Here is that rarest of beasts: a product that does something useful and does it well – and for an eminently reasonable price tag. If you spend a lot of time on the road with your laptop, the ability to watch TV on it may be a lifesaver. And best of all, the VideoMate U3 from Compro is a cinch to set up and use.
The chunky, lightweight USB stick is about the length of a credit card, but half as wide. It comes with a tiny but powerful portable aerial, an aerial adapter and a small length of cable, so that you don't have to plug the card directly into a hard-to-reach socket. It derives its power from your PC.
Once you've installed the software, boot with the stick and an aerial attached and the program sets about hunting for TV channels. Any free-to-air digital feed is fair game – so you can make the most of your precious time by checking the FTSE scores on CNN and watching Working Lunch (and keeping track of Dancing On Ice, of course).
When we tested the VideoMate U3 in the notorious TV-signal blackspot that is 99 Gray's Inn Road, the results were surprisingly good. Of course, being digital, it's a hit-and-miss affair – many channels worked perfectly, some simply wouldn't appear – but with a decent signal the quality is excellent. Compro recommends using a more powerful aerial than the one provided, but no one carries a spare aerial and the bundled one's fine. It's small enough to tack to the wall, so you won't have to send the kids up on the roof.
As with all good digital TV sets you can pause and timeshift TV. Recording is a doddle – you simply hit the correct key and the software neatly deposits an Mpeg2 file on your hard disk.