Review: Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick
Review: Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick
Someday you might find $100 burning a hole in your pocket. This can be painful. How do you alleviate such pain? One remedy is to spend that $100. So, what to spend it on?
The Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is about $100. This wonder of post modern technology can do quite a few things when combined with a near high-end desktop PC or Laptop.
Here is a quick summary of the major capabilities
- Receive analog television
- Receive digital television
- Receive cable TV ClearQAM non encrypted digital television
- Play internet music streams
- Digitize analog input sources – S-Video, Composite Video, and Audio
So that is quite a lot of capability for $100 in 2008.
What you get in the package.
You get everything you see below.
(Note: Click any image in this posting to enlarge in a new window)
Hardware – You get the USB “black box” (filled with Angels) that does all the magic, an antenna, USB extension cable, and a squid-like min-USB connector input for digitizing S-Video, Composite Video, and Audio (stereo) inputs, and a TV remore contol.
Software – You get 2 pieces of software. TV Center Pro is the primary GUI interface to the device. Pinnacle Studio is a basic video editing program similar to Microsoft Movie Maker. The “black box” device has two solid state drives. One is the read-only partition that has the TV Center Pro software. The second is a 1 GB flash drive that stores settings and can be used for recording. So, you can take the device with you and you have all your software and settings if you chose to use the device on multiple desktops or laptops.
And you get a nice “pleather” black pouch to carry all this around with you.
Putting it to the test
The device connects to any standard USB 2.0 port found on all modern PC’s and laptops. The device can connect directly to the port like a USB memory stick but the device is very long and we don’t recommend this method of attachment – very unfashionable. Pinnacle includes a USB extension cable and it is better to use this to attach the device to the USB port on your computer.
We used the standard antenna supplied with the package. This is a really basic magnetic mount telescopic antenna. The antenna has a RF connector that mates the the end of the device.
The PC is a HP entertainment laptop with an Intel dual core 2.0 GHz CPU and 2 GB of RAM. This is about right CPU speed and memory that you need to use nearly all the capabilities of the device. The supplied TV Center Pro software contains a benchmarking utility that will analyze your PC and give you some feedback on what capabilities of the device can be used based on your PC’s performance – speed, memory, and disk write speed count. Of course the message is the faster the better. Even our dual core 2 GHz PC was not up to snuff to use all the capabilities of the device.
Off “Air” Test – The Aether
Who came up the the phrase “on the air” in broadcasting?. RF is not on the air – its in the aether.
We gave the device a TV “over the air (aether)” challenge. The test site was the dining room table on the first floor of a 2-story house 40 miles west of downtown Chicago.
Local Chicago TV (analog and digital counterparts) are channels 2,5,7,9,and 11 (CBS,NBC,ABC,WGN, and WTTW) plus a few UHF channels.
Note: Check our Resources section for a link to a web site that can show you broadcast stations in your area (or any area) by zip code or street address. Very useful
The first thing you need to do when you fist use the device is let it scan for channels. TV Center Pro gives you these options. Note the the Internet Radio scan seems to be a set of pre-programmed internet audio streams. For our purpose of “on air” we made the choice of analog and digital and cleared ClearQAM
This is what we found – on Air – 40 miles west of Chicago, Ill. Notice we did not pick up the lower VHF channels – ch 2, 5, 7, and 9 analog.
Right-click on any channel to get the details
The Proof is in the Puddin’ – Dakota and Jay
This is off the air digital high def of the Tonight Show. The second image shows the TV Center Pro contol bar with the “information” button selected. Information about the signal is displayed as well as programming information from the digital provider.
Note the CPU utilization history on the right. Both cores of 2.0 Ghz were running at 50% dealing with this High Def image. In actual practice, with an attached external monitor, this laptop can support the delivery of the high def image on an external monitor while working on other tasks on the laptops LCD screen. So if you are wondering if you can watch (or listen) to TV in the backgroung while you are using something like Microsoft Office – yes that works just fine.
Click to enlarge the images.
With the control panel. From here you can pause live TV or start recording.
