Hauppauge WinTV PVR350 Review

Build Your Own PVR Community Site

Author: Erik Pettersen ( reviews AT byopvr.com )

INTRODUCTION:
The Hauppauge WinTV
PVR 350
combines powerful hardware encoding/decoding with TV tuning to create
an all in one PVR solution.

From the WinTV
PVR350 data sheet
:

TV and video recorder with hardware MPEG encoder
and decoder plus FM radio!

Turn your PC into a Digital TV recorder

Watch and record your TV shows with
instant replay and program pause

Watch your TV recordings on your PC screen or TV set

Burn your home videos and favorite TV shows
onto CD-ROM or DVD* and play them on your home DVD player

Includes hi-performance hardware MPEG-2 encoder
and hardware MPEG-2 decoder!

On the box it sure looks like a winner, but does it past muster for the BYOPVR
staff?

PACKAGING:
What Came in the Box (click to enlarge)

The PVR350 retail package comes with: The PVR350 PCI card, a 9-pin DIN A/V
adapter cable (S-Video, L/R audio out RCA jack, and RCA composite video out),
remote control, 2 AAA batteries, an IR receiver, installation CD, quick install
guide, promo slick for SnapStream, coax connector to FM antenna, composite to
S-Video adapter, and last but actually least some self adhesive Velcro to secure
the IR receiver to the top of your PC case.

INSTALLATION:
If you have ever upgraded your PC before there’s nothing new or cryptic
here. Open up the case, remove the back plane cover, and insert the WinTV PVR
350 into the PCI slot. Close everything back up and attach your coax cable to
the card. Boot the PC, insert the supplied CD, and let Windows XP auto detect
the new hardware and step through the driver install. (Note: I opted to download
the latest
version of the supplied software
and manually install each component to
ensure I had the latest and greatest drivers/software. I realize that deviates
from the “out of the box experience” slightly but if you aren’t
in the habit of downloading the latest stable drivers before installing new
hardware you should start)

SOFTWARE:
I fired up the supplied WinTV2000 application and ran through the channel scan
process. After that I was greeted with the joys of television displayed on my
desktop. Granted the WinTV2000 interface feels a little dated/clunky but the
base “PVR” functionality is there. I was pausing live TV, grabbing
screenshots, recording clips without a hitch. I was immediately reminded as
to why I was so amped up to build a PVR from scratch in the first place. I love
my Tivo, but if I record a show and want to send a clip to a friend, or email
a screen capture, I can’t do either on my Tivo (ReplayTV fans: I know,
I know… save your emails. ReplayTV has had similar capabilities for a
while now).

The bundled software depends on a separate program scheduler to handle scheduling
of future television programming. Again it is not very sexy looking but you
can do very basic digital VCR-esque scheduling through it. If you sign up for
TitanTV’s free guide service you can graphically look at TV listings and
clicking on the little record button of a show in the grid will call up save
as/run dialogue. If you run that little file (its file type is associated with
the WinTV scheduler) it automagically populates the recording time/etc in the
scheduler, and records my selection without my intervention. The TitanTV interface
for choosing which programs to record is neat, but it is not revolutionary.

They do bundle a trial version of the sexier looking SnapStream Personal Video
Station
(which is now called BeyondTV) on the installation CD if you want to
try a different / better software experience. If you are building a PVR / HTPC
I would suggest trying all the free/open source software and the trial version
of commercial software first and then decide which one would best suit your
project’s needs. That is a different article for a different day and I
digress.

VIDEO QUALITY/STRESS TESTING:
I found the recording quality to be excellent, and didn’t have any issues
with the quality of the files generated. It records in MPEG2 format so recorded
files are easily transferred to DVD video without re-encoding (provided you
have a DVD burner). The PVR350 can encode your source material in various bit
rates so you can decide whether you want to go for maximum quality (and therefore
maximum hard disk space used) or select a lesser quality to maximize the amount
of programming you can fit on your disk.


Screen Captures: Click to see a 800x600 high quality JPG

The real strength and selling feature for this card is its hardware assisted
MPEG encoding. This means that the Hauppauge’s MPEG encoder chip and NOT
your CPU will be doing all the heavy lifting. I was impressed with how low the
CPU demands were during recording on my very modest AMD Athlon XP+1700 with
a paltry 256MB of RAM. Recording using the PVR350 barely put a dent in CPU usage
(using windows performance monitor); it stayed under or right around 10% utilization.
Very cool! The minimum specs on the box list a Pentium II 500MHz or faster as
the lowest acceptable clock speed for use with the card. This is good news for
those of you who want to pair this card with a comparatively lower power mini-itx
system.

