I have been a beta tester for a very exciting product from a company called AccessDTV http://www.accessdtv.com. Below you will find my review of this card that was recently posted on another forum. You can purchase this card at http://www.digitalconnection.com. This post is very long but to give as much detail as possible it had to be. First I must establish that I am not affiliated with AccessDTV in anyway. I do not stand to profit from this report in any way. All opinions expressed are my own and not AccessDTV’s. I have tried to be as objective as possible because I am a user just like you that has a significant investment in HDTV equipment and wants to see a company like AccessDTV help move the development of this medium further along so that my investment is not wasted. I see AccessDTV as the first company to bring together several disparate technologies into a single package at an affordable price. I know many of you do not agree with that statement but where else can you get a device for $479 that includes the following functionality: ATSC & NTSC receiver, ATSC recorder, ATSC PVR, Integrated Personal Program Guide with DTV station listings and all these items are tightly integrated with Internet features such as browsing, Internet Chat and Messaging. If I do the math the lowest cost ATSC receiver is the Panasonic combo Receiver/VCR unit that was discontinued at ~$2000. This combination does not include NTSC reception, ATSC PVR functionality, PPG functionality or any PC/Internet integration and is almost impossible to find. The subscription charge is a bit steep in my mind also but we do need to keep in mind that there is an ongoing cost associated with maintaining the PPG information and further development of the platform. I suggest that we all make some suggestions about how to make the pricing a bit more palatable so the AccessDTV folks can adjust their pricing to appeal to Joe Sixpack but still make a profit. It would also help if those suggestions also include additional functionality AccessDTV can add to make the card more valuable to the end user. A good first suggestion maybe to suggest they add NTSC PVR capability so I will not have to buy a $400 TIVO. Pretty simple math here … the $400 dollars saved can fund a reduced monthly subscription fee for several years. So jump on the bandwagon. It does the HDTV cause no justice if there is another perceived casualty that the press can use to further the perception that HDTV is failing. Its rare that a new product comes to market with perfect technology and perfect pricing so your suggestions will go a long way towards helping this product mature. My beta testing started after I contacted AccessDTV via their web site and requested to be a beta tester. I had just attended Comdex and CES and while there I looked at both the TeleMann HiPix and the AccessDTV card and determined that I was most excited about what I saw from AccessDTV. I have been testing the card since early February and I must say that even though I received some early code the platform is surprisingly stable even though it is a complex product and for being where it is at in its development. That’s not to say that it is bug free. There are some annoyances that will be detailed below but that is what they are annoyances. This is to be expected with any Release 1 product. I am very comfortable in saying that the product is very usable in its current state because I have been using it successfully for weeks. I have been very impressed with the AccessDTV team and its ability to quickly solve problems that I have encountered and their willingness to accept suggestions for improving the product. Below is a very detailed description of the platform’s capabilities and my experiences with it. But first I will try to summarize the platforms highs and lows and some of the annoying bugs that are in the first release. Highs: 1. The product is incredibly stable considering how early in its development it is. 2. Able to record HDTV content and all sub channels of a standard definition multicast 3. HDTV Time shifting capabilities included 4. Enables DTV and Internet integration. I am able to browse the Internet, check e-mail, chat and watch my favorite HD programs at the same time efficiently with the PVR capabilities. 5. Integrates ATSC, NTSC Receiver, ATSC PVR, PPG and all PC/Internet features into a sub $500 package. This level of integration would cost thousands in separate components if they existed 6. Integrated PPG is extremely powerful but simple to use and currently does not require the broadcaster to send this information because the information is delivered from the Internet. 7. PVR functions give me control over when I watch HD programs. No longer will I miss my favorite CBS shows or a Saturday night ABC HD movie because I am not home. 8. Manual setup of a scheduled recording gives me ultimate flexibility over setting up scheduled recordings. 9. Latest NxtWave 8VSB chip that provides 8VSB reception equivalent to the latest receivers available. 10. Excellent NTSC reception sensitivity 11. Multiple monitor configuration setups 12. Full screen Hot Keys allow for control of the system even in full screen video mode. 13. Extremely simple to install. No internal cabling required. 