Winfast Palmtop DTV200H: plug it in and watch TV almost instantly

Having reviewed many television capture cards it is refreshing change to find one that actually works straight out of the box.

The Leadtek DTV200H is a Palmtop USB Hybrid tuner which has a digital and analogue television tuner audio/visual (S-Video and composite) capture function and FM radio. Physically the tuner is larger than most USB dongles (measuring 11cm x 6.5cm x 2.5cm) but still small enough to carry around with you or sit comfortably on top of your computer.

The design philosophy of large but not too large has also been applied to the decent sized remote control.  This one is actually useable even if you have large hands and is not likely to be lost under a sheet of paper (unlike the micro remotes that we have seen from other manufacturers). The remote supports both the supplied PVR2 application and by sticking an overlay on top Windows Vista MCE. All of the necessary functions can be controlled from the remote and despite having 53 buttons it is logically laid out making it easy to use.

The best thing about this device is that it worked perfectly as soon as we plugged it in and loaded the software. Simply enter your country and location (most Australian regions have been preprogrammed) and the DTV200H does a quick scan of available digital channels for the region. Using the quick scan mode it found all of the digital stations within about 10 seconds. Even analogue tuning was very fast especially compared with some other cards which can grind away for 10 minutes or more.

Digital picture quality was excellent with high definition broadcasts very clear and free of blocking or interlacing artefacts. Analogue reception however was mediocre as there was quite noticeable blocking and blurring particularly on difficult items such as hair or pinstripe suits. There is a mini antenna supplied in the box which as expected would only work in very strong signal areas.

The supplied PVR2 software is very easy to use and is an excellent PVR application in its own right. When in digital broadcast mode it makes extensive use of the broadcast EPG (electronic program guide) to provide information about the program currently broadcast and what is coming up next. Recordings can capture the MPEG stream (the current program) or the direct transport stream (everything being broadcast by that station). There is the option to record directly by pressing the record button on the remote or using the mouse set a timer recording or use the EPG. The only issue is that the software only loads the EPG for the channel currently being viewed so you need to manually channel surf in order to load the EPG for all channels.

In analogue mode (broadcast or capture) you have a choice of capture qualities including MPEG-1 (video CD) MPEG-2 DVD and uncompressed AVI. You can also fully customise capture settings to include other codecs available on your system (such as WMV MPEG-4) or to optimise settings. Surprisingly the supplied PVR2 software couldn’t play back the capture AVI files but was fine with the MPEG codec.

As one would expect from a PVR the software provides for time shifting pausing and shuttling live TV. You can capture to the hard disk or directly to DVD.  A unique feature is the ability to stream live TV from your computer over the internet although the legality of doing so is questionable.

There is very little not to like about the Leadtek DTV200H. If you are into the minimalist approach you may find the palmtop box and remote chunky and if you only have analogue broadcasts in your area the quality leaves something to be desired. It would have been nice if the application recognised the second monitor and made full use of our digital panel but this can be forgiven.

If you want something that just works and works well this device is highly recommended.