I picked up a Pinnacle 310i digital/analogue TV tuner card last week. APC had listed it in its top products section, which from what I’ve seen, is usually a reasonable bet. The kids were keen to try out the video editing software (Studio QuickStart), because even though it’s a cut-down version of Pinnacle’s Studio product, they wanted a change from Windows Movie Maker.
Me? I wanted a video capture card that would work in XP. My old FlyVideo card was okay-ish under Win95 (but even then the built-in apps were a bit dodgy; the TV viewing never seemed to work properly), just about bearable under Win2K (I could do captures using the Windows Media Capture utility, but it was pretty ugly setting it up). But it doesn’t work at all under XP.
TV tuning was a bonus, since it would allow recording direct off telly without going via the VCR. The 310i appeared to fit the bill. Retail is A$199, but I found it for A$169 at Landmark Computers in Melbourne, and it’s probably a similar price elsewhere.
Installing the card appeared to be pretty straightforward. Find a spare PCI slot, bung it in, and connect the lead from the card’s Audio Out to something approximating the PC’s internal Audio In. (Okay I admit I couldn’t find anything marked Audio In, and settled for CD in instead. Given that was unoccupied, it’s got me wondering if I can normally play CDs on the box… I’m not sure I’ve ever tried.)
Grabbed the first of the two CDs: MediaManager, and ran the install. The first hurdle was that despite the software claiming the CD key was on the sleeve, it wasn’t, it was on the CD itself.
Now, I don’t splurge a lot on new IT products. Part of being a geek luddite, I suppose. But this is the first mass-market consumer product I’ve come across that is built on the Dot Net Framework (version 1.1) and… wait for it… SQL Server Express Edition. That’s a hefty overhead for any end-user PC, and I’m glad mine has enough headroom that it doesn’t take a disk space (70Mb or so) or seemingly a performance hit, though
I’ll be checking if it’s now running by default the service is set to start automatically. Personally I’d stick to an Access/Jet backend for any consumer-level products I was writing. It may be outdated, but it’s super-efficient in comparison.
Fired up the software and after a couple of false starts tuning the channels (one involving cancelling radio tuning, which took ages; one at the end where it appeared to hang, and I ended up rebooting the machine) it seemed to be playing nicely. The digital (and especially the HD) signals are brilliantly clear. Adhoc recording worked okay, too. In due course I’ll try the “burn live programmes” and timed recording functionality.
Mind you, I do wish software manufacturers would stop re-inventing how Windows should look. Dealing with iTunes and its permanently grey title bar is bad enough. Pinnacle’s software goes for all sorts of wacky icons for such basic tasks as minimising and maximising the window — all breaking the user’s colour and size preferences, and probably using way more PC resources than is necessary.
Next I ran the Studio Quickstart install. That took ages — it seemed to take an awfully long time to unpack the sample sounds in particular. When it eventually finished I had a little play with it. Pretty basic stuff. Plenty of transition and sound effects. Maybe the kids will be happy with it, but I couldn’t see any huge advantages over Windows MovieMaker (though outputting something other than WMV is definitely a plus).
All the best stuff (like chroma key/bluescreen, which they’d love to be able to do) seems to be locked away and requires separate payment. I might eventually do the upgrade to the full version, but I really wanted the recording functionality first and foremost.
I’ll keep playing and if I find anything worth mentioning will update later.
2007-07-12: Followup: Pinnacle TV viewing software