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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.

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