14. Supports all 1080i, 720p and 480p output resolutions 15. Picture Contrast, Brightness and saturation can be adjusted 16. Fast ATSC tuning speed. At least it’s the fastest I have experienced when comparing to Dish 6000 and Unity Motion Receivers Lows: 1. High monthly subscription cost 2. Large amount of disk space required for recording. (8.472 Gig per hour) 3. Recorded files cannot be shared 4. Digital PVR functionality does not have true fast forward or rewind 5. Cannot use PVR functions during recording 6. Cannot display Windows desktop on YPbPr Component video only HDTV sets 7. You must manually switch between analog and digital signal reception modes and switching is slow 8. Picture stretching capabilities are not yet implemented in full mode. 9. Does not have NTSC PVR functionality 10. Can only record to one folder. Cannot span multiple hard drives 11. Does not support virtual channel mapping if broadcaster has implemented it. 12. Lack of FF and Rewind Hot Keys requires me to jump out of full screen mode to FF through commercials in recorded programs 13. Signal meter is included but the information it provides is not very useful. 14. Cannot adjust volume or mute when using AC-3 output You’ll notice that all the lows except maybe numbers 2 and 3 can be resolved. So the picture is not as bad as it may seem. Bugs: Please note that this list is not an all-inclusive list. It is based only on my knowledge of the platform. Other issues may surface. Many other issues have been cleaned up during the beta period. Also these issues may be resolved by the time you receive your unit. 1. If you maximize the PPG Window and then click anywhere in the Color Key the Color Key disappears. 2. If you minimize the virtual remote control and then press the F Hot Key to switch the display to full screen mode pressing the mouse button several times prevents the F Hot Key from taking you back to your Windows desktop. Pressing ALT-Tab and then the F Hot Key gets you back to the Windows desktop. My Setup: My PC is fairly lackluster. I am planning on building a real HTPC once I find a HD card that would integrate an HD receiver, HD PVR and Internet access. My wait is over. My PC is a Pentium II 400 Mhz with 192 Meg of RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 2 based video card and a standard soundblaster compatible audio card. I am running Windows Me. My home theater includes a SharpVision 64” HDTV set, a Yamaha RX-V1 receiver with component video switching, a Dish 6000 Receiver with the OTA module and an old Unity Motion (Integra) HDTV Receiver. I live in Tampa where we have 4 DTV stations on the air. I have been receiving digital signals since November of 1999 when 3 of the stations went on the air. I have an amplified Omni Directional antenna mounted 30 ft high with which I receive all four stations with no problems. The Package: Packaged with the AccessDTV board is a loop back cable that connects the output of your VGA card to the AccesDTV card and a Silver Sensor UHF antenna with adapter to convert its European cable connector to a female F connector. The package was rounded out by the inclusion of an installation CD. The final version of the package I believe will include some additional items such as coax cables. Hardware: The board is a single PCI slot solution that is solidly constructed. There were no noticeable added wires or lack of attention to construction quality. The board is based on the Teralogic Janus reference design and the TL880 chip. The board does include a NxtWave NXT2000 chip which is exactly the same as the Dish 6000. Other chips on the board include an Intel 21152AB, a Philips SAA 7146A, an Altera EPM3032A and a Micronas VPX 3225D. However, the board does not have a VIP port (at least I did not see one) I encountered no major difficulties installing the board in my PC. Once correctly aligned the board snapped into place firmly and all external connections were lined up so they were easily accessible. However, because it is a full length PCI board make sure that you have the room inside your PC to fit it in. My PC is fairly cluttered so I needed to swap a few cards around in my PC to get away from some protruding hard drives. This is not a big issue; it’s just something to be aware of. There is NO internal cabling required to make the solution work. The PCI bus handles the delivery of non AC-3 audio so the output of your existing sound card is used to play the card output. Connectors & Cabling: The card has a surprising small number of connections. First there are two female F connectors labeled input 1 and input 2. Input 1 can only receive analog broadcasts from an antenna, cable TV feed or the channel 3 or 4 output from a Satellite or VCR unit. Input 1 will not accept ATSC signals. Input 2 is the input for ATSC signals and also can be used to receive NTSC antenna fed signals. It cannot be used to receive cable TV signals. An RCA female connector is provided that outputs an AC-3 digital stream for connection to your home theater receiver for Dolby Digital sound. The next connector is a VGA in port for the loop back cable from the PC VGA card. And finally there is a D-Sub 15 connector that doubles as RGBHV or YpbPr component video output based on the setup settings. There are several ways to connect the output of the card. They are summarized here: 1. The most obvious is to connect it directly to a computer monitor. With the loop back connector installed both the windows desktop and the AccessDTV remote control and video overlay window can be viewed on the monitor. 2. The second way is to use a HDTV set with an RGBHV input. With the loop back cable in place the HD set will work exactly like a computer monitor …Windows desktop and video are visible. 