10.12.2006 12:00 AM
ATSC USB Tuner Update
Two weeks ago I reported on the new Pinnacle HD Stick Pro thumb drive sized ATSC USB tuner. The product is now available at Best Buy and Fry's Electronic stores. I had an opportunity this week to compare this tuner with the FusionHDTV5 USB Gold.

I found that the small Pinnacle HD Stick Pro performance is very close to that of the DVICO FusionHDTV5 USB Gold in receiving off-air ATSC broadcasts. Using my Terk indoor log-periodic antenna with or without the preamplifier switched on, both tuners received an equal number of stations. In tests using the whip antenna provided with the FusionHDTV5 USB Gold on the Pinnacle HD Stick Pro, the Pinnacle tuner appeared to be slightly less sensitive than the FusionHDTV5 USB Gold, but the difference was very small. Every station that could be successfully decoded with the DVICO tuner could also be decoded with the Pinnacle tuner. Performance was checked on high-band VHF and on UHF. No low VHF DTV stations were available for testing. The Pinnacle HD Stick Pro receives NTSC broadcast as well, but does not appear to support QAM for in the clear digital cable reception.

Unfortunately, the Pinnacle Media Center software that comes with the HD Stick Pro is much worse than that provided with the FusionHDTV5 USB Gold. The Pinnacle Web site says 1 GB of disk space is required to install the software and 20 GB is recommended. In spite of its size, Pinnacle does not provide anything comparable to DVICO's "Signal Checker" for optimizing antenna pointing nor does it provide EPG listings from DTV stations, even though a check box on the setup screen appears to allow it. Pinnacle offers a limited-time free subscription to a for-pay online program guide service.

If you are using Rod Hewitt's TSReader Software and the VLC Media Player, you can bypass Pinnacle Media Center. TSReader displays signal quality in percent and also the carrier to noise ratio on its status screen using the ATSC BDA driver. You will need to install Pinnacle's USB drivers. Windows XP will do this automatically from the Pinnacle CD, if it is inserted when the "new hardware found" window pops up without installing Pinnacle Media Center (PMC). However, if you want to get the updated drivers available on Pinnacle's Web site, you will have to install PMC, register the device at the Pinnacle Web site and download and install the PMC update. Pinnacle does not post the drivers separately on the Web site.

It is encouraging to see these ATSC USB tuners, or "VSB to USB converters" as RF Report reader Russell Murphy called them, available in retail stores such as Best Buy. I hope customers are not turned off by the Pinnacle Media Center software. It would be nice if Pinnacle offered a "Lite" version that provided basic TV viewing, simple recording and access to TV stations' electronic program guides. I would also like to see support for closed captioning. It would also be nice if the supplied mag-mount whip antenna came with an F-connector for attachment directly to the tuner. I find it convenient to use a hook and loop fastener to attached tuners to the back of my laptop for viewing on the road.


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