With the move by my cable company to digital broadcasting, I had to start using a cable card in my media center in order to watch and record my favorite shows on cable. I've been using the Ceton InfiniTV 4 for a whie now but not everyone wants quad tuners or pay $300 ($400 when I ordered it). Hauppauge has been in the TV tuner card game for a long time and they've finally come out with a cable card solution and they were kind enough to send me one for review.
The Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 is an external tuner utilizing a cable card that offers up two streams for you to watch and record. Included in the package that was sent to me was the unit itself, a power cord, a USB cable, and a driver disk. Curiously, their WinTV 7 application was missing, which they seem to usually include in all their offerings. In any case, you get the bare essentials to get up and running.
The black box has lot of holes in it, and I'm guessing it's to help keep the unit cool. On the front are four LEDs that give you some visual indicator of the status of the unit. One light lets you know that it's connected to the computer with another letting you know if the cable card is installed correctly. Finally, two lights represent each tuner and lets you know if they are being used or not. The tuner lights are a nice quick visual cue on whether the DCR-2650's getting signal and serving up a picture.
Installation was pretty simple for me as I installed the drivers on the disk and updated to the latest drivers from Hauppauge's website. I plugged in a multi-stream cable card that I picked up from my cable provider, gave them a call with my host ID, and after a few moments I was rocking HD and premium channels on my Windows 7 machine. I didn't have to use a tuning adapter, but I read the latest update has resolved issues with tuning adapters that the drivers on the disk had. I know cable card installations can be a hit or miss depending on your cable provider, but being that this is my third product I was installing one into, I was pretty adept at getting it to work and knew what I needed to do to make things go smoothly as possible.
I installed the DCR-2650 on an AMD E-360 Fusion setup so it's a pretty light machine as far as power goes but enough for HD viewing and allowing me to build a pretty quiet machine to boot. I also did a clean Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit installation so I was running a virgin setup to test the DCR-2650.
Windows 7 was able to detect the two digital tuners without any problems and as I said before, I was able to pull up all my HD and premium channels. When using both tuners, the DCR-2640 does get a little warm, but not too bad. The unit is always on since it's an external box, but one nice little thing about it being this way is on reboot or coming out of sleep, the tuners are available immediately. I've had to wait a few minutes with my Ceton card on my other machine to register the tuners when I rebooted, but the DCR-2650 haad no issues whatsoever.
Even though it's plugged into the machine via USB, there's plenty of bandwidth to record two HD channels at once. To test, I ran a few days of just recording various shows in HD on several different channels. The DCR-2650 didn't miss a beat and the only time it faltered was when I had some signal problems that was due to the part of my cable company. Picture quality was on par with the Ceton card I had, which is dependent on the channel and how compressed the cable company is transmitting. On the major channels, everything looked crystal clear and I was very happy with how the DCR-2650 handled everything I threw at it. Channel changing took a few seconds, which was the same for the Ceton card I have. I never ran into any tuner issues with allocation or the dreaded Viewing Conflict message on Windows 7 Media Center.
There's documentation saying that you can bridge a tuner so you can assign it to another machine on the network, but no detailed steps were available to let me know how to really do it. Hopefully, Hauppauge can bring out an update to make this an easy option to implement. This isn't the same as dynamic tuner sharing from Silicon Dust products as if you share a tuner this way, the Windows machine that houses the DCR-2650 will no longer have access to that tuner, but it could be a benefit for some people looking for this feature.
Performance in recording was great and it didn't add but a few % to the CPU usage on my system. With that said, I never ran into slow down issues using it on the E-350 system and I can the DCR-2650 being a nice addition to low power systems.
For those that want to use software other than Windows 7, the DCR-2650 can be used with MythTV and SageTV as well. Ceton's offering is limited to Windows 7, but the DCR-2650 is more versatile in other software that it can work with. While I'm a fan of Windows Media Center myself, not everyone wants to use Microsoft's software to watch TV so the DCR-2650 is nice that it can work with other ones as well.
Now, Hauppauge has an app that’ll let you stream live tv called WinTV with Extend. I was sent a disk that they said would work, but I haven’t had any luck getting it installed. I’m still waiting word from tech support and they did say that it support was in beta, but I can’t even get to the point to try. When Hauppauge gets back to me or a version that works comes out, I’ll update the review. It would be really nice to watch copy freely shows on my tablet or computer when I am not at home.
Coming in at around $140, the WinTV-DCR-2650 is a nicely priced product that will let you take advantage of your cable company's cable card offering and let you watch as well as record digital broadcasts. If you're like me and enjoy building your own HTPC so that you're not constrained with the digital cable boxes that cable companies offer, then the DCR-2650 is a nice choice for you. Two of these costs a little bit less than a Ceton InfiniTV-4 card, but you'll need two cable cards instead of one if you want four tuners. I was very happy with how it performed and how stable it was and I have no problems recommending the DCR-2650 for your digital and premium cable needs.