Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fronttech TV tuner

After contemplating on this for quite sometime, I finally decided to buy a TV tuner. I don't intend (or I should say don't want) to spend too much time on TV. I was fairly confident that I was not going to buy a TV for sure; and if at all I go for something that would be a TV tuner card for my existing LCD monitor.

Then, the question was whether to go for a internal TV tuner, USB TV tuner or an external TV tuner. For those who aren't aware, there are 2 types of external TV tuner -- one that drives a CRT and the other that drives a LCD. So be sure to buy the correct one incase you have a LCD monitor. However, I didn't choose this because: I don't want to keep changing the cables to the monitor everytime I need to switch between TV and comp (my monitor does not have dual input); and I might want to parallely work while watching TV (or atleast check my stock prices, email, orkut). These being the problems on external ones, I was firmly confident that the internal/USB ones will have lot more "features" than the external ones like recording, PiP (Picture in Picture), scheduler etc., and given that it was software controlled, I was hopeful to try my hands on it by writing some code for it (I had no idea about what to do with it, but just felt an opportunity).

After throwing out the external solution, I had to choose between the internal one or the USB one -- both satisfy my criteria of software control. I chose USB as it looks safer to me anytime than a PCI interface -- I'm hopeful that a heavy spike on my cable wire, would cause less damage to my comp over the USB port. It also provides the convinience of moving the TV between my comp and laptop. Also, the internal ones might have difficulty with remote due to line-of-sight issues (not sure, if they even provide a remote for internal ones).

Anyways, after all this I finally zeroed on Fronttech USB TV Tuner (to be frank, I didn't really spend time on analyzing the brand to buy; Fronttech was easily available in the nearby shops and so I just went for it). I had bought it a month back and believe me, I have no regrets today. I think Fronttech is anyway just selling it as its own brand but it is not. The hardware driver identifies itself as 'Trident Analog Video' to Windows and the TV tuner software is from Honestech. Possibly, Fronttech takes care of marketting, sales, service/support.

It is so handy, fits in your palm. This is how it looks (Photo from Fronttech).

It comes with the following key features:
1. Real-time recording (at a click of a button on remote)
2. Recording scheduler (I can just schedule a recording and forget about it; watch it later).
3. Time-shifting (as they call it -- more later)
4. Supports NTSC and PAL

Unfortunately, PiP is not available, and I later learned that it is not available in any TV tuners (at least in the ones available here in India). As it requires support from the hardware level (tuning in, two frequencies at the same time), I cannot do any magic with software to emulate PiP. Ok forget it.

Recording is awesome, with no lag in the TV playback in real-time. There are options to select the resolution of recording along with the video encoding that is to be used.

I should definitely mention about the time-shifting. An easier way to describe the time-shifting is 'pause your live TV' slogan that many digital TV ads boast about. Yes, this feature allows you to pause a live TV and continue from there. This is technically feasible (just like anyother digital TV solution) by continuously recording the TV channel in the background. One very good thing about this TV tuner is (IMHO), I can enable time-shifting only when I need it; this prevents the application from continuously thrashing my hard disk when I really don't need to pause/playback (I believe Tata Sky Plus does continuous recording).

Another "strange" thing I discovered was (at least I didn't know this earlier): The auto-scan option for channel tuning is not as smart as the ones in the real TV. ie., it does not scan the complete set of frequency (at every possible increments) and infer if a clear signal is available at that signal. Apparently, on hooking to their application, I figured out that they have a constant pre-defined set of frequencies to be tuned for a given country (I even remember a function in one of their DLLs, GetFreqencyTableForCountryName). Ok how does it matter to me? It does. They have some 360 channel frequencies pre-defined for Indian Cable TV networks, but not all of them have a clear signal or channel transmitted. The tuner application is not smart enough to discover the absence of the channel and skip bookmarking the channel. So at the end of an auto-scan you will have 360 channels bookmarked, with only around 100 having meaningful video output and scattered all over. Grrr.. There is also no way to tune a single channel. ie., you cannot say, switch to channel 1 and start tuning the band to associate a different channel to channel 1 -- because the channel number by itself defines the frequency to be used, and channel no. 1 will always be pointing to the same frequency. Thankfully, they have the option to name the channels and associate channel shifting to work only on the favored channels instead of just blindly going through all channels. I was a bit uncomfortable here, but after a month, now I'm used to it.

Important: Do remember to backup your "channel.she" file from their installation folder once you configure your TV tuner and named all those channels etc., It is useful to restore the channel list in case you need to reinstall the application or you lose it (I lost it once -- how, is a different lengthy story!!).

Except for these few glitches, over all I'm very satisfied with the quality of its work with some stunning features.


  1. Hey naveen i have a quick qestion, i have installed the the tv tuner on my laptop. now when i click on the program 'hornstech' the screen shows my image, as in somehow the web cam turns on, im not sure if thats ok or not. and second, the auto scan button is grey due to which im not able to scan the channels. please help

  2. TV tuner also installs a video capture device, I think in your case, the honestech software is using your webcam by mistake. I don't have that anymore so can't check it, but I would guess there should be some setting in the software to change the Video capture device -- change that to point to your tv tuner device. Maybe, choosing the right device will enable the auto-scan button -- I vaguely remember, I had to set the country/region to India, to make things work fine.

  3. it has all features but does not support in Windows 7 Operating system.

  4. Thanks for great information you write it very clean. I am very lucky to get this tips from you.