Asus My Cinema-PHC3-100/NAQ/FM/AV/RC TV Tuner Review

Propane - 2008-10-15 22:23:34 in Gadgets
Category: Gadgets
Reviewed by: Propane   
Reviewed on: October 30, 2008
Price: $79.99

Introduction:

Television has been around for a long time, much longer than computers. However, it turns out that TV and computers complement each other very nicely. Who hasn't wanted to record a TV show on their computer so they could watch it later, or rewind a program to hear the punch line of a joke or see an instant replay of your favorite football team? Other people just don't have a lot of room available to them and would like to watch TV on their computer. While most computers don't come with the ability to do this, you can get an add-on card to allow you to connect a cable signal or antenna signal to your computer and tune in to any channels you have access to.

One such TV Tuner is the Asus My Cinema-PHC3-100/NAQ/FM/AV/RC (which from now on I'll simply refer to as the Asus My Cinema, even though this refers to an entire product line) which is a PCI card that can tune in FM radio as well as digital and analog TV signals. This is truly an all-in-one package, as it comes with a remote, as well as some software to make your experience complete. The software will let you tune in channels, record television, and watch TV on your Windows Vista sidebar. A final benefit that I will mention here is that the card also serves as a hardware MPEG2 encoder, releasing some of the stress off your CPU and onto the card.

 

Closer Look:

The packaging that the Asus My Cinema comes in is a pretty simple rectangular cardboard box. On the front it lists several of the features and has a large picture of a man enjoying his TV tuner by watching some football and some other show at the same time, by taking advantage of the fact that the tuner can tune in both a digital and analog signal at the same time. On the back there are six pictures showing how some of the features work and providing some description.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening the box reveals the contents that are in the familiar molded plastic casing.

 

The remote that comes with the Asus My Cinema is pretty standard. On the top is a set of buttons to handle the recording and time shifting of programming. Below that is a Windows button that, by default, launches the Windows Media Center (which is compatible with the My Cinema card). Finally there is a directional pad and numerical pad, as well as a few extra buttons that will take you straight to recorded TV, the TV guide, live TV, or DVD. There is no doubt that this remote is made for use with Windows Media Center. Another included item is an IR receiver, so if your computer doesn't have one already, you won't be in too much trouble. The receiver also has the ability to output IR incase you wish to use a cable box or satellite receiver.

 

 

Closer Look:

The My Cinema card is a standard PCI 2.0 card and has 6 inputs on its back. 2 audio, for left and right, an S-video, an ATSC port, an analog port, and an FM port. The processing chip is a ViXS chip. The FM tuner is the highest up followed by the analog TV, and digital TV. Then there is the S-video and the audio inputs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also included is an antenna and a device to allow you to convert a normal RCA video connection to S-video.

 

 

Additionally, there is an FM antenna and a a user manual that comes with the My Cinema tuner.

 

 

Finally, 2 CDs are included which have the driver software on them and "Total Media 3."

 

Installation:

Installing the Asus My Cinema is very simple and easy to do and if you have ever installed an expansion card, you probably already know all the steps. If you have no idea where to start, you won't have a hard time if you follow the instructions in the manual. If you opt out of reading the manual though, the installation process is very easy. All that needs to be done is to turn your computer off, open it up, and push the card into the empty PCI slot. Then, start up your computer and put the driver CD in. You should be able install the driver and get to watching TV as soon as a source is connected.

Configuration:

Configuring the card is as easy as installing the drivers and running the software you want to use with the card. Putting in the CD and running the auto-run shows the following menus that allow you to install various software and read the manuals in a lot of languages. The installation process is very standard where you can only press next to accomplish the entire installation process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asus TSSI is a program that allows you to see antenna signal strength on your inputs, which would be useful if you were using an antenna. However, I am using a cable connection, so it shows 0 signal strength on all channels. Asus Video Security is a program that is supposed to be used in conjunction with closed circuit security cameras. I don't have any of these, however, and the program doesn't work correctly with a cable signal, so I will be unable to test this program and its features.

