February 6, 2006 5:46 AM   Subscribe

I want to watch Freeview TV on my laptop. What do I need? What should I buy? Specs and further info inside. Apologies to non-UK MeFites, this probably doesn't apply to you.

I want to be able to watch and record Freeview programs on my laptop. I'm a pretty tech-savvy person but I'm totally new to this area and I can't get my head around all the different equipment out there; I was wondering if any MeFites have personal experience / expertise in this area.

I have a 2.8GHz Dell Inspiron 5100 with a 40GB harddrive and 768MB of RAM. I dual-boot WinXP (32GB total, 8GB free) and Mandriva 2006 (7GB total, 4 free). I have a Western Digital external HD that I can use for recording to (if that's possible). I've checked my postcode and I am in a Freeview coverage area.

What should I buy?
I understand that I need a USB 'receiver' and some sort of aerial that plugs into said receiver. I'm not sure whether the shared house I'm living in has the 'right' type of aerial so I guess an external one is necessary (most of the images of this sort of kit seem to feature an external aerial). Can anyone recommend a particular model?

I'm looking for ease-of-use but with a good degree of configuaribility. I understand that most models have some sort of electronic guide to programs - does this require an internet connection? What should I know before I purchase? What functions/features should I be looking for? How much difference is there between models? Cost isn't terribly important but obviously the cheaper the better.

Thanks in advance.
posted by alby to Technology (12 answers total)
Response by poster: I should have mentioned I did check out the archive but didn't find much help.
posted by alby at 5:48 AM on February 6, 2006

If you had a Mac then you could get an Elgato EyeTV

As you have Windows, well I guess you will have to get one of these the Elgato software is pretty nice though, i've not tried the Toshiba dongle my self.

You will need an internet connection if you want a program guide.
posted by public at 6:13 AM on February 6, 2006

A postcode only gives you a rough idea of coverage. I've regularly been able to pick up Freeview on an indoor aerial, but it's impossible to tell until you've tried. It helps if you're up high (ie not on the ground floor) and near external walls, though not always necessary.

A 7 day programme guide is broadcast with the Freeview signal, so an internet connection is not required, unless the software you buy uses its own guide, which it may well.

I've no experience with USB adapters.
posted by cillit bang at 6:15 AM on February 6, 2006

It has it's own guide? I really must of missed that feature entirely in the Elgato DTT software then :)
posted by public at 6:17 AM on February 6, 2006

Response by poster: (I don't think signal strength will be too much of a problem, as I'm next to the big window on the top floor.)
posted by alby at 6:30 AM on February 6, 2006

The Elgato software doesn't seem to support the over-the-air guide. This Freecom one appears to, and is only £38.
posted by cillit bang at 6:42 AM on February 6, 2006

If you use an indoor aerial, you are very very likely to have problems - faulty sound and images. In my experience, roof aerials in the appropriate postcodes work perfectly. Presumably the signal will continue to be a problem for indoor aerials until analogue gets turned off.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 7:46 AM on February 6, 2006

I own the Freecom device that Cillit Bang references. For the money, it can't be beat, and it does indeed have an over-the-air guide. The software, whilst not especially slick, is serviceable. You can schedule recordings to be made in mpeg2 format.
posted by viama at 8:37 AM on February 6, 2006

I should add, too, that unless you are sitting under the local transmitter, that an external aerial is pretty much essential.
posted by viama at 8:38 AM on February 6, 2006

I've been doing this for a couple of years, and have much knowledge and experience.... it's very rewarding and useful, but can be a bugger to get going.

Taking each area in turn..

Aerials: Living in Scotland and central London, I used an indoor aerial and a booster with a freeview card with some success. But it does require a lot of patience, and some flexibility over where you position the aerial. Additionally, whether or not this is a good idea depends on what you want to do with the material recieved. For just watching live and time-shifting, an indoor aerial might do the job. For archiving and keeping programmes, a good external aerial is essential.

Products: The best on the market, but most expensive, is the Nebula DigiTV. It's got decent support from a small company, regularly updated software, more functionality than any of the other devices, and the ability to add extra tuners (so you can record from multiple channels at once). BUT - the software isn't perfect, and some people have issues. More details here. They are working to improve the software, and I imagine they'll get there eventually.

The question is - do you want a card that doesn't do much and works perfectly, or one with a lot of functionality with a few issues?

I'll come back in a bit and post some of the things you'll be able to do with the technology..
posted by ascullion at 10:51 AM on February 6, 2006

When you record using a freeview card, you'll record what is known as a MPEG2 Transport Stream file to your hard disk. You can then convert this to a MPEG2 Program Stream file, and this will allow you to store the file and play in PC media players such as VLC, or burn broadcast-quality DVDs.

This is where the matter of having a decent aerial comes in. When you convert your recorded files, you will find that if your reception isn't perfect, you'll get audio and video glitches. This can get very annoying.

The best program, bar none, for converting and editing the broadcast MPEG files is VideoReDo. It's not free, and there's lots of other software out there, but this is the best, and circumvents a lot of the problems that you can have with this technology.

To answer another of your questions... Freeview is broadcast with a 7-day program guide. The Nebula software will read this and you can then double-click on programmes to record them automatically. Not all cards offer this, but I don't know specifically which do and which don't.

You will definitely need to use your external harddrive for recordings. 30 mins of broadcast TV can be over a gig in size (though it's much less on the lower-quality channels).

As a final tip, there's a program called Digiguide. It costs about £8 a year, but offers fantastic listings for all UK channels. With a little free scripting add-in, you can use it to schedule your recordings (for example, it would automatically record every episode of a given show). This stuff requires patience and a little techie ability, though.

Hope that's helpful, and not too much info.
posted by ascullion at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2006

Have you looked/asked around the forums?

The Australian DTVforum site might also be worth a look - there is a large overlap between UK & Aus DTV products, and the DTVForum site has a subforum dedicated to DTV cards / USB devices. Main difference is we don't get a broadcast EPG :-(
posted by Pinback at 3:33 PM on February 6, 2006

« Older Better handwriting   |   domain for lease Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.