Add a double dose of TV to your computer
Given that so much of today's television content is being made available online at no extra cost through on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer and Channel 4's 4OD or on live streaming sites such as TVCatchup, the TV tuner, previously a mainstream computer product, is fast becoming an unnecessary addition.
That said, a device such as the AverTV Twinstar A825 certainly has its advantages. It works with Windows Media Center – which comes built into most versions of Windows 7 and Vista – and effectively turns your computer into a personal video recorder (PVR).
You can watch and record Freeview broadcasts and do all the sorts of things you might with, say, a Sky+ box or a set-top-box PVR, such as pause and rewind live TV or schedule recordings through Media Center's easy-to-use two-week programme planner.
In fact, the Twinstar A825 has one big benefit over other devices of its type in that it comes with two built-in digital tuners, allowing you to watch one Freeview channel whilst recording another.
It's also small and easy to install. It comes in the shape of a USB stick that's a little bigger than, say, a USB memory key. All you need to do is insert it into a spare socket, connect up an aerial and then run the software installation from the disc provided. This will install the driver as well as Avermedia's own Mediacenter application, which can be used on computers that don't have Windows Media Center built-in, such as those using Windows XP Home Edition.
The size of the device means that it's particularly well suited to laptop users, and this is supported by the inclusion of a miniature remote control handset and a tiny clip-on aerial.
However, while we found that the Twinstar worked well when plugged into an external rooftop antenna, its performance varied greatly when using the portable aerial.
Also, it's worth mentioning that, although the device is technically compatible with high-definition (HD) broadcasts, it only works with broadcasts using the H.264 and MPEG-2 standards. Unfortunately, Freeview HD channels in the UK use a different standard called DVB-T2 which doesn't work with the A825, so British users are limited to standard non-HD Freeview channels.
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Not cheap and doesn't support Freeview HD, but it's an easy way to turn your PC into a PVR
Includes dual Freeview tuners; small and easy to set up; includes a remote control; compatible with Windows Media Center
Doesn't support Freeview HD DVB-T2 format; performance variable on portable antenna
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