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Los Angeles, California

HomeGearHardware Review-TV On The Run

Hardware Review-TV On The Run

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By Norman C. Berns
I’m a TV nut. I assure myself it’s perfectly reasonable to watch Dr. Who until 4 a.m. I figure stuffing myself with visual junk food is better than feeding my need for ice cream and pizza.
Before DVRs came into my life (TiVo is the best known), I’d dread going the road, being weeks away from my programs, forced to watch reruns of Wheel of Fortune, or worse. (Okay, there is no worse.)
If only I could watch whatever TV I wanted, whenever, wherever. I dreamt of takeout TV, delivered as easily as won ton soup.
Well, dreams do come true. I found a pair of TV goodies from Pinnacle Systems and I was inclined to pay attention. The company is owned by Avid.
Pinnacle’s PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is ultimately simple. The little black box slid into my laptop’s USB port. I attached an antenna, ran the setup and before I could say “where’s the remote,” TV was playing on my portable.
The Stick grabs analog or digital signals from the air, and has room to record two hours of TV or camcorder video that plays on any computer. It is compatible with Windows Media Center and yes, there’s a version that runs on a Mac, so no one has to miss this party.
On the downside, I’ve just turned my $2,000 portable into a $100 TV. And the video, even HD, is only as good as the local reception, though the antenna is a big help. It may prove handy when I’m stuck in an airport, suffering mind-freeze from Fox News. But on the road, where reception is spotty, the stick is stuck with the very same signals. Face it: fuzzy is fuzzy.
Fortunately, there’s a better solution. The Pinnacle PCTV To Go HD Wireless grabs HD signals from your set-top box “the TV, DVR or DVD player if you like” and broadcasts them directly to your computer. All you’ll need is a connection to the internet. And more places in the hinterland offer online links than decent TV.
Installing PCTV to go is relatively easy, though far from seamless. The setup program is nicely hand-holding, but no task for the technologically impaired. The system is password-protected, but fortunately adds a CYA button on the back of the unit. Seems PCTV and I had a mild disagreement about my chosen password. Push the button. Reboot. Reset.
The pointy-eared unit hunts for a wireless internet hookup. Or uses its ethernet port for a hard-wired connection. Configured for remote access, I’m offered a choice of recalling its ID (61392193-7832-gw58-467c-2b737d066109) or my own name. Wonder which I’ll pick.
Once the Pinnacle is hooked up and active, it just sits silently and grabs video, a pair of green eyes staring blindly ahead. On the back side, however, there’s a lot more action. There are inputs for Y composite, S-video, a pair of components and one pair of audio jacks’up to four sources (including an analog cable or antenna, which uses the built-in analog TV tuner).
Unfortunately, all those inputs share the same audio connection, leaving you at Radio Shack scouring for adapters to connect them. Remember to turn them off, too, or they’ll all play at once.
And that’s it. Now I can watch my TV on any PC anywhere in the world (well, anywhere with an internet connection). Even better, it’s not just TV, the remote can grab whatever’s on my DVR and video player.
The PCTV isn’t Mac-compatible. It does integrate with Windows Media Center. The signal can be shared with anyone online (using your password), but change the channel and everyone’s changes, even folks back home. And they can do the same to you.
Place-shifting is dominated by the better-known Slingbox from Sling Media and Sony’s Location Free TV. If you’re on a Mac, Slingbox remains your only choice. Only PCTV can connect to the internet wirelessly. And it’s the only choice that uses Windows Media Center.
So how was it? Mostly fine, with a bit of herky-jerky video from time to time. Although the Pinnacle accepts HD signals, what comes out the other end isn’t close. At home it’s MPEG2 . On the road, all that can squeeze through smaller internet pipes is MPEG4.
Okay, the pictures won’t always be pretty. But there will be pictures ‘ your pictures, your shows ‘ in places where there were none before.
PCTV To Go Ultimate Stick: $130
PCTV To Go HD Wireless: $250
www.pinnaclesys.com

Written by Norman Berns

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