Or, point the supplied remote control at the device and change channels
We won’t mention much about the cable TV test. We have Comcast Basic Cable. On the cable is analog TV, and digital television sent via QAM. QAM is un-encrypted digital television. The premium service on Comcast is encrypted and requires a set top box. Comcast provides Basic cable subscribers the digital version of analog cable via QAM plus more channels that are only digital via QAM. So, the ability of this device to decode QAM is a real benefit to cable Comcast Basic subscribers.
Suffice it to say that the device found all the analog and digital channels offered to Comcast basic subscribers – analog and digital via ClearQAM. We won’t say anymore about the cable. It all works as expected with max signal strength and quality.
Recording Video – PVR (Personal Video Recorder)
TV Center Pro has huge selections of options for recording video and audio. You should select the method consistent resolution with your video source. Click the image to enlarge.
Out of the box we took the default and recorded 5 minutes of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in HD on digital channel 5.1. Checking the size of the resulting MPEG file we found it to be about 500 MB. So that is 100 MB/min; 6,000 MB/hr; 6GB for 1 hr of HD TV using the default. The equivalent of a 6 hr VHS tape in these terms is 36 GB – ignoring the lower quality of analog VHS.
Is 36GB a lot of disk storage? More on this below.
TV Center Pro
TV Center Pro is the primary interface that you will use to control the device. It has a large feature set. We won’t try to describe it all. In the sentiment that a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are some images of what you get by clicking on the various control categories.
Note the benchmark test that you can do here. The software will tell you what features you can use based on the performance of your PC.
Progam Guide. This is provided by “on air” providers. You can choose how often to update this guide. From this menu you can schedule PVR recordings. Click on the program you want to record – that’s it.
Choose your remote control
The issue of digital Recording and Disk Space
Is 36GB a lot of space? It depends on what time it is. If the time is 2008 then we’d say no, 36GB is not a lot of space given that the price point of a 1 Terabyte (1,024 Gigabytes) raw drive is now less than $150. We bought this 1T external drive in Oct 2008 for $189.
So, don’t forget the 1 Terabyte drive for video recording, editing, and movie making.
Pinnacle Studio 10
TV Center Pro is only half the story. This package also comes with an entry level movie editing program called Pinnacle Studio 10. This program is very similar in functionality as Microsoft movie maker.
With Pinnacle Studio 10 you can import movies, digital stills, music and just about any other multi-media content in a variety of formats. Like Microsoft Movie Maker making a movie is a simple 3 step process – import the media, edit the media and create special affects , and then output the result – burn a DVD or output to a digital file to upload to YouTube or send to your friends.
Pinnacle Studio 10 has a smart movie mode that just about anyone can master in about 15 minutes. Smart movie can analyze a movie for scence transitions and then split the movie into clips. You can then stitch (or combine) the clips and add transitions. You can overlay titles, voice-over, and music. Studio 10 has a collection of transitions in a category of “Holllywood FX” which are some pretty facy digital transitions.
Pinnacle Studio 10 can also take in still images and create slide shows, it can also make misic videos out of clips and imported CD music. Pinnacle Studio 10 can also capture a web cam in real time. So this would be perfect for Video Bloggers. One can capture, edit, and produce a Vlog in one tool in one sitting.
Pinnacle Studio 10, as an entry level media editing program, has more then enough features to get you started producing movies and vlog content suitable in quality for sharing with the on-line community. It will at least keep you out of trouble for many hours.
It you are a gadget person of if you like to play with emerging technology then your disposable income and excess capacity of free time could well be expended on the Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate stick package.
Keep in mind that the PCTV HD Ultimate stick does double duty. It can also digitize analog sources. So if you have a legacy analog video recorder, or a VHS tape deck with video and audio outputs, or really any source with S-video, or composite video and audio out then the device can digitize it. This may be an opportunity for you to take those old VHS tapes and get them copied to modern media.
Who says man is aliened from the means of production…
The benefit of the progress and advancement of technology is that the means of production for creative content is now (2008) inexpensive and affordable by most people. A decade ago digital video editing cost tens of thousands of dollars. Now software that almost anyone can master in a few hours is included free (Pinnacle Studio 10) with devices such as the Pinnacle PCTV HD device.
