Now you can watch TV without getting lost. By combining a TV tuner with GPS you now only need to take one device rather than two when travelling.
In a market filled with USB TV tuner sticks, AVerMedia decided to do something different by including a GPS (global positioning system) in their TV tuner stick. We have no idea why they would do this, but we assume it could be useful if you are travelling and only want to carry one device rather than two.
Physically, the DVB-T Volar GPS looks fairly much the same as any other USB tuner stick, with USB connector on one end and antenna connector on the other. The top of the unit conceals the built-in GPS patch antenna and there is a small socket on the side to attach an optional external GPS antenna. The supplied remote control fits nicely in the hand with large buttons that are well labelled and easy to use. The top set of buttons controls screen position, grey buttons in the middle access special functions, four centre buttons control channel, volume and full screen, while a set of buttons at the bottom control recording and playback. Unfortunately, the remote only works with the supplied AVerTV application, even though the stick itself is compatible with Media Centre.
Installing the DVB-T Volar GPS was straightforward. The software loaded without issue and the stick quickly found all available digital channels. Since the card does not support analogue reception it is not possible to watch Channel 31, or use it in an area not serviced by digital broadcasts.
The supplied AVerTV PVR application is easy enough to use although, in our view, the interface is somewhat clumsy. AVerTV allows you to watch TV, and record TV as native MPEG-2 or compress it in real time to medium resolution (320 x 200) MPEG-4 for viewing on iPods and compatible media players. Native MPEG-2 recordings were flawless, while the compressed MPEG-4 recordings would be fine for the small screen but noticeably blocky when viewing on a monitor. Unfortunately you cannot tweak recording parameters for higher quality MPEG-4 recordings.
Since the stick only has a single tuner, it's not possible to watch more than one channel at a time, although the software does support Picture in Picture, which allows you to watch multiple instances of the same broadcaster (eg. ABC1 and ABC2). There is also a 16-channel preview function which displays a few seconds from each channel, giving you a screen full of thumbnails from the last scenes shown. Cute, but not much use.
The EPG was a little sluggish and, annoyingly, would only refresh from the channel being viewed. Unlike some other tuner devices (and PVRs) that retrieve the entire EPG, you need to manually select each channel and refresh the EPG to build up the full EPG.
AVerTV supports most PVR functionality including timer record, recording from the EPG and time slip recording to allow you to pause and fast forward live TV. Unfortunately, external EPGs such as IceTV are not supported, nor is it possible to remotely schedule recordings. The software also did not recognise our dual monitor configuration and only displayed TV on the primary monitor.
If you don’t like AVerTV, the USB tuner is fully compatible with Vista Media Centre, where it had no trouble finding all available channels and worked well apart from the unsupported remote.
Instead of dual tuners, analogue tuner or FM radio like most other USB tuner sticks, the DVB-T Volar GPS comes with a GPS. The supplied PaPaGO software is only a trial version, which works for three months in Europe but only 14 days in Australia. While we did not extensively test the GPS functionality, we were not impressed with the software, at least for Victoria, as it was lacking in detail and failed to accurately position our office (being out by about 5kms to the north-west the first time and then about 3kms to the north-east the second time). More testing would confirm whether the fault lay with the software, the hardware or the need for an external antenna.
Overall this card performed very well with digital TV. We liked the real-time compression to MPEG4 and its compatibility with Media Centre. We're not too sure about the combination, as we'd probably prefer an analogue tuner and inputs to a GPS, but at least now you have a choice.