Overall Impressions and Conclusion
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.