3. The third option is used if your HD set only has YPbPr inputs. In this scenario to get the simultaneous display of the Windows desktop and video you must keep the AccessDTV card set for RGBHV output and you must have a RGB to YPbPr converter like the Audio Authority 9A60 http://www.audioauthority.com/ for both to display. Of course the loop back cable is still place. If you set the card for YPbPr output and it is directly connected to the HD set you will only see the video. No Windows desktop. If you try to display the Windows desktop the card switches into a pass through mode connecting the RGB out of your video card directly to your HD set which, as you are well aware of causes un-viewable video. 4. The last option requires the removal of the loop back cable and two monitors. One for video and the other for the Windows desktop. The output of the VGA card is connected to a computer monitor where both the Windows desktop and the video window can be displayed or the video Window can be maximized to be the sole display. The other monitor is connected to the D-Sub 15 connector on the AccessDTV card. This monitor can be a computer monitor or it will most likely be an HDTV television set. In this configuration only full screen video can be displayed on the monitor and the AccessDTV card supports monitors with RGBHV or YPbPr component video inputs. The Windows desktop must be controlled from the other monitor. Software Installation: The software installation is a two-step process that is very straightforward. First the card is detected when Windows starts up and you must install two different drivers. They are: “Janus, WDM Video Capture” and “Saa 7156, WDM Video Capture”. This process is just like installing any other card nothing major to report. Once these are installed you must run the AccessDTV application program on the disk to install the virtual remote control and Personal Program Guide (PPG) software. This again is a very simple process with just a few rudimentary questions such as installation directory to answer. I encountered zero problems installing the software every time I did it (4 times). The installation process does not get any simpler than this. Once installed starting up the application will display two items. The first is a video overlay window and the second is the control panel. Also an icon is added to the tray that represents a background process managing the download of the PPG and startup of the application for scheduled recordings. If you have subscribed to the PPG you must go to the PPG setup section to enter your ZIP code and subscription information to activate the subscription. Once you have activated the subscription it will download from the Internet (AccessDTV supports a dedicated broadband connection or it will invoke your Windows dial up connection if you so desire) a list of local program providers. In Tampa I was presented with a list that included the Local OTA analog and digital channels and the local Cable TV provider. Once I chose which I required the software downloads the PPG information. Setup Options: AccessDTV has placed their setup options in two places. The video setup options are located on the control panel while the PPG setup options are located on the control panel below the video window. First the video control panel options. There are four tabs labeled Audio/Video Setup, PVR Settings, Tuning Setup and Picture. Audio/Video Setup: Here you are presented several different sections with options. First are preferences which contains options such as Loop Back cable present or not, NTSC Closed Caption display, show tool tips, video always on top, lock aspect ratio and the choice of whether you want your display to be 4:3 or 16:9. The Next section determines your audio setup. If you choose PC speakers the audio is routed internally to your sound card. If you choose AC-3 the audio is routed through the external RCA jack to your receiver. The next two sections give you a choice of 1080i, 720p and 480p output resolutions and whether the card output in full mode is RGBHV or YPbPr. And the most interesting part of this setup page is the display option settings. You are given the choice of displaying the received image as it is received, or to expand the picture to remove black bars on either side of the picture and lastly to expand a letterbox picture to remove the top and bottom black bars. Unfortunately, these options only currently work in the Window Overlay mode not in full screen mode on an HDTV set. This should be correctable. PVR Settings: Here you specify which drive and directory will hold all recordings. You can only choose local disk drives currently. Network drives are not supported. However, I connected an external USB hard drive that was usable. Presently you cannot span multiple hard drives. You can only enter in a single directory. Also on this screen is a window that displays all recorded programs and you have the option of deleting or renaming the recorded files. Be careful deleting programs because it deletes right away without asking for confirmation. I am told this will be fixed shortly. The last options on this screen allow you vary the length of an Instant Replay feature and a setting for how large a buffer to setup for the PAUSE function. The replay length options are 5 10 and 15 seconds of video that will replay when the button on the control panel is pressed. The buffer setting ranges from 1 minute to 30minutes and determines how long the system will buffer