rate and storing more kilobytes for each frame.
The visual quality of the recordings were also comparable. The PHC3-150 offered a clearer video frame by frame, but suffered from dropped frames on occasion. This was most noticeable during high speed scenes and quick movements. The 650 HD degraded by losing pixel quality while the PHC3-150 degraded by dropping frames. This is probably related to the live image differences mentioned earlier. The visual appeal of the software does not offer anything ground-breaking, but it did not have any setbacks. The menus were mostly intuitive, but some time may be required to memorize the locations of specific settings like the TV recording quality. The external accessories have a contemporary color scheme and with wiring that is standard fare in the PVR world.
The card, remote, transceiver and cabling are solidly constructed. The USB cable and IR cable are plenty long to extend from the computer to a visible location. Due to the size of the card it may be hard to squeeze inside a case with little vertical room.
The card functioned very well when acquiring both digital and analog signals. The slight delay when changing channels is a constant annoyance, but this seems to be the case with other cards as well. The hybrid nature of the card offers twice the utility over types of capture cards since the card can multitask viewing and/or recording two streams simultaneously. The TotalMedia software did an excellent job of working straight out of the box. Despite a small hiccup during installation, very little time was spent configuring the setup for use. The hardware detection, EPG update, and channel scans all performed exceptionally. There were a couple issues trying to capture analog streams when the VCR image faded in and out on the coaxial port and some composite streams could not be recorded due to false copyright detection. Finally, not all of the features potentially available through the hardware could be accessed by the software. An advanced setup with more features will require third party software.
Hybrid tuner cards have alot to offer, but for similar types (on-board encoding for example) there are not great differences in performance. Most of the value in an off-the-shelf package will be determined by the functionality and software. The My Cinema PHC3-150 has good value with respect to the ease of installation. There were only a few minor hiccups which seem to be normal for any card. The main features simply worked. When considering the value provided by TotalMedia, it lacked advanced features for more experienced users. The absence of a video conversion utility is a major downfall. Similarly disappointing was the lack of control of recording format. While these can be obtained through third party applications, it impacts the inherent value of the package. On the positive side, the accessories are excellent. A remote control with receiver and IR blaster are still not standard options tuner cards. These are a very welcome bonus. Also, RCA audio jacks are also not standard. This makes cabling and setup much easier. The PHC3-150 currently sells for $79.99 at NewEgg.com where the customer reviews seem to be bimodal. Considering other cards and tuner devices in the same price range, this card has above average value.
+ Fast, simple installation
- No video conversion program
Final Score: 8.05 out of 10.
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