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New USB DTV Tuners from Pinnacle and ReplayTV

This week there was news of two new products that allow viewing and recording DTV programming on computers, desktop or laptop.

Replay TV announced Personal HD, an all-in-one solution for the PC. The USB stick-type tuner is combined with ReplayTV’s software, enabling the recording of shows, which can be transferred to numerous portable media devices and Apple TV.

The tuner looks similar to other USB ATSC tuners. ReplayTV said the hardware is capable of receiving NTSC (analog) and ATSC (over-the-air digital) signals but did not list “ClearQAM” cable channels, which most USB stick tuners don’t support. See for pictures and additional information.

Pinnacle’s PCTV HD Ultimate is unique in that it includes an indoor antenna, making it more shoe horn size than thumb sized, and does not require any special software be installed on the computer.

Given the disk space required for the Pinnacle Media Center software I described in my RF Technology column on portable USB receivers, this is a welcome change.

In addition, the HD Ultimate includes a built in antenna. Perhaps most important for consumers that will use the device at home as well as on the road, the box shown in the tech blog indicates it supports “ClearQAM” unencrypted digital cable as well as ATSC and NTSC. The antenna is built in, but the device still looks small enough to easily fit in a travel case with a laptop. Perhaps the best part is the price is expected to be around $130.

The “ClearQAM” option is interesting. As I’ve said before, if the cable industry wants to move to a digital only infrastructure, offering basic and extended basic cable services in “ClearQAM”—receivable on the many DTV sets and specialty products like the PCTV HD Ultimate that support “ClearQAM”—will make it easier to avoid opposition from consumers who want to watch cable TV throughout the house on USB tuners and on smaller DTV sets without purchasing or renting a set-top box.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.