information to your hard drive during a pause. If the time runs out it will begin playing the recorded video at the beginning of the pause period. Tuning Setup: In tuning setup you select which input will receive standard NTSC broadcasts. If you select input 1 then you have the option of selecting an antenna or cable feed. While input 2 is antenna only. Here you also can run a scan to automatically configure ATSC and NTSC channels into the system. The only thing to remember here is that when scanning, the system only does one system at a time. So if you are set to receive ATSC signals it only scans for ATSC signal. To setup NTSC you must switch to analog input on the control panel and go back into setup to run the scan. You can also manually add and delete channels on this page. Picture: On this tab you are able to adjust Brightness, Contrast and Saturation for both the video overlay window and the full screen output independent of each other. In other words there are separate controls for both displays. The PPG setup options section includes a when to download PPG option that includes manually update, anytime that you are online or a specified time. The other option tells the system whether you connect to the Internet through a LAN connection or through a selectable dial up connection. Online Help and a list of program providers to choose from can also be invoked from this setup section. The last item of note is a tool that synchronizes your PC clock to an atomic clock out on the Internet so that any scheduled recordings start on time. The only problem with this tool is that it is manual. Hopefully in the future it will automatically set the clock. User Interface: The user interface consists of two separate sections. The Virtual Remote Control panel and the video window/PPG control panel. Video Window: The video window of course displays the received video but if you click the right mouse button over the video window a pop up menu gives you access to ALL the options listed above in the audio/video setup section. This is very handy for on the fly switching of settings. This video window can be manually resized dragging the mouse button on the edge of the window. On the PPG control panel there are buttons for starting up the PPG, Interactive Chat and messaging and manually starting a PPG download. There also is a minimize button that minimizes both the viewing window and the remote control. Virtual Remote Control: The virtual remote control has four buttons across the top labeled DTV, Analog, PVR and a minimize button. If you want to watch DTV you must press that button but to switch to analog you must press the analog button. Switching between analog and digital is a slow process. On my slow underpowered PC it takes about 4 seconds. This needs some future improvement in my opinion so that it is better integrated. For example get rid of the manual switching and just switch between analog and digital as channels are changed. The PVR button changes the optionally hidden bottom portion of the remote to display the PVR functions and switches the system to DTV reception because the PVR functions only work with digital signals. (PVR Functions Described Below) The minimize button minimizes the remote control independently of the video viewing window. The next layer down starts with a display window that indicates the channel number being watched. It also indicates if the system is Time Shifting or recording a program. It also displays when the audio is muted. Then there is a volume level indicator and three selection buttons labeled FULL, NORM and SMALL. These buttons control the display of the video window. NORM and SMALL display two different sized video windows on the Windows desktop that are free to be resized manually using your mouse. FULL switches the video into full screen video display mode where no Windows desktop is visible. The next layer down includes Channel Up Down buttons, a button to bring up the PPG, another button to start the interactive messaging client and a previous channel or jump button for quickly switching between channels. Also there are volume control and mute buttons located here but they only affect the audio when routed through the PC speakers. These controls have no effect when using the AC-3 audio output. AccessDTV will be adding this capability in a future software release. The only other button of note is the integrated signal meter button that when clicked pops out a signal bar graph that is labeled “Good” at the top of the bar and “Poor” at the bottom. This meter is not very useful in its current state because is does not give any specific numerical data. I am told that it does not measure signal level but rather Bit Error Rates and thus gives a better indication of receive signal quality. The signal meter is supposedly going to be improved in a future release. Full Screen Hot Keys: In full screen mode the virtual remote control is not visible so in order to perform typical functions such as changing the channel without exiting back to Windows AccessDTV has implemented keyboard Hot-Keys for these functions. The HOT-Keys are as follows: Hot-key Function Number Pad You may change the channel manually by typing the numbers on the keypad of your keyboard. Example: Type 53 on your keypad and the channel automatically switches to channel 53. Esc Jumps from full screen mode to window mode. + Raises the volume. - Lowers the volume. up Arrow Raises the channel. Down Arrow Lowers the channel. Right Arrow Raises