Hauppauge Computer Works manufactures a variety of TV tuner products, but the $169 WinTV-PVR-500 MCE is the company's only card to offer dual TV tuners and encoders, plus an FM radio receiver, all on a single PCI card. Hauppauge's top-of-the-line card offers an impressive array of connections for Media Center PC owners looking for the ability to record two shows simultaneously or watch one while recording another.
There's no shortage of A/V ports on the WinTV-PVR-500 MCE; the main card includes coaxial connections for TV and FM radio, S-Video and composite-video inputs, and stereo audio-in jacks, even if cables for these connections are not included. The card has an A/V header for attaching an additional A/V daughter card, which is included in the box. The daughter card uses an open slot bay (but not an actual PCI slot), providing the second input, either S-Video or composite video.
You can install the card in systems running Windows XP Home or Professional, but you'll need a third-party application, such as Beyond TV or SageTV, to provide a DVR front end. The entire installation took us less than 10 minutes, including getting Media Center 2005 to recognize the twin tuners, select our cable service, and download an EPG (electronic program guide).
Our first attempt to watch live TV resulted in a decoder error message. As it turns out, we had previously uninstalled our software decoder, Cyberlink's PowerDVD 5, and had to reinstall it to utilize the TV tuner. While every new Media Center system is bundled with a software decoder, do-it-yourself builders will need a third-party application, such as WinDVD or PowerDVD, as the WinTV-PVR-500 MCE does not include one.
The WinTV-PVR-500 MCE did an admirable job of rendering our cable TV signal, although the results still fell short of actual TV quality. The results were similar to the cheaper WinTV-PVR-150, with the main difference in the models being the 500's dual tuners, FM antenna, and connectivity options. Close-up image detail was mostly sharp but showed a trace of softness around the edges, and background scenes were slightly fuzzy. Recorded television programming was virtually identical to the original, live signal. Our direct signal DVD tests also revealed some softness, but the overall quality was very good and flicker-free. However, the FM radio had trouble tuning in to broadcast signals that are usually easy to lock in, indicating a weak receiver. To be fair, the other TV tuner card we tested with an FM tuner, the ATI All-in-Wonder X800 XL, also had lackluster radio performance.