 

One of the cooler gadgets that ASUS included with the tuner is the sidebar gadget. This allows you to add a gadget to your sidebar that you can watch TV in. While the picture is very small, it could be nice to put the gadget there and have the ability to work on other projects while watching the news scroll by.

 

 

I wish I could do an in-depth look at the Total Media software that was included, but it just flat out would not work. The program would load, but it would not let me set up the tuner to work with it, so I never got a very good look at the interface. Because of this externality, I will do my testing in Windows Media Center, but will still take the non-working Total Media into account when I give the card my rating.

Specifications:

TV System

Digital TV / Analog TV

Bus Standard

PCI

PCB

ATX

Bracket

ATX

Connectors

Analog TV input / IR Sensor input / FM input / Video-in & Audio-in

OS

Vista Premium / Vista Basic / Windows XP

Accessories

Remote Controller / External Antenna Cable / IR Sensor Cable / FM Cable / Video-in & Audio-in Adaptor / Driver / Utilities / User manual CD

Software Bundled

Total Media / ASUS VideoSecurity Online

 

Features:

 

 

Testing:

No review would be complete without the hardware and software going through some tests to see how it actually preforms. No amount of pictures can tell you much about the product except for how it looks and I'm sure you are more interested in other aspects of it. However, testing something like a TV Tuner can be difficult, as its success or failure is mostly measured in the mind of the observer, instead of the hard numbers that video cards and CPUs produce. This means that you will have to take my opinion on the features listed below. I will be testing the My Cinema tuner on several key features: ease of use, functionality of the included software, and picture quality. I will also take a short look at the CPU usage of the tuner, though this measure will be unique to my system, and to my source of input to the tuner card, so be aware that your results might be vastly different than mine with respect to the system resources test.

Testing System:

 

Ease of Use:

Unfortunately, the main software package that was included didn't really work, so I have almost no idea how easy it is to use. One thing that I did notice is that the software package didn't work quite like it should, by making the task bar not auto-hide correctly. Additionally, the Video Security program had an adverse effect on picture quality. There was some hope though, as the sidebar gadget worked perfectly and the card had no issues in Windows Media Center.

 

Functionality:

While this is very similar to ease of use, it is also different in its own regard. The main software package had no functionality with the TV tuner, and Video Security adversely effected the tuner's performance. It was nice to use the sidebar gadget though, as I was able to watch TV while preforming other tasks easily and at low resolutions. The channel changing was a little slow, but it was not a very large deal. Also, all features of the card I was able to test given my cable package and location worked nicely in Windows Media Center.

 

Picture Quality:

To test the picture quality from the Asus My Cinema tuner, I will use Windows Media Center and tune into a program on my standard cable TV package from Time Warner. I don't have a digital or HD package, so the only video I will be able to test is an SD analog signal. From what I can tell, and from tuner cards I have seen before, the picture quality from the Asus is very high. There isn't much noise and there is no tearing of the picture that I can notice. You can see the picture for yourself in the screenshots below. All in all, I was very pleased.

 

 

System Resources:

One thing to keep in mind when you have a TV tuner is that it will take up some system resources. For my signal that I am using and the hardware I am running, my CPU usage hovered around 5% but varied from 2% to 9%.

Conclusion:

The ASUS My Cinema TV Tuner card has proved to be part awesome and part let-down. The software included with the card was the main disappointment and cast a shadow on a card that otherwise shined. With the ability to pull down clear signals on analog cable and FM radio, the thing that really matters, the hardware itself, really stood out. There are plenty of inputs, and the ability to receive both digital and analog TV signals which will be very important once the FCC mandated switch occurs. The addition of a sidebar gadget allows shows to be watched easily while performing other tasks on your computer and can be a great benefit to those who work from home or play a lot of video games. All-in-all, I love this tuner and the quality it shows, but the lack of really refined software has been a little disappointing.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: