External TV Tuners / PVR Devices: 3-way shootout


Not too long ago we reviewed LG’s stunning 23” LCD widescreen monitor which unfortunately we already had packed and ready to be returned to the manufacturer by the time we started writing this article. Although the big screen was the most obvious attractive part of the LG 23” “Media Station”, it was not only a gorgeous monitor that we were going to miss but a multimedia station. And to think, for a measly $2,500, I could have kept it. A small price to pay for a multimedia workstation of such caliber, don’t you think?

You might have to think again. If an affordable multimedia workstation is what you need, you could be saving that $2,500 and look up one of these affordable units that also add TiVo-like options to your system. They may not have the sexy looks, enormous included monitor, or sleek lines like the LG unit, but they get the job done. These are no frills units that allow you to watch television on your monitor, or play an Xbox game or two. How about a night at the movies, right on your laptop? Need a place to connect your camcorder to, and record the video? Do you like to pause and record live television? And guess what? It’s pretty darn cheap.

We took on three different products for this shootout, all of them external devices which should offer extra versatility versus its internal counterparts. The first is a unit from Transcend, which is called the TV-Box. Next on the docket will be a unit from Digistor. And finally, the largest of the bunch is the RTV VEG-N Video Entertainment Generator.

Are These Products For Me?

These products have the ability to turn your workstation into a multimedia tool. The tested units all have built-in television tuners, along with remote controls which allow watching television on your computer either on full screen or windowed modes. All products came with software that enables the user to record live television (similar to a Tivo), schedule future programming, and edit for burning to DVD, provided you have plenty of hard drive space available.

The space needed will depend on the quality of the recording, which can be selected by the end user. To perform these tasks, each reviewed unit comes with its own PVR (Personal Video Recorder) software suite. As a side note, you must have at least one USB 2.0 port available in your machine, or you won’t be able to use any of these devices.

All of the units reviewed here also have external connectivity for input devices such as video recorders, DVD players, or even gaming consoles. With this you should be able to transfer old VCR tapes to DVD discs, and edit unwanted portions if desired. You can also transfer video from your camcorder, and burn it to disc. The units all have the ability to be connected to a gaming device, but only one of them offers enhanced resolution capabilities, which supposedly enhances visuals in your Xbox or PlayStation games. Here are a few pictures of the units, and how they size up to one another:

Here’s where we start seeing bigger similarities and differences between products.

As you can see, both Transcend and Digistor products are touted as very small, unobtrusive units that get the job done with the flexibility of an external device.

The smallest unit is the Digistor, followed by the Transcend. The largest of the bunch is the RTV tuner which more than doubles the size of the others although later you will find what all that space is being used for.

Test System Configuration:

  • Intel Pentium 4 H-T 3.0 GHz

  • Abit IS7 Motherboard w/ Intel 865 PE Chipset

  • 512 MB DDR RAM

  • Windows XP Professional SP2

  • Philips 109s Monitor


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