A product review by Bobulous.
Product made by Hauppauge. The WinTV receives standard terrestrial television signals and decodes them into sound and image for display on your PC monitor within Windows.
I bought my Hauppauge WinTV PCI with Nicam Stereo from Tottenham Court Road in London in May 1999. By arguing with the shop clerk I managed to knock a stunning £4 off the price. This means I paid only £75.99 for an item that should cost £80 mail order. If you're going to shop in Tottenham Court Road, check out Computer Exchange first. They were the only people who didn't think it perfectly reasonable to charge £99.99 for the very same product.
Jamming the Hauppauge WinTV into a spare PCI slot is no problem for someone who's seen the guts of a PC before. But that's where the smooth ride ends. Despite the product claiming to be Plug & Play, I experienced Plug & Crash-with-a-fatal-error. Which was far less satisfying and meant I had to work out myself how far the installation had got. The crash seemingly hadn't stopped the installation from completing, so I moved onto the next stage of the hardware expansion life-cycle . . .
The software that comes with the Hauppauge WinTV PCI sounds great. A WinTV viewer is supplied, as you would expect, and a video capture program for motion video production, and snapshot program for capturing stills from your WinTV. There's also the intriguing Intel InterCast software that has something to do with data being broadcast along with television programmes.
Once I'd acquired an amplified UHF aerial (because you need a good, strong signal to enable the WinTV card to detect TV stations) I started the WinTV program. The channel scan is excellent if you've got a good reception with your aerial. If you don't got a good reception you could end up manually searching for any signs of unintelligent life in the broadcast medium. With a good signal the picture you get from the Hauppauge WinTV PCI card is very impressive and you can happily watch the full-screen display for hours. Just so long as you don't want to change channel too often.
For some reason the WinTV software utterly despises the graphics system. Maybe it's my setup (I'm running a Velocity 4400 with 16MB of onboard RAM, connected to a passive Voodoo 2 card), but no matter what I do I just can't get the Hauppauge WinTV software to get along with my system. The software consistently corrupts the graphic system to the point where the machine becomes unusable and needs rebooting. If I change channels more than a couple of times the mouse pointer graphic freezes to the spot and I have to guess where the real, active pointer is if I want to do anything. This is particularly likely to happen if I've got annunciators activated (annunciators are those little black boxes with green writing that cheerfully announce what channel you're now on each time you flip). And using fullscreen TV mode is very likely to be a fatal problem. You can switch into TV mode, but you'll probably never be able to switch back. Both of the frequent problems require a complete reboot, and often you can't even command a reboot because the WinTV software has frozen the operating system. No amount of driver upgrades, graphic re-configuration or experimenting has killed these infuriating errors, and Hauppauge have not replied to my plea to technical support for advice.
This is all before mentioning that the WinTV capture software doesn't work at all. On loading the capture program I get "Unable to draw this data format" and then nothing. The snapshot program simply crashes with an illegal operation. The Intercast sotware turns out to be useless for anyone not in the good ol' US of A. But at least the Hauppauge VTplus software for professional Teletext seems to work well (although it does, of course, require a good signal to correctly receive the text). The package I bought came with a nice little infra-red remote control but, seeing as I haven't been able to use the system for more than five minutes without problems, I haven't had a chance to use it yet.
If I could do it all again... I wouldn't buy the Hauppauge WinTV PCI card with Nicam Stereo. As impressive and enjoyable as it is watching beautifully smooth, live TV render itself all over your PC display, it's just not worth the hassle of disappearing mouse pointers, fatal errors, scrambled displays, and endless system reboots.
It's such a shame, because behind all the hideously unreliable software, there's a good piece of hardware in the WinTV. If Hauppauge get round to telling me the secret to smooth-running WinTV, I'll update this page with the findings. But, until then, I'll only be running the WinTV when I'm not doing anything important with my PC, and only when I don't want to flip channels.
It's been a while since I bought the WinTV card. A recent download and installation of the latest driver for the card has rendered my WinTV completely useless. I am, shall we say, not exactly impressed. Hauppauge never did reply to my tech-support request.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Some people have had a lot of success with the Hauppauge WinTV system, and are very pleased with it. My review on this page is just about my experience with the system and should not be taken as the ultimate test report on this product. If anyone has written an objective review of this product, whether it be in agreement or disagreement with my view, I would be happy to put a link to it on this page. Just contact me with the details.