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Geek Gifts 2009: Plextor Mini Digital HDTV Receiver

Watching high-definition television on your personal computer is only a USB dongle away when you have the Plextor Mini Digital HDTV Receiver.

Want more reviews of tech gadgets and gizmos? Download the PDF of TechRepublic's Geek Gift Guide 2009.

Perhaps the only thing better than watching high-definition television on a big screen is watching high-definition television on your personal computer anywhere and anytime you want. At least that is what Plextor, the company that makes the Mini Digital HDTV Receiver, wants you to believe.

Taking advantage of USB 2.0, this little device transforms your PC into a high-definition television in a matter of minutes. This, of course, assumes you have a PC that is capable of displaying at the HD resolution. If you don't have such capability, the Mini Digital HDTV Receiver will show your favorite show in the standard definition resolution.

The complete list of Geek Gift Guide blog posts for 2009 can be tracked with this special tag.

Specifications

Standard-definition television:

  • CPU: Pentium III, 1.0GHz
  • RAM: 256MB
  • Video: VGA capable, 32MB
  • Interface: USB 2.0

High-definition television:

  • CPU: Pentium 4, 3.0GHz
  • RAM: 512MB
  • Video: VGA capable, 128MB
  • Interface: USB 2.0
Price: As low as $50, with average price around $70

Additional vendor information on the Mini Digital HDTV Receiver

What to like

The Mini Digital HDTV Receiver from Plextor is easy to install and get up and running. The application software is on a CD-ROM disk, but the most updated version can easily be downloaded online from Plextor support.

The device itself is about the size of a typical USB thumb flash drive. The software includes the driver and the display software for the television signal. There is also a TV remote control that will control your high-definition signal like it is on a television and not a PC.

The display quality will depend heavily on the quality of the digital signal being received, but here in the TechRepublic office, the picture was fantastic. For testing purposes, I watched some of the early rounds of the NCAA Men's/Women's Basketball Tournaments (Go Cards!). I was impressed by the quality - it actually worked much better than the online streaming others were using.

What not to like

There is only one real problem with the Mini Digital HDTV Receiver - the necessary and bulky antenna. To receive the digital signal you need an antenna and the one that comes in the box is disappointingly large. I can't blame Plextor for this; an antenna is just a digital receiver necessity that cannot be avoided.

This makes the "mini" in Mini Digital HDTV Receiver a bit of a misnomer. While the receiving part itself is small, the device plus the obligatory antenna and antenna cable is much more substantial and more than a bit unwieldy and will discourage many from using it on a casual basis.

In addition, the stand for the antenna relies on a suction cup to remain upright and in place. The suction cup system is not very sturdy and works best with a smooth surface like a glass window.

Geek bottom line

The Mini Digital HDTV Receiver is a marvel of technology - a high-definition television receiver in the form of a USB flash drive. There is definitely plenty of good geek mojo in that. However, the bulk and gracelessness of the corresponding antenna system will definitely bring that good geeky feeling back to reality.

Geek gift score

  • Fun factor: ***
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: ****

About

Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

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