Seeing how the U3 is all about portability, we decided the best test was to use a laptop. We used a stock-standard Acer Travelmate 4050, which sports a Pentium M 1.73GHz CPU, 512MB RAM and an integrated Intel GPU - so it's an adequate platform but nothing likely to raise the roof in the number crunching or graphics stakes.
We used the U3 with all the out-of-the-box equipment - the device plugged in to the USB extension cord and from there into the laptop, and the bundled terrestrial antenna into the U3. We didn't use the drivers or the ComproDVT 2 application included with the CD, but instead got the most up-to-date versions available from Compro's website.
Installation was extremely quick and painless and didn't require a reboot, which was refreshing. On initial launch, ComproDVT ran through some basic setup questions in terms of audio/video hardware preferences and the TV region, and then prompted to commence channel scanning.
This was where we encountered our first hitch. Using the bundled antenna, ComproDVT only picked up 12 channels out of a potential 37 (two main channels and their respective sub channels). This was surprising, because signal strength on the channels it did find was excellent, with no playback problems. We played around with the scanning options as much as possible, but nothing would get those extra channels up.
So, we ended up plugging the cable straight into a hardwired antenna point and BANG - all channels with perfect signal strength. The whole process was a little strange as the tests were all carried out in the same room - ambient signal strength was pretty even across the board.
However, with all the channels up and running, the results were quite impressive. Full screen HDTV was flawless, and some simple tests like dragging the viewing window around the screen, channel surfing, opening multiple TV screens or rapidly maximising/restoring the TV screen caused no stalling or jerkiness, as is so often witnessed by other HDTV applications.
The onscreen controls are simple and logical - ComproDVT has as close to a flat learning curve as anything we've seen.
The one thing we did notice was heat generation. The manual does state that "After using VideoMate U3 for a while, it is normal to feel warm to the body". Bit of an understatement. It should read "After using VideoMate U3 for a while, place on iceblock to avoid burning hole in desk". It gets VERY hot, very quickly - certainly uncomfortably so to touch. Not sure what the implications are for long-term usage. Luckily it only heats up when ComproDVT is active, and it cools down pretty quickly as well.
Overall we were impressed by the U3. The quality and stability of HDTV playback was surprisingly high from such a small device, and the software was intuitive and easy to use.
The problems encountered with picking up channels using the bundled antenna do raise questions as to its mobility. If you only get the best results from using a hardwired point, this could be slightly limiting. However, it's not an issue if you choose to use the U3 in a desktop with access to an antenna point (which given its overall quality is a definite possible use).
Excellent SDTV and HDTV quality
Simple and intuitive software
Portable antenna gives variable reception
Unit generates large amounts of heat very quickly
Rating - 8 out of 10