Leadtek WinTV USB II

Review

posted 4/17/2004 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
Say you have a laptop but want to watch TV on it. What do you do? Well, there’s a few USB TV card solutions out there and today we are going to take a look at one from Leadtek. Dubbed the WinFast TV USB II this USB TV adapter lets you watch, record, timeshift, and burn programs along with listening to music via the FM tuner.

The WinFast TV USB II comes bundled with the main unit, remote, antenna, stand, software, and audio cable. The main unit is a flat bluish plastic with connectors in the back and status lights in the front. The power button and IR sensor is also on the front as well. Each connector on the back is neatly labeled on top of the unit. The inputs are audio, AV, S-video and TV while the outputs consist of audio only. Missing from the connectors that I think should've been included is RCA audio jacks. Most of my audio connections from my cable box or my receiver are RCA jacks but with the WinFast TV USB II, you'll need to purchase a convertor if your audio source doesn't have that smaller 1/8" jack. If you're connecting a coaxial source, you won't need an audio input of course. The bottom of the unit has four plastic "feet" but if you need to stand the unit on end, Leadtek has included a very solid metal stand. All you have to do is remove the rubber covering on one side and attach the metal stand by inserting the notches of the stand into the unit. The neatly labeled back allows for ease of connections so that even hardware challenged people can easily hook it up.

As the title suggests, the unit plugs into the computer via a USB port. USB 2.0 high speed allows for 480Mbits/s and the WinFast TV USB II is rated for USB 2.0. You also have to plug the unit into an outlet to supply power. I’m always a stickler for brick power plugs and the WinFast TV USB II’s plug is brick-ish. The brick style always takes up more room on a power strip and this one is no exception.

The remote included with the package is a pretty standard IR remote with all the basic features. Everything is labeled clearly and cleanly. Button tension is pretty good. If you have a learning remote, you can easily program it to control the WinFast TV USB II. I’m a remote consolidator so this was a pretty good option for me. You can control both TV and radio operations with the remote and response time was good. There’s even a boss button on the remote in case you need to quickly hide the application if your boss is coming to check on you.

Software included with the WinFast TV USB II include Ulead VideoStudio and Ulead DVD Movie Factory. The two multimedia editing programs give you the software needed to edit and burn movies. The main software for PVR functions is the WinFast PVR application. I’ll mainly focus on the PVR software in this review.


Driver installation was relatively painless and musical. Leadtek’s driver install program must be one of the most musically diverse ones out there as many of the default sounds has been replaced. Getting to the point of plugging the unit in through the USB port, drivers were installed and lastly, I installed the PVR and FM programs. All in all, I didn’t have any problems installing the software needed to run.

Even though the unit plugged in through the USB interface, the audio still traverse through the 1/8” plug. I would’ve liked to have everything go through the USB cable and not have to use the audio cable. I had some problems trying to keep the microphone on with Windows XP and my Dell Inspiron 5150. So, using the unit on the laptop was pretty frustrating because no sound would come out. Plugging the WinFast TV USB II to external speakers does alleviate the problem. For future iterations, I hope Leadtek looks at using the USB cable for all audio and video.

Quality of viewing and recordings isn’t too bad. While it’s not nearly the level of the Hauppauge PVR-250 card, which does hardware encoding, the WinFast TV USB II during Live TV is actually very comparable to the ATI All-in-Wonder series. I watched high motion video in a Cavs basketball game and other slower programs like sitcoms. The unit kept up with the basketball game pretty well while showing a few anomalies. On slower paced programs, the unit did just fine. Watching TV caused my Pentium 3.2 system with 512MB of ram to run at an average of 35% CPU usage. Turning on timeshifting jumped it up to 50-55%, which is pretty acceptable. It definitely won’t match the hardware encoding performance of CPU in the teens. Status lights on the front signified if I was just watching or recording so I could easily tell what I was doing on the unit.

Turing on timeshifting causes the picture to degrade a bit as you are now playing back a recording. Your machine is doing double the work at this stage. You can adjust the quality of the playback in timeshifting it seems by adjusting how well you want to record the video. The better quality, of course, the more hard drive space you need. Just make sure you have a pretty good processor so the recording doesn’t skip.

When in full screen mode, it seems the mouse pointer doesn’t seem to go away, which can be rather annoying. You have to move the pointer off screen. While a minor annoyance, it still should’ve been fixed from full screen mode. I know that a lot of BeyondTV users complained of this during a beta period of one of their builds.

The electronic program guide is supported by the Titan TV website. Clicking on the EPG button in the control panel will take you to the site. It’s free for you to use, but I would’ve liked to see a better integration into WinFast PVR. There is no on screen display of what’s playing and you have to open up Titan TV every time you want to see what’s on currently or another channel. You can schedule recordings through Titan TV though and that does help alleviate some of the pain of scheduling recordings. A tighter integration into the WinFast PVR program with an EPG would help the program immensely.



The WinFast PVR program is lacking in terms of functionality and ease of use when compared to ATI’s MMC or programs such as BeyondTV and SageTV. The one thing it DOES do better than ATI’s MMC is in the FM area.

WinFast FM has a few features that MMC does not. For starters, you can choose what format to record your radio programs in and you’re not limited to MP3 like the current MMC from ATI. You can also scan for channels, which is something MMC did not do. Scanning will automatically save the radio frequency into a preset for ease of recall. There’s major tuning and fine tune adjustments in case you want to step up or down in frequency at a more minute level. So if you can’t get a station in just right, you can use fine tuning to try and get a better reception. Leadtek has included a very, and I mean VERY, long antennae so that you can position it pretty far away from the computer for less interference. I did like Leadtek’s FM implementation over ATI’s in this case.

The programs themselves did crash a few times and this was on a clean Windows XP install with all the patches. While it never happened while I was watching TV or listening to the radio, the fact that I could get it to crash by clicking on a few areas shows that the application needs more testing.

After using ATI’s All-in-Wonder cards and the Hauppauge PVR-250, I was a little disappointed with the WinTV USB II. I do like the portability of the unit and the radio option. And you do get a good bundle of software along with a remote. The applications need some polishing up and are not as nice as MMC or other PVR programs available. Picture quality is ok and you’ll need some good processing power since the unit does not do hardware MPEG-2 encoding. The ability to directly burn shows onto a DVD is pretty nice and I do like the fact you can choose different formats to record radio shows. In the end, Leadtek’s WinTV USB II is an ok product and does do the job as advertised.





D+
While it's nice you can use this product without having to open up a computer, the quality of picture and applications are not up to par with the competition.