Digital video editing and recording takes a lot of disk space. A decade ago who could imagine a 1 Terabyte drive for less than $150?
Digital video editing and recording also required a lot of CPU power. Again, the cost of laptop PCs with dual core 2+ GHz CPU’s and plenty of RAM are within the range of affordability of most people – less than $1,000.
Do you want to share your creative content – there is YouTube. Upload your videos for free and share them with the community.
Did we foget the obvious? Is it so much part of the natural landscape? That just about anyone can share and communicate with anyone else in the world over the internet – that changes everything.
Convergence makes new things possible which could not be even imagined in the recent past – (i.e. the bane of disruptive business models, citizen journalists via free blogging sites, and the advent of social networking and community on a global scale which impacts global culture, society, and politics.)
“The Billion” – Be the one percent
In the book Crowd Sourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business published in 2008 author Jeff Howe cites some interesting research.
First, according to Howe, the number of people on the internet has now passed the one billion mark. Howe calls these folks collectively “The Billion” – those folks on the Internet. Second, analysis of sites such as YouTube, IStockPhoto, and on-line communities suggest a curious 1-10-89 relation.
One percent of the community (individuals) are producers – these people create the content; ten percent of the community rate and discuss the content; and eighty-nine percent of the community consume the content.
So, there you go. The Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick, video editing software, a little imagination, and community such as YouTube is all that is needed be convert any long time exclusive content consumer into a producer. Be the one percent – The Billion are waiting.
You can check out this site to see what broadcast TV stations are available in your area. Very useful with resolution down to street level/zip code with predicted reception ability
Here is what we got for our location Plainfield, Illinois
Features and Specifications from the Pinnacle web site
- Ultra-portable USB 2.0 HDTV tuner stick with integrated FlashPVR
- Watch SD and free HD TV1 on your PC – no service fees
- Includes remote control and high-gain telescopic antenna
- New: supports both digital over-the-air (ATSC1) and unencrypted digital cable (ClearQAM2) HDTV
- Turns your PC into a PVR with TimeShifting: pause, rewind TV
- Electronic Programming Guide3
- Ultra-sensitive reception of both analog and digital TV signals
- Stereo sound for both digital and analog TV
- Capture from your cable/satellite set-top box or camcorder with the included A/V adapter cable
- Bonus: VideoSpin video editing software
- TV tuner fully compatible with Windows® Media Center4 (Windows Vista™ and XP MCE; remote kit sold separately)
Flash Personal Video Recorder (PVR)
- Unique: full PVR application preinstalled on the stick’s on-board memory
- No software to install5 – just plug it into any PC and start enjoying live TV within seconds
- Record up to 2 hours6 of TV directly to the stick to play it back on any PC
- On-board memory can also be used to store additional files
- ATSC (HDTV up to 1080i, SDTV)
- NTSC (cable, over the air)
- ClearQAM (HDTV up to 1080i, SDTV)
- TV/FM antenna (F-connector/Coaxial)
- S-Video, Composite Video (RCA), Stereo Audio (1/8″)
- MPEG-4: compatible with PSP or iPod (Trial Version)
- Windows Vista™ (32-bit) or Windows® XP with latest service pack
- Intel® Pentium® 4 2.4 GHz, Pentium M 1.3 GHz or AMD Athlon™ 64 processor (for HDTV reception, a Pentium 4 2.8GHz or Pentium M 1.7 GHz or equivalent AMD Athlon 64 processor is recommended)
- RAM: Windows XP – 256MB (512MB recommended); for Windows Vista – 512 MB (1GB recommended)
- Free USB 2.0 port
- Sound / graphics controller with support for DirectX® 9
- Hard drive with minimum 1 GB free space (20 GB recommended for TV recording)
- DVD player/burner
- Internet connection for registration/activation
- USB 2.0 TV tuner for ATSC/ClearQAM/NTSC reception with flash memory and preinstalled Pinnacle TVCenter Pro software
- Mini remote control including batteries
- Portable telescopic high-gain antenna
- A/V Adapter cable
- USB extender cable
- Printed quick start guide
- CD with Pinnacle TVCenter Pro and VideoSpin editing software