With technology advancing as it has of late, a lot of folks have a goal in mind to have their personal computers do everything in their lives. Watching television is the next logical step, so several manufacturers have come up with ways allow the PC to be used as a medium for this activity.Enter Compro, a company that has been in the business of making TV on the PC a reality for some time. They have come out with several products in the past, both internal and external, that accomplish this task. While they have done a reasonable job in the past, what can be done to make their product even better than before?Sit back and relax for a bit as we dig into that very question while looking at the VideoMate V600, the newest external television device to wear the Compro name. Is it just another "same old" product or can it really deliver more than its predecessor?
In The BoxIn The Box
After cracking open the box we are left with the TV device, a working base, a remote control with batteries
, a VGA cable, speaker cable, coaxial adapter, power supply and user manual. Overall, we don't see much out of the ordinary, but we do have everything at hand to tackle the task of watching some television on the monitor.
Starting with the unit attached to the base, we see a simple design that won't look out of place in any setting. The white color should match well with any color scheme or you can just tuck it out of the way. Let's separate this thing and take a closer look at the functionality.
This is the heart of the newest VideoMate device. It contains the brains, chipsets and conversion electronics to make everything show up on the monitor. With the ability to handle both NTSC and PAL outputs, this device will work anywhere in the world, even when you are traveling. This already makes the V600 a step above most other contenders on the market since they generally only work well with one type of signal.Compro has also greatly enhanced the resolution that the display will work at. Usually you can consider yourself fortunate if you can get a device to display at 1024 resolution, but this latest little gem can handle display outputs of up to 1680x1050! Of course this is a widescreen format, so those without this luxury item can still get a display output of 1600x1200. Very impressive indeed!Like most similar products being sold, the V600 also puts out a stereo sound output and allows you to attach your other video devices to the tuner box so that you can play home movies (or whatever) from a VCR, home entertainment DVD player, or even a digital video camera.
The front side of the main unit is pretty sparse, but there really doesn't need to be a lot located here since the remote will handle most tasks for you (we'll get to that in a bit). The long bar of plastic you see lights to a gentle blue color when the device is powered up to let you know at a glance that it is active and ready for use. Otherwise it only glows a very subtle amber color to let you know that the unit is not on, but that power is being fed to it.
Flipping the main unit over shows us the business end of the device. This is where you hook up your computer to get everything running properly. Like many similar tuner boxes we have tested in the past, this external unit works as a pass-through between the PC and the speakers and monitor. This means that you plug the monitor and speakers into the tuner box, then use the included VGA and speaker cables to attach the unit to your system. Then simply connect a coaxial cable that comes from your cable/satellite service and attach the power cord to finish the setup. It really is that simple.The circle you see in the side panel of the unit acts as a menu guide if you don't happen to have the remote handy. This allows you to make adjustments to resolution, refresh rates, color balances, basically anything that resides in the menu of the tuner box.
Moving down to the base adds the ability to connect nearly any type of input device that would let you display some sort of video content onto a television screen. The cup you see above is where the main unit connects to the base. It is basically just a VGA port, but allows all input data to be transferred to the main unit, then to your monitor.
One side of the base allows access to standard A/V input ports and allows two channel (stereo) sound and video by means of an RCA jack or by using an S-Video cable. Very simple and most of us have probably connected this type of device numerous times, so no explanation is necessary.
For those with newer video devices that take advantage of high definition, you are not left out in the dark. The other side of the base allows access to the 3-color inputs used by this newer type of video player. It is good to see that the folks at Compro are looking at current technologies and making their product compatible with them.
Finally, we have the remote control. While this may seem nothing but a luxury, the remote gives you the ability to take full advantage of the features of the V600. The number pad toward the bottom acts like any standard television remote and lets you punch in the desired channel. Moving up gives you a couple of buttons that allow you to adjust the channel up and down or volume up and down. So far there doesn't seem to be too much out of the ordinary.As we go a bit higher on the remote things start to change up a bit. The big blue button acts as a mouse in the menu screens. The buttons above that allow you to set the tuner box to go into a sleep mode (set amount of time then it turns off automatically), move into a PIP mode, channel surf, go into the menu, adjust screen resolution and even set up some channels as your personal favorites.Toward the top you can switch between TV and PC, change display modes and change the source of your desired video input. As you can see, there are a huge number of features present in the Compro V600.
