|Price:||£65.8 inc VAT|
|Review Date:||Jan 2008|
Verdict: Get HD telly now with this dishy proposition.
You can pick up an HD-Ready TV for a few hundred quid these days, but what are you going to watch on it? You could purchase a Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive, and the few movies released on these formats, or you could use a PS3 or Xbox 360 (with an HD-DVD drive). Alternatively, you could subscribe to Sky or Telewest's HD services. However, none of these options is cheap, and terrestrial HD broadcasting isn't due for another five years.
Fortunately, Hauppauge claims to have a cheaper alternative that works now. For less than £70 and no subscription charge, the WinTV-NOVA-HD-S2 promises the ability to watch and record HD on your PC. However, you need a satellite dish to receive the broadcast signal. These are easily picked up, or you could use an old Sky dish.
The NOVA-HD-S2 is straightforward to install - plug it into a spare PCI slot and you're ready to start messing around with the software. Hauppauge provides a fully automated setup routine, so ignore Window's plug and pray, fire up Hauppage's installer and a few minutes later, all the appropriate drivers will have copied across. The NOVA-HD-S2 doesn't have Hauppauge's own WinTV app, as this doesn't support the MPEG-4 compression used by most HD satellite TV channels. Windows Media Center - including the Windows Vista version - also lacks the necessary MPEG-4 decoder. Media Center doesn't directly support satellite TV cards, although Hauppauge has a patch to fool MCE into thinking that DVB-S (satellite) is DVB-T (terrestrial digital).
Instead, CyberLink's excellent PowerCinema 5.1 is included. This flatters Media Centre by aping its appearance, which is no bad thing, considering how intuitive Microsoft's software is. PowerCinema works comfortably with Hauppauge's supplied remote control, providing complete couch-potato access to media stored on your PC, as well as TV playback and recording. It even has integrated news and weather feeds if you have an Internet connection.
Setting up the NOVA-HD-S2 in PowerCinema takes a little time, however. The initial channel scan took around ten minutes to complete on our system, mainly because there were 900 channels to be detected. Populating the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) took even longer, as this also must be downloaded from the channel broadcasts (not the Internet), and 900 is a lot of channels to get through.
Once channel scanning and setup is complete, the NOVA-HD-S2 is easy to operate. The EPG will be familiar to users of satellite or cable set-top boxes, and setting up a recording from the EPG and BBC HD requires a single click. You can also set the NOVA-HD-S2 to record a channel between specific times, and pause live TV. As you'd expect, the BBC HD service is of noticeably better video quality than the standard channels.
Returning to the subject of the satellite dish, if you have Sky installed, or an old dish from a lapsed service, you should be able to hook up the NOVA-HD-S2. You can't use a splitter to pass one connection to multiple receivers, but most new Sky installations offer a couple of LNB outputs. A Sky Plus box will use both to record one channel while showing another.
If you don't have a dish, you can buy one for £50, including installation. If you have a dish with multiple LNBs, the NOVA-HD-S2 supports DiSEqC 1.0, allowing it to switch between as many as four different satellite LNB feeds from one dish. You could potentially have thousands of European channels from which to choose.
However, who wants to watch low-resolution French porn all the time? The HD content is the Hauppauge's main selling point. Currently, on the Astra 2D satellite used by Sky, there's only one UK free-to-air channel available - the BBC's HD trial. This is now undergoing the process of accreditation to become an official channel broadcasting nine hours a day. However, Channel 4 and ITV plan to launch free-to-air HD channels in March.
There are also HD channels available on other satellites - check out http://en.kingofsat.net/hdtv.php for more details. Although a lot of these channels are encrypted, Hauppauge now offers a WinTV-CI to add an appropriate CAM and SmartCard with subscriptions to make these premium channels available on your PC. This doesn't officially include Sky HD, as only Sky hardware supports this service. However, it's allegedly possible to make it work with the right CAM and a valid subscription.
Hauppauge's WinTV-NOVA-HD-S2 is also the first TV tuner to support the new DVB-S2 standard. Even the BBC HD trial is still on DVB-S, although it's broadcast using MPEG-4, and will be switching to DVB-S2. Channel 4 and ITV will launch on S2. The NOVA-HD-S2 is therefore the first card on the UK market that will let you watch these channels when they arrive.
With terrestrial HD DVB-T broadcasting only due in 2012, your only option if you want to watch live HDTV on your PC is satellite. Hauppauge's WinTV-NOVA-HD-S2 is currently unique in its ability to offer relatively painless access to BBC HD, plus more channels in the near future. This makes this tuner an innovative product that does exactly what it says it can do. It needs a satellite dish, but even the extra cost of buying and installing one (around £50) doesn't rule out the NOVA-HD-S2.