With the digital switch having happened in the US, you can’t buy a TV Tuner card for your PC without a digital side to it. The law governing this has been in place for awhile now. The problem most people have is that the analog NTSC tuner is still needed for analog cable.
This need for two different tuners gave birth to the combo card which is exactly what the AverTV Combo G2 is. Sporting one ATSC/QAM digital tuner and one NTSC analog tuner, the Combo G2 has you covered. I recently had a chance to run this little card for awhile and AverMedia has done a good job of putting together a card which will give you some great quality and still not break your budget.
The onboard NTSC tuner uses hardware encoding which is the first thing I look for in a tuner card. This takes the pressure off of your CPU for encoding the TV streams as they enter the PC. Most cards do this now unless you go really cheap. The card supports HDTV to 1080i which is enough for most broadcasts. There are a few networks out there trying to push 1080p, though how much you’ll notice is suspect. (see comments) This card has two other features that stand out. One is that it’s a low profile card. This is great if you happen to be running a smaller HTPC setup to maximize space under the television. Another is that the AverTV Combo G2 is Windows 7 compatible. AverMedia has really pushed to make sure that every new tuner they release is ready for the new Microsoft OS and it shows here. I didn’t have one issue installing the drivers.
When you open the box for the card, you won’t find a whole lot inside. Really, you don’t need much. There’s the card itself, the driver disk, a low profile bracket, as well as an audio splitter and an S-Video to Composite adapter. You may need those connectors depending on how you want to connect your signal, and they come in handy if you decide to use AverMedia’s gaming app. (More on that later.)
Installation is standard. Shut down your HTPC, open it up and drop the card into an available PCI-E slot. Get everything buttoned back up and started. Once you’re into Windows, drop the driver disk in and follow the prompts. Pretty straight forward. The software handles itself.
Once you’re card and drivers are installed, you’re ready to setup the card for Media Center. This process is just like your initial setup and shouldn’t take long depending on the signal you use. If you’re using the ATSC/QAM side of the Combo G2, the process takes a bit longer due to Media Center needing to scan for channels. Keep in mind that if you’re replacing your tuner with the G2 you’ll need to do this setup as well. Your old settings won’t cut it. Total time for me to install the card, set up for use in Media Center and scan for channels was under 30 minutes. (This may be much shorter for you if you’re only using the NTSC tuner and don’t need to scan for channels.)
The Combo G2 performed perfectly. The fact that the card has two separate tuners means that if you’re watching an analog channel, you can record a digital one at the same time and vice versa. Depending on your signal, this may not help you much but it’s a nice feature. Most combo cards can handle this and the Combo G2 is no exception.
In comparing both HD and SD recordings from my Asus My Cinema PE9400, the Combo G2 had a much sharper picture in SD. HD recordings were better as well. While they didn’t seem as sharp, there was something about that picture that looked so much better. Slightly softer, but coloration was much clearer.
When you install the drivers for the card, included is something called the “AverMedia Gaming Plugin.” You’ll find this located under the extras menu in Media Center. This allows you to connect a gaming console to the card using the afore mentioned audio and video connections. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to test it because it’s not quite ready for Windows 7. One of AverMedia’s engineers assured me that the feature would be ready in time for the Windows 7 launch in October. You can’t really blame them for this as Win7 is still in RC and at least they’re working on it. I could see this being a nice feature. To never have to leave MCE to play your Wii would be something I could get into. I’m not sure how useful it might be for a PS3 or Xbox 360 however since the card is setup to only provide standard definition and stereo sound through the plugin. It’s really too bad since the card can handle HD. If this could be upgraded in future hardware from the company it might become a popular app in Media Center.
Overall, the Combo G2 is a great tuner. The inclusion of an analog NTSC tuner means you can keep recording all of your SD analog cable channels and the ATSC/QAM side means you can grab those ClearQAM channels provided by your cable company or hook up an antenna and get some free HD.
If you’re looking for a strictly digital tuner, there are other options offered by the company that will get you a dual ATSC/QAM card, but if you need that analog side, you can’t go wrong with this card. Priced at around $95 from Amazon (affiliate) and around $90 from Newegg, there are certainly cheaper combo cards on the market, but you know you’re getting something that relatively future proof since it’s ready for Windows 7.
Check out the full datasheet at Avermedia.com (PDF link)