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Autumnwave OnAir USB HDTV Creator
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Date: Apr 23, 2007
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction and Product Specifications

When you work with computer hardware virtually everyday for years on end, it's easy to become desensitized as to how much technology really has changed.  Take my history here at Hothardware.com as an example.  It was October of 2000 when I submitted my first article and since that day, my artilce tally has reach triple digit status.  Back then, Intel was getting ready for a November release of their  Pentium 4 , ATI rolled out their first Radeon , and NVIDIA was pushing the GeForce 2 .  Microsoft's Windows ME and 2000 were the Operating Systems of the day and when it came to TV on the PC, choices were limited with ATI's All-In-Wonder Pro 128 being the hottest hardware of it's kind. 

Back then, there were no Multimedia Center PCs or Digital Video Recorders and HDTV was still in its infancy.  Fortunately for us, times have surely changed.  Today, PCs can be the centerpiece of our digital media experience, DVRs are common offerings from cable companies and TV tuners for PCs have been delivering terrific image quality as of late, as seen with NVIDIA's DualTV and ATI's Theater 650 Pro .  When it comes to HDTV, however, both offerings from the big two graphics giants are lacking.  With NVIDIA's DualTV, HDTV is not an option and the Theater 650 Pro only supports OTA signals, leaving those in remote areas, where it's nearly impossible to pick up a signal, out in the cold.  Factor in laptop users and the idea of TV on the PC gets even more limited.

Today, we're going to review a TV-Tuner that addresses several areas where options have historically been limited.  The OnAir USB HDTV Creator is a USB 2.0 based TV-Tuner solution from AutumnWave that supports analog and digital TV signals and is one of the few model available that can deliver HDTV over a cable connection rather that just OTA sources.  As USB based product, the unit is compatible with any PC available, from the smallest laptop to a full-fledged gaming PC or workstation.  Matched with an LG tuner and NVIDIA's PureVideo Silver decoder, the OnAir USB HDTV Creator brings a host of features that look impressive from the outset.

The OnAir USB HDTV Creator Specifications
Specifications
OnAir Creator Specifications

Tuner
LG ATSC / NTSC Tuner 5th Generation Chipset

1 Antenna Input [Digital/Analog TV (OTA and Cable)]
ATSC / NTSC OTA Ch 2 - 69
Unencrypted ATSC / NTSC Cable Ch 2 - 125 & QAM

Audio
Digital TV AC3 & 5.1 Channel Decoding Support
Analog TV Mono
Multi Lingual Support

Video Input
Composite Video / S-Video

RF Input
Over-The-Air and Cable TV

Interface
USB 2.0

Video Formats
Digital TV: MPEG-2 TS (up to 1920 x 1080 resolution)
Analog TV and Video Input:
MPEG-2 (720x480, 640x480, 480x480, 352x480) for SVCD or DVD
MPEG-1 (352x240) for VCD

Minimum System Requirements (with DxVA support)

VGA
Radeon 7200 or higher
Mobility Radeon 7500 or higher
Radeon Xpress 200 or higher Geforce MX 440 or higher
Geforce 4 Go or higher (Geforce 4 Ti not supported)
Intel Extreme Graphics 2
(865G, 855G, 852G) with driver v6.14.10.3722 or higher
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 (GMA 900)

Video Memory
32MB or higher

CPU
Intel Pentium III 800MHz or higher
Intel Pentium M 900MHz or higher
AMD Athlon 700MHz or higher
AMD Turion/Mobile 800MHz or higher

RAM
128MB or higher (256MB recommended)

OS
Windows Vista
Windows XP Home / Professional with Service Pack 2 or higher
Windows XP Media Center Edition 1.x or higher**
Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4 or higher
(**Analog only. Full digital/analog support with included OnAir software)

USB
USB 2.0 port (PCI / PCMCIA USB 2.0 card with NEC chipset recommended.)

