Desktop PCs have had no shortage of internal TV tuner solutions that let users watch TV on a PC monitor, or allow for video recording features. However, laptops have not had that luxury. With its pendrive-like form factor and ability to function over USB, the Tech-com USB TV Stick (model SSD-TV-817) is the most recent product to offer such an option. Not only laptops, even desktop computer users can plug this simple device into a USB port externally, and benefit from it right then instead of having to mess a PC's innards. By nature, it is easily portable, making it easy to share with others.
All device functions are present on the small and thin remote provided.
This TV tuning and video capture device does not demand much by way of minimum hardware requirements; almost any computer sold in the last 5 years qualifies. Only Windows XP or a later OS is supported, Linux users will have to fend for themselves. The drivers provided (including 64-bit) place it on par with any standard TV Tuner, and Windows Media Center worked just fine. However, the software officially provided on the CD is ArcSoft Total Media 3.5, the third-party application which actually manages the functions printed on the box.
The TV tuner device is small, about the size of a big pendrive, and uses the USB 2.0 interface. It is colored black, perhaps to meld in with the intended usage audience of laptops. At one end, is the USB connector. At the other is the input into which an antenna or cable TV jack can plug in, for PAL/NTSC/SECAM signals. On the right side, is a mini-USB port. It is meant for the supplied cable which allows for additional TV inputs, like S-Video and Composite Video. In other words, all types of analog TV signals that you could expect to receive, are provided for.
The other major part of the (admittedly compact) package is the small remote. All device functions are present on it, and it happens to be so thin that it uses a CR2025 battery. Also included is a quick user guide and a short USB extender cable - useful on a desktop/laptop if you have other USB ports nearby with devices plugged into them, leaving no space for the TV tuner to plug directly into the USB port.
Besides allowing for watching TV on your computer, this device also supports FM radio. The radio reception indoors was fairly bad, but became normal when placed near a window or in an open space. The TV/video functions offered by this device are essentially the same as those offered by the bundled software (Total Media 3.5), and the ones that Windows Media Center (on Windows 7/Vista/XP) can provide using an analog input. Both of these applications (Total Media and Media Center) include functionality to help users manage other media such as photos/audio/DVD/video/recordings etc.
To check video quality, I used the SSD-TV-817 device upon a Netbook with an 8.9-inch screen, and also a desktop with a 24-inch display. After a bit of tweaking, the audio/video signal quality of my Cable TV managed to look quite acceptable. For comparison, I used (an old PCI TV tuner card) Hauppauge Win-TV PVR 150. The video output quality on screen was quite the same. That may not be saying much, if you keep in mind that more recent internal tuners on desktops have advanced forward, but is certainly not bad at all in absolute terms.
The Tech-com USB TV Stick SSD-TV-817 is quite a good product bundle. Priced at Rs. 1,175 for the package, the included software alone could have cost you four times as much by itself. This external USB-based TV tuner solution is clearly not meant to set new quality standards, but it does the task at a good price and is convenient.