Internal TV tuner cards can be tricky to setup and use, so we were interested to find out whether external cards would also prove to be hit-and-miss. The short answer is yes.

Of the two USB cards we hoped to review side by side, only the Pinnacle offering would perform. The other flatly refused to install properly.

The PCTV200e took a couple of attempts to install. Once the software has loaded you assemble the antenna, clip it to the top of your notebook and plug the device into a USB port.

Next, you need to get to grips with the PCTV200e's interface. Here, Pinnacle has little to crow about. We found the software extremely unintuitive, with no useful Help files.

You'd think Pinnacle would have set things up so you're immediately taken to a setup screen where you can tell the card to scan the airwaves for broadcasts. Instead, you find yourself staring at a blank virtual TV screen with record and play buttons and a few indistinguishable spinning icons at the top of the window. TV playback can be jerky and sometimes freezes even with a strong signal but the card is efficient at locating channels, and the electronic programme guide and timeshift functions are simple and effective.

Installation seems to cause the onboard audio to be muted - a state it tried to revert to even after we'd deselected the Mute option on the sound control panel.

The card supports a good range of video formats and can be used to record radio. You can also record live programmes straight to DVD. A well laid-out remote control is included - but this had a tendency to crash.

PCTV200e: Specs

  • USB external DVB-T TV tuner supporting free-to-air channels and radio
  • clip-on antenna
  • timeshift, schedule and record Mpeg2
  • playback AVI, WMV9, Mpeg2, MP3, Mpeg4, VOB DivX and XviD files
  • burn MP3s to CD and DVD
  • remote control
  • integrated programme guide
  • USB external DVB-T TV tuner supporting free-to-air channels and radio
  • clip-on antenna
  • timeshift, schedule and record Mpeg2
  • playback AVI, WMV9, Mpeg2, MP3, Mpeg4, VOB DivX and XviD files
  • burn MP3s to CD and DVD
  • remote control
  • integrated programme guide

OUR VERDICT

The PCTV200e ought to be a decent product but it's let down by its almost unusable interface. This is all rather silly, since anyone shelling out for a free-to-air digital TV card is surely going to want it to be as easy to use as possible. Instead, many of the most useful items are devilishly well hidden.

Find the best price