Here are some of the products that extend content from the PC to the TV and vice versa….I’ll give you a quick overview with a more extensive review of these products in another month or so when three other variations are due in retail stores or through custom audio-video installation.
Microsoft’s Media Extender (View product)
Using any of the new PCs or laptops from HP and Dell or upgrading your existing PC or laptop to Vista Ultimate, and having better than average broadband speed and power, will enable you to use the D-Link Media Extender. The $300 Wireless HD capable Media Center Extender (DSM-750) device attaches to your TV via component, HDMI or standard audio video jacks. Once you run the setup which comes up pretty easily on the screen, it will give you a code which during a one time maneuver you need to put into your PC (which should see the extender on your desktop. Once the security code is entered, the TV screen guide asks you to select content on your PC. You simply add your music or picture or home video folder and those items become easily viewable on your TV. Despite a super speed broadband in my home, I had difficulty in getting some of the content to work quickly…but modifications to my included D-Link router (which should be easier to work after all this time) resulted is a good experience. I also picked some Internet radio on my TV from this media extender. Very similar products based on the Microsoft Media Extender Platform are available from HP, Dell and soon Samsung.
Quick Review: Still not quite ready for prime-time. For the average user I give it 2.5 stars (out of 5).
Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick (View product)
Pinnacle with its PCTV HD Ultimate Stick and AMD with its TV Wonder accessory allow you to Watch and record Standard Definition and free HD TV with no service fees since they both are picking up over the air signals and delivering them on your laptop or notebook PC. The Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick, which was previously ranked as one of the worst products and hardest to install has taken a 180-degree turn. It literally took five seconds to hookup to my laptop and I had crystal clear HD channels as well as at least 12 digital channels and six analog channels even though I am an hours drive to the nearest big city. I simply ran the digital TV tuner and personal video recorder software from the Stick’s on-board flash memory after plugging it into an available USB port. An easy settings guide helped download a TV listings for my area and I was watching and recording TV in seconds. The PCTV HD Stick supports both analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC) TV signals. The digital TV tuner hardware is also ready for ClearQAM (unencrypted digital cable). You can record up to 2 hours of TV directly to the stick for playback on any PC….or save recordings to your hard drive in MPEG-1/2 or DivX formats or even direct-to-DVD.
Quick Review: For the newbie and the experienced technology user, I give this 3.5 stars…losing a half a star because of bad packaging.
ATI TV Wonder™ HD 650 Combo USB for PC (View product)
The ATI TV Wonder HD 650 Combo USB TV tuner loads your system with a complete set of media capabilities. I was able to transform my older PC and newer media center HP notebook into an all-around video entertainment system. The system worked easily…much better than ATI’s internal system which you have to open the PC and physically install the hardware. With this system it was easy to plug into either PC with the tuner –TV reception working almost from the get go.
Attach an amplified high definition antenna or even one of the newer non-powered antennas or your analog TV cable and you can watch, pause, or record high definition TV on your PC. Even analog TV stations are strongly improved by the advanced 3D Comb Filter that produces a quality TV and video feeling. This supposedly is the same kind of filter found on many recent model high-end TVs. Like the Pinnacle product, this system uses a lot of noise reduction technology which has to be manually tuned since my experience both systems failed to incorporate noise reduction automatically…a minor annoyance.
Quick Rating: For newbies 3.5 stars…a little too much tuning and manipulation of controls. For experienced users 4 stars due to the advanced options.
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Richard Sherwin is a former syndicated technology columnist and TV/Radio analyst, who has also been a marketing executive with IBM, Philips, NBC and a chief advisor to several manufacturers and service providers.