Asus My Cinema-U3100Mini TV Tuner Review

RHKCommander959 - 2008-10-15 22:25:23 in Gadgets
Category: Gadgets
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: December 3, 2008
Price: $59

Introduction:

LCD monitors are not very different from their more expensive counterparts – LCD televisions. The only major difference is that the television is capable of being hooked up to coaxial/RCA readily. In steps the TV tuner – a device that can be used with a computer to allow monitors to act as televisions – users can finally watch TV signals from the comfort and convenience of a computer setup.

A TV tuner that fits the bill and is portable and easy to use is the Asus My Cinema U3100Mini. This petite USB device allows computers to view ATSC/QAM digital television – which is replacing the current analog setup in the United States of America fully by February 17th, 2009. The included software is simple to use for watching television, recording television shows, capturing and browsing frames taken from shows, pausing shows with a time delay (so you don’t miss anything), watching DVDs, listening to music libraries, and even managing radio broadcasts (this tuner does not have radio capabilities). The software also allows any broadcasts to be played in the Windows Sidebar. Also, this device is Asus EEE laptop friendly with special drivers included on the installation discs, and the packaging claims it to be a power saving device – good for notebooks where battery life is key.

 

Closer Look:

The tuner came in a small white and green box, which displays the tuner up front and center, held by a plastic clamshell package. The front states that the device is “Certified for Windows Vista,” but also mentions that it is certified for all versions of Vista and XP SP2. The features are also briefly mentioned – USB 2.0 interface, watch and record ATSC/QAM TV, HDTV support, and LED indicator. The sides show a glimpse of the tuner as well, and the back elaborates more about the features. The package looks great.

 

 

 

Let's open it up!

Closer Look:

The Asus My Cinema U3100Mini is a USB 2.0 HD TV tuner. It can only view ATSC/QAM digital input. The old analog input will simply not register, so users must do some research before purchasing this device. By February 17th, 2009 the United States of America will require all television signals to be broadcast in ATSC so in the near future this device will have a far greater use.

On the end of the USB drive there is a small input for the included coaxial adapter and antenna.  The top of the drive also features the LED signal indicator, which turns green for a moment if the signal is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the coaxial adapter and antenna with magnetic base. The coaxial adapter plugs into the end of the Asus My Cinema-U3100, the adapter is flexible so that stress on the USB port is minimized. The antenna is for use in capturing over-the-air signals. The magnetic base allows the antenna to be securely attached to any ferrous metal object (a car or bus come to mind) so you do not need to hold the antenna in place while trying to watch the content on your screen.

 

 

 

Also included are the driver and software discs, special instructions for Asus EEE PC users, and manual.

Installation

Installing the device is extremely easy. Just plug in the adapter you wish to use and make sure to push it in all the way. Then insert the device into an available USB slot and if using the coaxial adapter then a cord must also be inserted. Next, insert the driver disc and click "Install drivers."

 

Configuration

Configuring the device is easy as all you must do is install the drivers on the first disc, with any optional extras; extra features include Asus TSSI, which shows signal strength over the antenna, and Asus Video Security for use with security cameras. Then insert the software disc and simply install the software. The tuner also has a gadget for the Sidebar, which is nifty, but not extremely useful – perhaps news and cooking shows, or other broadcasts that do not require much visual components.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The TotalMedia software is easy to use and set up. The TV portion asks what region the user is from, but since this tuner is ATSC only, the user should be from North America since that is the only area that uses (or will use) ATSC transmissions. Next, the software asks how the user will use the tuner – via cable or antenna.

 

 

Once finished searching for channels, you may begin watching television. Full screen forces the viewing area to take up the entire area of the TotalMedia application. If the application itself is maximized then the entire screen will display the show. EPG is the TV guide, Channels are channels that have been detected, Recorded TV are episodes that you would have recorded, and Schedule allows a user to have the program automatically record a show. The options at the bottom allow users to watch television as if they were watching a movie - pause, fast forward, etc. The red button also records the show. There are controls for the volume and channel as well as favorite channel, aspect ratios, different audio types, taking snapshots of a show, and the ability to change the transmission source on the fly from cable to antenna or vice versa.

 

 

Configuring the tuner is extremely easy, and the software is simple but good.

Specifications:

Brand
AsusTek
Bus Standard
USB
TV Type
HD Digital (ATSC/QAM) TV
Connections
Coaxial, Antenna
OS
Windows XP SP2, all Vista
Accessories Driver disk, Software disk, User Manual

 

Features:

 

System Requirements:

Testing:

Testing a TV tuner is more subjective than based on numbers. CPU usage was negligible (perhaps 1%) – likely due to the enhanced hardware acceleration. The performance of this device will be measured in two ways – if it performs its designated tasks, and how well. Basically, I will be looking through all the features that Asus claims the My Cinema-U3100Mini offers, checking them off if it works and also giving my opinion based upon the quality of the features (for example, picture image).

 

Testing System:

The software ran smoothly and never crashed for me. It is also simple yet doesn’t sacrifice features for simplicity. The Sidebar gadget is also a cool little feature, along with the security and plug-n-play programs – which all worked perfectly, except the security feature that I do not have a system to test with. The included antenna would not locate any broadcasts, and so it either doesn’t work or isn’t strong enough to pick up a signal, or there are no signals in my neighborhood. I cannot confirm any ATSC broadcasts in my city, but a nearby town does have some ATSC over-the-air broadcasts.

Watch DTV Coaxial Pass
Watch DTV Antenna
Unconfirmed
Record DTV
Pass
Time-Shift
Pass
Software
All Pass (Exception: unconfirmed on security TSSI)

The picture quality is superb, as HD digital broadcasts should be. There are no tearing or other anomalies, although it is easy to accidentally jerk the tuner around when using the thick coaxial cables. On one such accident the device stuttered along until I gently realigned everything, it then resumed normal operations.

 

 

The device acts as it should and overall is quite user-friendly. So in my opinion, it passes the test!

Conclusion:

The Asus My Cinema-U3100 has only delighted me. It does what it is designed to do perfectly, unobstructed with any errors during operation. The fact that it uses USB is extremely handy since it can be used in virtually any computer, and is also portable. It also means that no tools are required to use this device. Since the coaxial adapter is flexible, it helps to relieve tension from thick coaxial cables – which helps keep the tuner from being knocked out from the USB port. The TotalMedia software works great, and is very simple and easy to follow – it is very intuitive. The only downfall of this tuner is that it is limited in use until ATSC is enforced in 2009 (2011 for Canada). But when that time comes, this gem will shine even more!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: