Microsoft's Media Center Edition (MCE) operating system is notoriously picky about the hardware it supports. The system should work straight out of the box, and it's generally not meant to be tinkered with to the same degree as your common or garden PC.

The 2004 version of MCE had very strict hardware requirements and was only officially available as a complete bundle with a machine. For the 2005 edition, some of these restrictions were relaxed so that now it's possible for manufacturers to sell MCE PCs without a bundled TV tuner if they want. Standalone versions of the software are also available to buy if you fancy building your own system.

But TV is a key feature of Media Center and the growth of free digital TV in the UK, thanks to Freeview, makes many more channels available. So if you've got only an analogue TV tuner in your MCE PC, none at all, or fancy embarking on the challenge of building your own, AverMedia's A16A card could fulfil your needs.

Digital TV has another advantage over analogue when it comes to MCE. Since the channels are already compressed in Mpeg2 format, all MCE has to do to save a programme is stream the data straight to the hard disc - so there's no loss of quality.

The A16A provides good picture quality and it will work in a dual-tuner configuration, allowing you to record two programs at once - provided you have two cards, of course.

You can configure MCE to put the machine into standby when it's not doing anything, then wake up when it's time to record. As our test machine resumed from standby mode, though, it couldn't seem to receive a TV signal, which resulted in failed recordings. The only solution was to reboot. Far from ideal. This could be a driver issue, so hopefully will be solved by a future update.

AverMedia A16A: Specs

  • Digital terrestrial TV card
  • PCI interface
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition support
  • dual-tuner support
  • Digital terrestrial TV card
  • PCI interface
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition support
  • dual-tuner support

OUR VERDICT

The A16A is a simple way to add digital TV to your MCE system. Setup was easy and the picture quality was good. However, the standby problems we experienced mean it's not the ultimate solution.

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