A TV tuner for your PC or laptop can save you the cash needed for a big HDTV set, and add the benefits of portable size and the ability to record shows. We tested Pinnacle's PCTV HD Pro Stick to see how well it converted a PC into a high-definition TV.

The Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick costs £59. It looks like a USB thumb drive and comes with a portable antenna that you attach to the tuner for better reception (Pinnacle recommends using a rooftop antenna for even better reception).

The Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick bundle also includes a remote control; an A/V cable for connecting to an external video source; a USB extender cable to give you some flexibility in where you place the TV tuner; and desktop software for playing back, pausing, and recording the TV content you see.

To install the Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick you connect the tuner to a free USB 2.0 port on your PC and then connect it to the portable antenna, which should be located near a window or outdoors, if possible. The Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick comes with an installation CD that automates the entire process; you simply click a few buttons, restart your computer when prompted, and get ready to enjoy the show.

Once the Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick is installed, you must scan for available channels - analogue and Freeview digital. The Pinnacle unit can scan for internet radio and FM radio stations as well.

In our informal tests, the Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick picked up more TV stations than some other TV tuners we've tried. Of coure, the number of stations that you'll receive depends on your location, as well as on the placement and strength of your antenna.

The Pinnacle tuner's desktop software allows you to view, pause, and record TV broadcasts. Pinnacle TVCenter 4 is attractive and extremely intuitive.

The Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick's miniature remote control stands out, too.

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Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick: Specs

  • Recording formats: MPEG-1/2, DivX 2, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (for HDTV recordings only)
  • Tuner: interface: USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed), Digital TV Tuner: Tuning range 42~860 MHz, Channel bandwidth 6, 7, 8 MHz, Antenna input: IEC connector
  • Recording formats: MPEG-1/2, DivX 2, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (for HDTV recordings only)
  • Tuner: interface: USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed), Digital TV Tuner: Tuning range 42~860 MHz, Channel bandwidth 6, 7, 8 MHz, Antenna input: IEC connector

OUR VERDICT

The Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick can't the same amount of HD content that you'd get from a cable box. But it does offer a portable, affordable route to HDTV - and one that lets you record content in HD, to boot. The Pinnacle PCTV Hybrid Pro Stick is worth a look.

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