Minimum system requirements (without DxVA Support)

VGA
64MB video memory or higher with DirectShow

CPU
Intel Pentium 4 1.6GHz or higher
AMD Athlon XP 2000+ or higher
Intel Pentium M 1.4GHz or higher

RAM
128MB or higher (256MB recommended)


The package we received for evaluation included all of the necessary components to get up and running quickly.  The package included the OnAir USB HDTV Creator tuner along with a stand for vertical positioning.  The kit also included a requisite power adapter and a USB cable.  

 

The system also comes with an Infrared Remote Control and a setup CD that included required TV Tuner software, NVIDIA's PureVideo Silver, drivers, and WinDVD Creator 2.0 for DVD authoring.

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The OnAir USB HDTV Creator Up Close

The OnAir USB HDTV Creator Up Close
Close Up
The OnAir USB HDTV Creator tuner base unit has a slender design that sports a low profile, minimal footprint.  Underneath its shell lies a fifth generation LG ATSC/NTSC Tuner that supports analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC) signal and Digital Cable (QAM 64/256) via direct cable connection.  Channel support ranges from 2 through 69 with OTA signals and 2 through 125 with a direct cable connection.  The QAM ready tuner is capable of analog and HDTV over cable, helping to set the device apart from any offerings from AMD or NVIDIA.  The maximum supported resolution is 1920x1080, while Analog TV signal supports mono audio and digital delivers Dolby Digital 5.1.

   

The front of the enclosure sports a power light at the upper black segment while a red light appears at the lower section as a signal is received from the remote control.  The Rear console is equipped with Audio and Video RCA inputs as well as S-Video for video capture from external sources.  The top port is for the power supply connection while the lower two connections provide a USB port for connecting to the PC and a standard CATV input.  The outer shell is well ventilated with air slots on both sides of the shell.  The underside has a circular perforation that look like a fan grille, however, the entire unit is passively cooled. 

 

Complementing the OnAir USB HDTV Creator is an infrared remote control.  The design is simplistic, but that makes it all the more comfortable to work with.  The upper half provides a power button to launch the tuner software while the Source button allows for easily cycling through the unit's Analog, Digital and external video options.  The number pad allows for the direct keying in of channels while a standard channel and volume control is provided for cycling through channels and adjusting volume control.  The circular pad makes for easy control through various menus and other on-screen options.  The lower portion of the remote comes with options for pausing, recording, and seeking forward or backward through the video.  Custom keys are included which can be programmed through software.  The Screen button cycles through screen sizes while the audio button offers control of optional audio output settings where applicable.  A sleep button can provide auto shut off functionality based on preset times and can be configured to power off the software or shutdown the PC.  There is also a PC power button, although, in all of our testing, this simply turned off the software and never shutdown the PC as the name implied.

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The OnAir USB HDTV Creator - Installation and Setup

The OnAir USB HDTV Creator
Driver and Software Setup
Installation of the OnAir USB HDTV Creator was about as easy as it gets, but there were some hiccups with Windows XP.  Before connecting the device to a USB port on the PC, the Driver Installation needs to complete, which takes less than a minute.  Once complete, however, when we connected the device to a USB port on the PC, Windows New Hardware manager detected that a new device has been connected and prompted us accordingly.  If we set the manager to install the software automatically, the process failed, as it was unable to locate a suitable driver.  To install properly, we had to manually navigate to the installation directory for the driver to be detected.  In Windows Vista, the driver was automatically detected properly.

   

Next, the OnAirCR USB HDTV software needed to be installed, which only took a little longer than the driver installation.  During this process, the user needs to decide on a few options before the process can continue.  There is the option to have the remote control software (known as OnAir USB HDTV Remocon) launch when Windows loads as well as whether the program schedule should launch as well.

  

Once the software installation completed, the PureVideo installer automatically launched to install the PureVideo DVD Silver package with 5.1 audio support.  After entering the requisite serial number and activation code, the PureVideo installer completed and we're ready to connect the unit to the PC.

The last step was to run the InterVideo WinDVD Creator 2 installer for DVD authoring.  For the purposes of this review, we'll keep our attention focused on the software required for operation and configuration the Autumnwave OnAir USB HDTV Creator.