Picture QualityPicture Quality
As I've noted earlier, I've had the opportunity to test out several TV tuners, both the internal and external variety, and while the picture quality is passable, I've noticed it isn't great. Given the technologies that have been around, I've just come to expect a certain amount of graininess in tuners and this has been a simple fact of life. Several different products by almost as many manufacturers garnered the same results, so it was obvious it was a technological limitation that we were facing.So when I was researching this item and saw some notations about a 2D+3D Y/C Separation, I was curious as to whether it would make any difference with the actual clarity and quality of the displayed television output.I can say that I was truly impressed after I first turned on the tuner and watched on a 21" CRT monitor. The graininess was mostly gone and there was very little difference between what I was watching and what I am used to seeing on a CRT style television set. I am going to include some photos of the display and while they look good, they still do not do full justice to what I witnessed on screen.Full Screen
As with most of the photos I took, there was a slight amount of camera shake due to not using a flash. Even with this consideration, the display quality is still far superior to what I am used to seeing with a tuner device on the monitor.Picture in a Picture (PIP)
This feature was a huge surprise. While I have played around with external pass-through boxes like this before, they generally give you a choice of PC or television. Since the device works as a pass-through, there isn't any direct interaction with the operating system. The Compro V600 has addressed this issue and given us the opportunity to keep on working and still watch your favorite TV shows.The caveat to this is that you have to choose only one sound source, either the system or the television. This was a pretty minor inconvenience, however, considering that I wasn't even expecting to have the ability to use a PIP display type.Oh, and if that inset box is too big, hit the PIP button on the remote and it will adjust itself smaller for you. You can also use the big blue button on the remote to move it to a more convenient location on your screen if you like.Channel Surfing
Interesting feature here if you want it. There are nine different channels that rotate through a cycle to allow you to see what is on. I find it rather annoying myself, but I know of some folks who like this type of thing. As the channels rotate through their cycle, they play for a few seconds then freeze so that the next channel can be shown. Punch the number pad 1-9 in accordance to the window you want that is on the screen and you will be instantly taken to your channel of choice.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
It doesn't take but a moment to realize that I was pleasantly surprised with the Compro VideoMate V600 tuner box. Installation was a snap, the features included rank at the top of the list and the improved picture quality was simply amazing. While we are impressed, we would have liked to see extra output connectors such as HDMI, DVI and digital audio output (through digital coaxial or optical) but we might be asking for a little too much at this stage as the technology is still improving and no other product of this kind as these types of features yet either. Additionally, resolutions up to 1080p (1920 x 1080 progressive 16:9 widescreen) would have been preferred but at this stage most HDTV broadcasting is limited to 720p (1280 x 720 progressive) anyway. You will be hard pressed to find any real difference between the display of this product and your normal CRT style television set.While you may not have a need for all the features included, you will certainly find several that suit your needs. The enhanced resolutions were a nice touch and the ability to run at a 1600 resolution was amazing. It also supports refresh rates ranging from 60-75Hz, so even those with sensitive eyes should run into no problems. Just make sure that your monitor supports the resolution and refresh rate that you are setting and you should be fine.As far as price is concerned, availability looks to be rather limited right now, but this isn't too surprising given that it is a new product but we have been told it will be more widely available soon. While I wasn't able to find it in the United States yet, I was able to find a few Australian retailers selling it for $160 - 170 AUD (roughly $127 - 135 USD). So while not the cheapest tuner available, I still stand firm in noting that it is certainly one of the best you will find at this stage. Other manufacturers may catch up later, but Compro has the lead for now.Bottom line... If you've been looking for the means to get TV to your personal computer, there are an absolute plethora of choices out there. If you happen to be looking for exceptional quality in your television output, your choices are narrowed down considerably. Simply put, the Compro VideoMate V600 has the best picture quality of any external tuner box tested to date. You will not be disappointed with the V600 or its feature set.- Pros
Exceptional picture qualityExternal unit is very easy to set upRemote accesses all featuresSupports up to 16xx resolution and widescreen tooExcellent feature set- Cons
Little priceyRating - 9 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Editor's Choice Award!