Get digital terrestrial on your PC with this powerful
DVB-T2 HD-ready tuner card.
We've certainly come a long way since the earliest days of digital terrestrial TV reception on PCs. And yet not so long ago the idea of getting this new-fangled digital TV malarkey on your desktop, generally with a mammoth PCI card full of ‘chippery’, was quite a novel one. With the supplied software you could also record programmes onto your PC’s hard disc – thereby effectively converting it into a PVR at a time when these were not commonplace items.
Now the average modern PC has a hard disc measured in terabytes. And there are a lot more digital terrestrial channels to choose from, a handful of which are broadcast in high definition.
Build and connectivity
To make the most of this we have the unique TBS 6284 – a card with no fewer than four terrestrial tuners on board. That means you can record three (or more) channels while viewing a fourth. Better still, all four tuners are compatible with not only the established DVB-T standard but also the newer DVB-T2 technology that carries HD channels. Like its satellite equivalent, the TBS 6984, it takes the form of a PCI-Express x1 card. Most PCs made over the past five years should be compatible with such hardware.
The TBS 6284 is purely a tuner; for encrypted channels your PC must be equipped with the necessary conditional access hardware and software. The card, which is 80mm tall and thus might not fit in some slimline cases, splits its tuners into two pairs – A/B and C/D – each of which has its own input and output.
Using a supplied patch cord the output from first pair of tuners can supply signals to the input of the second – and so you might only need one aerial cable. In contrast, the TBS 6984 needs separate LNB feeds for each tuner, owing to its need to independently switch band and polarity. Your local terrestrial TV transmitter uses the same polarisation, and the single UHF band used for broadcasting doesn’t need switching. The only other rear-panel connector is a 2.5mm mini-jack for an infrared sensor, which works with the supplied handset. On the board itself lurks an optional power connector that’s interfaced to your computer’s power supply if the motherboard’s PCI-Express slot is incapable of supplying enough current; it’s highly unlikely that you’ll need it (and in any case it’s not even referred to in the documentation).
Also supplied in the package is a mini CD-ROM that contains the drivers. These support Windows 2000, XP, Vista and 7 and Media Center can deal with a maximum complement of four digital tuners (certainly if you’re using Windows 7). Thanks to their BDA-compliance, the drivers allow the tuners to work with a wide variety of third-party software such as the full version of the popular DVBViewer from Germany. The TBS 6284 will also – courtesy of its manufacturer’s wise decision to cater for Linux – appeal to those who hope to build an open source PVR around software like MythTV.
In addition to the drivers a small collection of application software is included. These programs are TBSViewer (a cut-down version of DVBViewer), an OEM version of DVBDream (an alternative to DVBViewer) and TBSVHID (which maps handset buttons to the appropriate keyboard commands of your digital TV software). Sadly, none of these programs is documented – with the exception of a DVBDream help file.
Getting the card into our Yoyotech quad-core Windows 7 PC and installing the drivers from the CD-ROM was straightforward, although it eventually transpired that our first sample was a dud.
Its replacement, however, worked well. Setup will depend on the application software, but TBSViewer and DVBDream were easy enough to drive. The tuning menu of most software gives you control over the range of frequencies to be scanned (the TBS 6284 will deal with VHF as well as UHF channels) and the channel bandwidth (8MHz in the UK). You can usually also turn off one or more of the tuners, if desired.
PVR and multimedia
For standard-definition viewing with the supplied software, a Pentium 4 processor will suffice, but if HD is envisaged you’ll need a multi-core processor. With a copy of DVBViewer GE, which supports the reception of multiple programmes from each tuner if they’re in the same multiplex, we were able to record no fewer than nine channels simultaneously. That should be more than enough for anybody.
The TBS 6284 worked superbly. Its sensitivity was judged to be better than that of many DVB-T cards. Even the Crystal Palace HD channels, which will be carried with low power until switchover (a couple of months away at the time of writing) is complete, were received without glitches in our Essex location. It worked very well with Microsoft Media Center, DVBDream and TBSViewer; the four tuners yielded the kind of recording and viewing flexibility that is currently impossible with set top PVRs.
The TBS 6284 is not cheap, but if you do need such power (in a professional capacity perhaps) there’s nothing around to touch it. You need never miss another programme again.
Unparallelled viewing and recording flexibility
Cheaper and easier to accommodate than multiple tuner cards
Sensitive and reliable
No internal loopthrough routing option
Tall card might be tight fit in PC
Manual could be better