The Peripheral Component Interconnect, or PCI as it's better known, has been with us nearly 15 years.
Back when it first made its way onto motherboards and Windows 95 appeared on the scene, the concept of "Plug 'n' Play" was very new and often reinterpreted as "Plug 'n' Pray". Quite rightly, too - hardware upgrades were far from smooth back then.
Today, we upgrade without flinching, discarding old hardware like yesterday's jam. Operating systems and drivers are now much better at plugging and playing, without the praying.
PCI has come a long way, as well, with a host of flavours out there for laptops, desktops, workstations and servers. The newest PCI revolution is PCI Express, a serial implementation of PCI that's quicker, better, easier... you get the idea.
And while PCIe is widely available on new desktop motherboards, old-school PCI remains very much the norm for anything other than graphics cards.
But that's starting to change.
Recently, we took a fairly cheap PCIe RAID card for a spin. Today we have another example of PCIe hardware, the VideoMate E700 - a dual DVB-T tuner by Compro.
Compro VideoMate E700
Digital TV tuners for computers can be very simple. All the devices have to do is demodulate an incoming signal and pass the entire transport stream along to the PC for de-multiplexing and decoding. Some tuners might even de-multiplex it for you.
It only takes a small chip or two to do the above things these days. That's why you can fit tuners into cases the size of USB pen drives. And it's also why internal add-in-boards can be low profile, like the VideoMate E700 we have on review here.
But before we delve any deeper into the inner workings of TV tuners and the E700 in particular, let's have a look at the specifications Compro is offering up with its new PCIe model.
|Size||170mm x 70mm (low-profile-compatible)|
|Host interface||PCIe 1-lane|
|Connections||1x coaxial antenna input
1x IR receiver input
|Remote control||37-key IR remote
Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5 SE
Ulead DVD MovieFactory 4 SE
|Supported formats||SDTV and HTDV up to 1080i|
|Scheduling||Hardware power-on scheduling supported|
|Drivers||Windows XP/Vista drivers included
BDA driver (MCE compatible)
As with all of Compro's tuners, the E700 comes bundled with the company's own TV software. This enables recording, viewing and time-shifting, along with some more advanced features such as picture-in-picture (P-i-P) and channel surfing.
Compro bundles a pair of Ulead products as well - "special edition" (cut-down) versions, of course - in part to enable Compro's software to record shows directly to DVD disc.
But anyone truly serious about using this tuner for watching telly will likely be plugging it into a system running Windows Media Center Edition (MCE).
And if that's the case, the features of the bundled software are too relevant, because they'll go unused.
Compro's driver uses the BDA architecture laid out by Microsoft, meaning MCE will indeed be able to use this dual-tuner card.
However, for those of you who (like this writer) enjoy fiddling with scripts more than getting real work done (you use Linux, in other words), there's bad news.
At the time of writing, the Linux TV project supports no PCI Express tuners. However, the project wiki says that's soon to change.
But, until support appears, the E700 won't be going anywhere near MythTV, VDR or any other Linux PVR app.
A single PCIe lane provides ample bandwidth for the E700's two tuners, even in the event that two HDTV transport streams are received simultaneously.
When working with Compro's DTV software, the E700 can wake the host system from its "off" state (that's shut down, not just standby/hibernation) to record scheduled shows. This is a feature we've seen previously on the analogue VideoMate H900 and is very useful.
Flick on over to the next page for our analysis of the card itself.