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The OnAir USB HDTV Creator Software

The OnAir USB HDTV Creator Software
Software Feature Overview
Once the hardware is connected, it's time to fire up the OnAir USB Creator tuner software to configure the tuner for playback.  By default, the software detects that it's running for the first time and offers to scan for available channels on the signal sources of your choice.  The software defaults to scan both analog and  digital signals from both cable and OTA sources, but in our case, we opted to scan for channels with only the two cable sources.  After several minutes, the program provided a global view of the channels discovered during the process via the Channel Manager (lower right image).
 

The Channel Manager makes it easy to select, edit and remove channels as needed and even filters pay channels automatically, which are made visible by ticking the Pay TV field at the upper left of the window.  Channels could also be marked as favorites if desired, however, once we marked a channel as a favorite, there was no clear way to remove it.  Only after placing a tick in the Favorites field at the top of the window did the Add Favorite button change to a Delete Favorite button.

The Channel Manager also provided access to the software's Scheduler for custom program recording.  This was another area that was user unfriendly, making scheduling recordings an awkward task.  There was a calendar, source selection and action (record or watch), and controls for what to do when the schedule expires, like close the program, continue watching or shutting down the PC.  Once the Date, Time, Source and Action were selected, the repeat settings allow for recording once, daily or weekly with the option to select various days to record.  Once done, select a channel from the Channel Manager, edit the label and press Add.  While functional, the process simply is not as intuitive as we've seen with other software packages.  What was lacking more so was a fully functional Guide program to  scan for future and current programming.  Pressing the Guide button on the Remote Control did offer a basic listing of channel programming available on the DTV signal, but the Analog signal offered no details and no obvious way to configure the software to pull information from the Internet regarding local Analog programming.  Windows MCE, NVIDIA's DualTV and ATI's MMC all offer a fully functional guide program that makes it very easy to scan and schedule recordings of available programming.  

AutumnWave does provide a Help File within the program, however, that too suffers from some shortcomings.  When investigating how to work with the Scheduler, we found the help file simplistic and the screen captures of the various control windows were from what appeared to be a different version of the software.  It does appear that the software package that accompanies the OnAir Creator does need to mature a bit.


 

 

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OnAir Creator Software Continued

OnAir Creator Software Continued
More Features
 
The OnAir Creator does offer extensive options to control how the software behaves.  Color, Tint, Hue and Contrast adjustments are available as well as a zoom feature that scales up to 500%.  There is a rudimentary File List Manager for file list control of recorded media and a signal viewer is provided to display signal to noise ratio in dB, which is useful for OTA signal reception.  The software video input options include Digital and Analog for TV reception while Video and S-Video work to capture from external sources.  The File option is used to playback recorded video.    There is also D-VHS mode which can be configured for DTV Source, File Source and Tape Source.  Closed Captioning is available from up to two channels and a dictionary mode can be enabled.
 

The Screen Size output can be set to Normal, Full Screen, Fit-to-Screen and Background .  The Screen Ratio ranges from 4:3, 16:9, Pan and Custom, but lacks an auto option, requiring manual adjustment when the signal changes.   There is a Sleep Timer which can close the program at set intervals ranging from 10 to 240 minutes in convenient increments.

The main option on the Operation Control screen are well laid out with a familiar feel.  The upper left provides a signal strength meter similar to what you find on a cell phone.  There is a dual function timer that displays the time stamp of the video being played versus real time, which is handy when pausing live video.  There is an audio menu for adjustment of audio playback based on the available choices embedded in the signal, such as alternate language (SAP).  The are standard player control buttons, such as an eject button which opens a File Open dialog box, Stop, Play/Pause, Previous, Backward, Forward and Next buttons for video control.  Oddly, the pause control is not enabled by default, requiring the user to enable the TimeShifting feature in the Options screen.  Pause is a basic function that should automatically be on if it is an option, in our opinion.  Our initial impression was the pause did not work as we never considered such a function would be considered optional.  There is also a record button for instant recording of video and a screen capture button that saves images in both JPG and BMP formats.