I performed some anecdotal/qualitative stress testing to get a better sense
of just how solid (or not) the hardware assisted encoding performed on the PVR350.
I recorded a program, while playing a previously recorded MPEG on my PC monitor
(software decoding) in the background, while playing Counter-Strike 1.6 in the
foreground. My system (especially disk access) was taking a beating. The CPU
utilization peaked several times during the test and the hard drive was really
churning. My in-game frame rates and ping suffered greatly (as well as my score
=P) in Counter-Strike but it certainly had the desired effect of bringing my
PC fairly close to “crush depth”. The encoded program did not suffer
any dropped frames, hiccups, or other artifacts. The PVR350 passes with flying
colors.

ACCESSORIES:
Prior to actually having the card in front of me, an included remote control
was a big selling feature for me. Any PVR card that I would even consider purchasing
HAD to have remote included. With that said, the included remote is functional
but nothing to write home about. If you are using the card just in your PC for
capture purposes you probably don’t need the remote (get the remote-less
and cheaper PVR250 MCE). If you are going to use it in a full fledge HTPC in
your entertainment center you are most likely going to be looking into a more
full featured JP1 uber-remote solution to control everything in your setup.

I appreciated the inclusion of the remote in the overall package but for all
intents and purposes consider it an entry level remote to tide you over till you
go for a full bore JP1 remote.

I LOVE IT, BUT…

There is one item of contention

The PVR350’s TV out and built in MPEG decoder is what sets it apart from
the less expensive PVR250 line of cards (the encoding section of the 250/350
are near identical). I’m a little conflicted about the value the TV out
& MPEG decoder adds to the overall package. The built in MPEG decoder only
works for signal put through the PVR350’s TV out. Local playback (e.g.
a PC monitor) isn’t hardware assisted and is done via software. “Live
TV” or playback of prerecorded MPEG clips through the PVR350’s TV
out is hardware assisted. DVD’s displayed through the PVR350’s TV
out are NOT hardware assisted because they are encrypted and rely on software
decoding. DivX playback through the tv out is also a no go.

Here’s the rub: You can’t see your Windows desktop OR
the menu’s/On Screen Display of your PVR software through the PVR350’s
TV out. Bummer. It kind of defeats the purpose of having the TV out integrated
on the card itself. I’d almost suggest getting the PVR250/PVR350 and pairing
it with another TV out card except the S-Video out on the PVR350 is so clear/good
that I’m torn.

I asked a Hauppauge representative about it and they said:

    Jeff Kardatske demonstrated the SageTV UI on a TV set using the
    WinTV-PVR-350 at the CES show in January. So I know that they have this
    running as part of SageTV. I thought that Snapstream showed me this when I
    visited them last month.


    Making the UI appear on the TV set is not difficult. There is a video
    overlay which you can write to which makes stuff appear over the TV. It does
    not do blending, but as for an overlay it works just fine.



    Hauppauge will add the UI to the WinTV-PVR-350 in the future. But I'm not
    sure exactly when. It depends upon when our engineers can get to it.

There is hope on the horizon though. Several 3rd party developers have built
either specialized drivers or software hooks to force OSD/menu display through
the PVR350’s TV out. The software capable of doing this is still
in the development/Beta stage and I wouldn’t classify it has 100% stable although I've heard good things about SageTV's 2.0 Beta. It's good to see progress made though on both windows/linux platform free and commercial solutions: SageTV 2 ( SageTv 2 reviewed using the PVR350 ) , MythTV with special IVTV
drivers
, and GB-PVR.

CONCLUSION:
Great card. I unabashedly recommend the PVR350 (or it’s smaller brother
the PVR250) for it’s quality and power of its MPEG encoding hardware.
The only issue holding it back from earning the coveted perfect 10 score is
the TV out overlay/OSD issue and less than sexy bundled PVR software.



OVERALL SCORE: 8.9 out of 10

PROS:

· Powerful hardware assisted MPEG encoding
· Powerful hardware assisted MPEG encoding (we really like it!)
· Sharp S-video out (also hardware assisted)
· Well supported by 3rd party applications (both windows & linux)
· Recorded programs easily transfer to DVD


TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT:


· Functional yet plain default bundled software
· So-so remote
· Hardware MPEG decoder can’t be used to decode DVD’s (un-encrypted
MPEG only)

CONS:


· OSD/Menu overlay support through PVR350’s TV out.

NOTES: The review was conducted using an AMD XP+1700/256MB
RAM/Windows XP Home Edition

Hauppauge graciously
provided the WinTV
PVR 350
for our evaluation. We greatly appreciate that they sent us a review
unit, but we would like to make it clear to our readership that it does not
affect their overall score or content of the review. We try and give you our
honest recommendations as to what works or doesn’t work for the HTPC/
DIY PVR community.

Official Hauppauge site link: http://www.hauppauge.com/
Direct Link to WinTV PVR 350
Gratuitous
Amazon Referral link to PVR350

(Note: we use the tiny referral proceeds to purchase more hardware to review)

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