the sub-channel. When viewing digital signals, they can exist on sub channels such as 53.3. Sub-channels are not allowed when tuning analog signal. Left Arrow Lowers the sub-channel. When viewing digital signals, they can exist on sub-channels such as 53.3. Sub-channels are not allowed when tuning analog signal. F1 Displays the online User’s Guide for accessDTV. A Enables NTSC (analog) mode. D Enables ATSC (digital) mode. M Mutes the volume for PC speakers only. AC3 ouput is not muted. E Enables time-shifting mode. P Pauses the program. R Displays an instant replay (Length of time is configurable to 5 10 or 15 seconds). S If playing a program, it stops during playback. Or, if recording a program, it stops the recording. Or, when time shifting mode is enabled, it turns time-shifting mode off. F Enables Full screen mode of the accessDTV Viewing Window. L Displays the previously viewed channel. Subscription Services: To use the PVR and PPG functionality you must pay a monthly subscription of $9.95/month. Here is a detailed description of what you get for this monthly fee. PVR: The PVR functionality is robust but do not expect it to duplicate all the functionality of a TIVO or DishPlayer. The thing to keep in mind though is that this is the first release of an ATSC digital PVR while all the others are NTSC only. Understanding that you get a better appreciation for what AccessDTV has delivered in this first release. It can only become more feature rich with subsequent releases. Ok the first thing to understand about their PVR implementation is that recording and Time Shifting are separate functions in this release. In other words if you are recording a program you cannot rewind, pause or fast-forward. You can only watch the live program while recording. However, once the program is recorded all the functions work fine during playback. Of note is the implementation of Fast-Forward and Rewind. By clicking the buttons the software will move forward or backwards 30 seconds (This has been great for commercials). If you right click on either button a pop up menu is displayed that gives you the option to jump 30 or 60 seconds and 5 minutes in either direction. Rewind also gives you the option to jump to the beginning of the program. To play recorded programs you click on the File button on the remote. This brings up a window that lists all recorded programs. You select a program to play or to delete in this menu. Another very unique feature with recording is that when it records it actually records all sub channels. So if a station is broadcast 4 standard definition broadcasts you get all four. Very cool feature! There also is another button labeled Program that will display a list of scheduled recordings as setup from the PPG or you are given the option of manually setting up a scheduled recording. This feature gives you control of everything including DTV sub channel and recording start and stop times down to the second. Very powerful and it has worked flawlessly every time I used it so far. What is missing is a true fast forward and rewind with adjustable speeds. Also there is no slider bar to indicate where you are at in the recorded program. Time Shifting must be manually engaged by pressing a button the remote labeled “Enable” At this point the card begins recording to the hard drive. There is about a 4 second black out period while it begins the recording process (this may just be the speed of my system). After that all the functions described above work except that a jump to live option is enabled in the Fast-Forward pop up menu. I found that jumping back during Time shifting made it very difficult for my PC to keep up with recording and playing back two streams at the same time. Other than this scenario my underpowered PC performed fine with the platform. So if you are not going to use Time Shifting it is my opinion that you can get away with a less powerful PC than specified by AccessDTV. However, you will experience some audio dropouts if you start up other programs while the AccessDTV is running. Personal Program Guide: The personal program guide is truly awesome. Although it is not based on any of the broadcast standards I do not believe that is a negative. First little to no broadcasters are sending the info so the fact that AccessDTV has provided most of the functionality independently of the broadcasters is a positive in my mind. I am extremely impressed with this interface. I have a Dish Networks DishPlayer, which has a very nice PPG interface, but I believe the AccessDTV PPG is a leap forward in its layout and functionality. It is so intuitive to use my wife quickly picked up how to use it. I don’t know how it compares to a TIVO or a Replay unit but it sure beats the DishPlayer. The only negative I can point to is an advertising banner across the top of the PPG but its barely noticeable. The PPG displays channel program information based on what program providers you choose from the setup menu. Here in Tampa it was limited to OTA ATSC and NTSC and Cable TV. NO Dish Network or DirecTv listings. Although for Dish 5000 users I believe adding this will not be an issue. The only thing wrong with that scenario is that AccessDTV has no way of tuning the channel in like it does with OTA and cable. When you first open the PPG you are greeted by a color-coded guide window. Different programs are given different colors based on the category the program falls into. The program categories are: Drama, Comedy, Sports, Series, Talk, Children, News