After Hours

Two weeks with the Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick


HDTVs have been one of the hottest consumer electronics categories for the past several years; however, you don't need to invest in an HDTV to get HDTV content.

Pinnacle has created the PCTV HD Pro Stick to turn your desktop or laptop into an HDTV. Considering that the resolution of most newer PC monitors is equal to or greater than the 1280x720 required for 720p HDTV, it makes sense to leverage those displays to deliver HD.

Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick

The package includes the USB tuner dongle, remote, and antenna.

I decided to test out the HD Pro Stick for a few weeks on my 18-month-old laptop. I figured that would give me a chance to try it in a variety of places, plus it would allow me to see how it performs on "older" hardware.

The good

Picture quality

I was pretty impressed with the PQ from the HD Pro Stick. My laptop screen is 1440x900 and my video card has 256MB of RAM. I was able to run smooth, fullscreen HDTV with no problems. I found the default settings a bit too sharp; however, that was partially due to how close I was sitting to the screen. As with all HDTV displays, the farther back you sit from the screen, the better it tends to look.

OTA reception

The antenna picks up local HD channels pretty well. We live in the suburbs of Louisville (10-15 miles away from the nearest tower), and I was able to get all of our local channels with the HD Pro Stick's antenna.

Portability

When paired with a laptop, you can easily take HDTV with you on the go.

I took the Pinnacle HD Pro Stick with me to Austin for SXSW this week and was able to get local HD channels in my hotel. This turned out to be very helpful since my hotel room had an HDTV, but it was connected to SD cable.

I also used the Pinnacle HD Pro Stick during recent severe weather. We had a tornado warning in Louisville a few weeks ago and I used my laptop and the Pinnacle to keep up with our local weather reports while we were hiding out in our basement.

The bad

The software

The bundled software application was not very good. I struggled with it for a couple of days before switching to Windows Media Center. Unfortunately, if you don't have Windows Media Center, you're stuck with the bundled app.

The antenna base

The base of the antenna has a magnet on it. I am assuming that this is to keep the antenna from tipping over when you have it extended. The problem is that this is supposed to be a product you use around a PC. So your hard drive and any flash media you have nearby are at risk of being damaged or erased by placing the antenna too close.

And what if you want to take this on the road with your laptop? Is it safe to stick the magnetic antenna base in your laptop bag? I didn't want to take a chance to find out, so I stuck it in my suitcase when traveling to Austin this week.

Regardless, it seems like a curious choice. Why not just weight the bottom of the antenna if you concerned about it tipping over? Adding a magnet seems to create more problems that it solves.

Warning, there is a magnet in here

The remote

The range on the Pinnacle remote isn't very good. In fact, I'm not sure that I got it to work properly more than a couple of times. Don't know if it was a range issue (even though holding the remote next to the dongle didn't seem to help) or an interference issue or just a bad remote.

The bottom line

If you own a laptop with Windows Media Center or if you just don't want to install a PCI-based card in your PC, the Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick is a good way to turn your PC into an over-the-air HDTV. It retails for $99; however, I've seen it online for as low as $49 recently. At that price, you can't go wrong.

7 comments
steve.lewinsky
steve.lewinsky

Flash drives don't use magnetic media for storage like a floppy disk does so there is no way that the magnetic base will erase it. Also, most hard drives are safe from low levels of magnetizim such as fridge magnets etc. Floppy discs on the other hand are able to be corrupted over time with a fridge magnet.

gckondos
gckondos

I have tried Pinnacle products twice. An early version of the PCTV and the most recent version. In both cases I had problems to the extent that I had to reload windows or go to a cloned backup. This happened on two different computers. I am not a Pinnacle fan.

2006C6
2006C6

Is this thing going to still work after Feb 09 when the change from analog TV broadcasts to digital takes place?

spudman
spudman

I believe HDTV is already digital and therefore will not be changed on Feb 09.

nicemilano
nicemilano

I just bought this product without knowing what to expect so I've ran it on my XP Media Center laptop and it performs well. The only problem as stated on the article is the lack of bundled software friendliness. However, after playing around with the bundled software for a few minutes I got it to scan for the channels. Now testing the hardware receiver on XP Media center: Media Center was able to recognize the receiver and scan for the HD channels like a breeze. The only problem is the video quality is not as sharp as viewing it with the included software. My remote works great so I'm assuming his remote was probably defective. The remote only work with the included software. If you're planning to use it with Windows Media Center, you will need a separate Media Center remote. And also make sure your computer meet the minimum system requirement before purchasing or installing this product. A computer with a beefy horse power will less likely to experience no problem with this product. The good: The portability of this product makes it a nice tool to have when you want to watch TV show on the go. The bad: Bundled software need much improvement and increase ease of used. Bottom-line: For the price, it is a great TV tuner / hardware to have. Profession: Application Programmer

gjohnson
gjohnson

Since when is flash media subject to damage from a magnet?

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