 

 

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Image Quality

The OnAir USB HDTV Creator
Image Quality Sampling
Next, we wanted to provide a demonstration of video quality with the various signals.  In each instance, we linked a full sized screen shot of the thumbnail image, with the full sized image taken with the OnAir Creator's screen capture function.  The larger files were saved as JPG, so compression is present, but this is still a decent representation of what the OnAir USB HDTV Creator was capable of.

Analog - 720x480 @ 4:3

 

DTV - 704x480 @ 4:3

 

DTV-1280x720 @ 16:9

 

DTV-1920x1080 @ 16:9

When reviewing the various images from Analog to Digital 1080i, the progression in image quality improvement is clear in each step.  The level of detail noticeably improves with each progression, even when viewing the thumbnails or the full sized screen shots with JPG compression.  I can say that in each case, the image quality was certainly better than the screen shots represent, and the screen shots are impressive.

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Overall Impressions and Conclusion

Performance Analysis:
With respect to our experience with AutumnWave's OnAir USB HDTV Creator, there are a few points we would like to drive home.  First, during testing, we found stability to be an issue on several systems.  On a Gateway system running Windows XP, a Pentium D 530, 512MB of RAM and GeForce 6200 TurboCache 128 graphics, the software routinely closed without warning.  On a Windows Vista Ultimate system, the crashing was more significant, with messages cropping up stating "Filter Connect Error!" and the software needs to be reinstalled.  This occurred when switching between Analog and Digital sources and no amount of reinstalling or updating resolved these issues.  Another editor also spent some time with the unit and reported similar behavior as well. 

There is also the matter of Windows Media Center support.  The analog tuner was detected by Vista's MCE component, but the HDTV tuner is not detectable.  Additionally, it is not possible to record one channel while viewing another, which is a feature we sorely missed.  Lastly, we found updating the software confusing.  AutumnWave's website states that you must install the software from the CD before updating, which is fine, but when you run the installer from the web, the first thing the installer says is you must uninstall the old software before continuing.  Additionally, the information on the website may be confusing to less savvy users.  Users looking for a TV tuner card need a clear basic breakdown of what they are getting, in plain English.  Those that are not enthusiasts but have a fair knowledge of PCs may struggle to figure out which model is best for them and what all of the features do.  To their credit, we saw a number of instances in the forum where users were confused about information and AutumnWave responded that they rewrote certain documentation and posted it on their site.  This is exceptional attention to customer requests and shows that they listen to their customers. 

On final note to report on is CPU utilization.  When viewing a digital signal, the OnAir Creator software's CPU usage hovered in the 13% range with dips to 6% and spike up to 28%.  With an analog signal, usage ranged from 4 to 34% with an average CPU usage around 12% in our tests.  Granted, these will vary based on the system specs, but overall, these are respectable numbers. 

Selling in the ballpark of $249, the AutumnWave OnAir USB HDTV Creator is reasonably priced for what it offers, and will surely impress with its ease of installation and image quality.  On the hardware side of the equation, the product has a sleek, modern look with a fully functional remote control.  We also found the image quality superb across the board, with HDTV 1080 really taking our breath away.  However, impressive hardware and image quality is only part of the story. 

Overall, the OnAir USB HDTV Creator is hampered by stability issues and what we feel is lackluster software.  With partial support for Windows MCE in Vista, stability problems in three systems tested and software that can be unintuitive and downright awkward, we found the product exciting at first, but soon our excitement turned to frustration.

In the end, we think that if AutumnWave can get their software up to competitive levels and improve the stability of their product, the OnAir USB HDTV Creator has great potential and could possibly turn out to be a ground-breaking product.  Currently, tuners that support HDTV over cable are a rarity, so AutumnWave has themselves a niche market for now.  However, if another product comes along backed by strong drivers and intuitive software, they may find themselves in for a challenge. 

  • Great Image Quality
  • Low System Requirements
  • Easy Installation
  • HDTV over Cable
  • Small, Lightweight
  • Customer Support 
  • Software Stability
  • Online Documentation Not Clear at Times
  • Help File Not Current
  • Software Not Intuitive 
  • Updating Software is Confusing

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