and Other. A labeled Color Key is located in the bottom left hand corner of the guide. The great about this is if you want to see all Sports programming at a certain time you choose the time and then click on the Sports Color Key and the PPG finds all the programming for the criteria you selected and displays it in the PPG window. If you click on a program in the PPG a short synopsis of the program appears in a window at the bottom of the PPG. If you double click the program it will be immediately tuned and displayed. Also many programs have an Internet content button that if clicked starts up your web browser and displays information related to the program. So for example if you click on NYPD Blue it will take you to ABC’s NYPD Blue’s Web site. Selecting programming times to view in the PPG window is also very simple. First you choose the day you wish to view from a drop down list in the top right hand corner of the PPG. Then across the bottom of the PPG are a series of buttons labeled Now, Morning, Afternoon, Prime Time and Late Night. Click on one of these and the PPG instantly displays the programs for the time and day. Using these buttons in combination with the color key buttons is a powerful but simple way to find the programs you want to watch. Another option listed on the PPG display is a record button. Simply click on a program and then the record button and a small window pops up displaying the name and time of the program to record and the estimated disk space required to record the program. It also displays the amount of disk space available and space required for other scheduled recordings that have not yet been recorded. If you confirm the scheduled recording is added to the “My Events” list that, is accessible from the PPG window. The disk space required to record one hour of programming is 8.472 Gig. Programs are recorded to your drive as separate 262,144 Kb files. The recorded programs are definitely not transferable. At one point during the beta testing period AccessDTV required a card change out. Well I had recorded a good portion of the Super Bowl that the new card immediately declared corrupted and automatically deleted. Another button on the PPG window allows you to setup favorite channel lists. The last function in the PPG window is a search function. Clicking search brings up a window with a list of saved searches. That’s right you are able to save search criteria so you do not have to continuously enter the same information. In this window you choose a saved search to run or create a new search. If you decide to create a new search a limited option search window appears that allows you to enter search key words such as the program name or words you would find in the program description. You can also enter in an actors name to search for. There are also check boxes that allow you to eliminate certain program categories from the search criteria. Once you have completed entering your information you can run the search or save the search but if you want to perform a more granular search you can click on an Advanced Search button that brings up another window with detailed search options. Additional search criteria that can be specified include what channels to search and which hours of the day to search. In the future you will be able to search based on the programs rating 1 to 4 stars and/or MPAA rating such as General or TV14. Reception Experience: To test the reception capabilities of the AccessDTV unit I hooked it up through my Yamaha receiver component video switcher along with my Dish 6000 unit and my Unity Motion receiver. This allowed me to rapidly switch between boxes to compare reception. I then checked the reception of all channels connected to my Omni-directional antenna mounted 30 ft high (the feed is split and distributed throughout my house via a distribution amplifier). All 4 local channels were received with no problems. I then connected each receiver in turn to the Silver Sensor antenna that comes packaged with the card. I mount the antenna 6 ft on a shelf in my family room. I then rotated the antenna in 30 degrees increments checking the reception on all three receivers. I then mounted the Silver Sensor about 20 ft high in my attic and performed the same operation. The results for the AccessDTV card and the Dish 6000 receiver were exactly the same. If I could receive the signal with the 6000 I could receive it with the AccessDTV. My Unity Motion receiver did not fare as well. There were numerous occasions where it would not lock onto a signal when the others would. An interesting side note to this analysis is that here in Tampa two of the digital stations on the air are transmitting in the VHF band. The Silver Sensor is a UHF antenna. It had a difficult time locking in the VHF stations, if at all. So if you have any VHF stations I would highly recommend another antenna. It does a great job with UHF though! The reception of analog NTSC stations is very good. The card would pick up stations that my expensive HD set could not or could not as well. Of course the video looks terrible OTA NTSC being what it is. But I was impressed with the sensitivity of the card. Other Items to note: 1. First I found that the unit tunes into ATSC signals faster than anything else I have used 2. When switching channels there is some pixelation but nothing worse than any other receiver I have used 3. The HD picture quality is just as good as my other two HD receivers. I could not see any differences.