What else do you get?
Since this card is designed to allow for video editing, how can we accomplish this? Well, with the included software of course. Some of you folks who have checked out TweakTown's review of the Prolink GeForce3 video card may remember a little program from ULead that allows you to edit MPG files called Video Studio. Since it was a simple program to use, it was left in this package as well; but in a newer version. This one is version 5.0 and still features the same basic functions of the previous, and maintains the ease of use that was an inherent quality in the older version.
Also included is a driver disk that allows for the installation of the card, installation of DirectX for those who don't already have it installed on their systems, and installation of the software package that allows for the TV tuner to function on your PC. Of special note is the fact that I installed this on a WinXP system. I used the standard driver disk and had no problems with compatibility or functionality of the card. Its just nice to know that even with a brand new Operating System, you can still have fun with your new toy.
How it works...
All right now... We know what makes the card tick, and we know exactly what we get when we buy it, but how well does it work? It's hard to do any real-life benchmarks on this card since it doesn't fall into the parameters of a standard component. It is strictly an add-on piece that allows for some specialized features that are not normally present on a personal computer. So I decided to just test out these features and try my humble best to explain them and let you know the results. So here we go...
- Watching TV
When I first installed the card, I had a devil of a time figuring out how in the world it would work. After all, most MPEG decoder cards have a 15-pin monitor port. The tactic is to hook a crossover line from the video card to the MPEG board, and then connect the monitor to the add-on board. I have also found that your normal graphics suffers for this since it isn't a direct line of communication between the video card and the monitor. So since it was time for my quarterly reformat, I decided to just give it a go and see what happened. After setting everything up, it worked like a dream.
So after getting things the way they should be, I started checking out the local offerings of my cable company. The window opened up without incident, and I was able to size it to whatever dimensions that I wanted. Picture quality was very acceptable. It is obvious that it is an MPEG stream, but there wasn't any real distortion at all, and even when I had five other windows open, there wasn't any loss of smoothness in the picture. It was also able to accommodate full screen video at my standard 1280x1024 resolution without a hiccup.
There is also a very handy TV Control Console that allows you to control the functions of the TV tuner, as well as controlling other aspects of the card (like which input device to use). This is also where you go to set up your options. One of my favorites was the ability to open a specific sized window for the TV broadcast, and then having it always appear on top of other programs. It allowed me to work on writing reviews, switch between numerous notepad files, browse the internet... and all without missing a beat in the football game I was watching. Life just keeps getting better all the time!
- Recording Content
Here's a fun feature... recording video content. You choose how you want everything set up, and then just tell it to start recording. You can adjust the video source, format, and bit rate of the capture. Just as a warning, though, if you are going to be recording any real length of video, then you'll want to probably change the default bit rate. At the 6mbps bit rate, I ended up with a file that was about 78MB in size for a 1.5 minute clip. While the playback quality was excellent, it won't take too much to start making a huge dent in my hard drive.
There is also the ability to designate the length of the recording session. This allows you to start your capture, and then let the program run by itself while you leave and do other things. Then you can come back later and see what you missed. Sounds like a VCR... doesn't it? About the only fault I could find in this particular area is that when you designate a capture length, your only choice is an amount of time in seconds. It would be nice to see a more intuitive system that allows you to figure time in hours/minutes/seconds.
Connecting to other media devices is pretty simple and straightforward. Whether you want to hook up to your VCR, DVD Player, Camcorder... whatever you have in mind, it's a simple matter of connecting it to the Multi-Cable leads and telling the card's main Control Panel to switch to that device. If it can work through an S-Video cable, then you can probably hook it up to this card. Ease and simple installations are a very nice change of pace!
Finally, if you're the type of person that doesn't want to mess around with the mouse all the time, and are keyboard literate enough to be able to enjoy the use of hotkeys, then you'll love the interface. It has a built-in hotkey ability that allows you to make nearly any possible change from a keyboard hotkey. I prefer the mouse or remote myself, but the Prolink folks seem to be trying to make everyone happy with this decoder card.
- System Requirements
System requirements aren't too steep for this card. It shouldn't be too difficult to come up with them, but here they are:
Intel Pentium II 500MHz or higher processor
64MB system memory
60MB hard drive space
Note: The included drivers worked fine within a Windows XP environment.