October 17, 2006 1:15 PM PDT

Turning your laptop into HDTV

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In this age of slick plasma sets and mobile television, a new device marries the high-tech TV experience with a bygone era--a time when getting good reception meant fiddling with rabbit ears.

The $179 OnAir GT by start-up AutumnWave is an ashtray-size high-definition tuner that plugs into your laptop, turning it into an HDTV set. I recently tested the device at CNET Networks' headquarters in San Francisco.

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Video: OnAir GT makes your laptop a TV set
Device relies on an antenna to pick up broadcasts.

At a time when a host of companies are trying to stream video over the Web, the GT relies on an antenna to pick up over-the-air analog and digital broadcasts. The device could shine when people find themselves without access to the Web or a TV set. Think airport delays, camping trips and crowded college dorm rooms with too few televisions.

AutumnWave, based in New Bloomfield, Penn., is trying to take advantage of two relatively recent developments: Most laptops are now equipped with HD-enabled monitors, and the air is filling up with HDTV signals.

One misconception about high definition is that it's only available via cable and satellite transmissions and must be viewed on expensive plasma or liquid crystal display sets. Not true. More than 1,500 TV stations in the United States are now broadcasting HD signals over the air.

This means anybody with an HD tuner should be able to watch high-definition broadcasts.

OnAir GT

After downloading the software needed to run the OnAir GT and connecting the device to my laptop via a USB 2.0 port, I received over-the-air broadcasts from more than two dozen stations. That was from the sixth floor of CNET's office building downtown. Elsewhere in downtown, results were mixed. At a Starbucks near the intersection of Market and Second streets, I couldn't locate any signals.

Surprisingly, I did get relatively good reception from my home in the city's Sunset District, which is surrounded by steep hills. San Francisco, with its numerous inclines, is famous for obstructing broadcast signals.

Razor sharp, yet choppy
Nonetheless, the hills didn't stop me last week from receiving razor-sharp images of Phoenician sailboats and Egyptian mummies during a documentary on KQED, a San Francisco-based public broadcasting station. I watched the American League Championship Series from my office and saw jaw-dropping clarity and depth when the Detroit Tigers' Magglio Ordonez hit his game-winning home run.

But those broadcasts, while digital, were standard definition.

Only one of the HD broadcasts I tried to watch came in clear. The other HD signals were choppy, shuddering so much they were almost unwatchable in full-screen format. In a smaller window, the jarring was still annoying but tolerable for short periods.

AutumnWave denies that it has seen this jumpiness elsewhere. Patrick Castellani, AutumnWave's president and chief operating officer, who stopped in San Francisco to talk about the product, said the HD tuner within the GT is made by LG Electronics, and as long as a signal is readily available the GT can produce HD-quality images.

"If someone can receive their local station, they can receive the station's digital broadcast," he said.

I'd still buy a GT. Even without the HD, it's is a nifty piece of gadgetry, and I enjoyed being able to watch live TV on my laptop while cleaning my room or checking e-mail.

At $179, the GT allows me to acquire a backup TV for far less cost. The product, which sells on AutumnWave's Web site, is light and highly mobile and provides an excellent picture from standard definition signals, be they analog or digital. Consumers can also connect the device to an HDTV cable box and record programming on a PC hard drive.

See more CNET content tagged:
digital broadcast, San Francisco, HDTV, station, broadcasting

19 comments

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Nice, but...
Where's the Macintosh version?
Posted by macdannyk1 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's a work around
I didn't see one available. Until it is (if ever) you will need MS Windows. There are programs available that will let you run it on a Mac.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Here's a work around for you
I didn't see one available. Until it is (if ever) you will need MS Windows. There are programs available that will let you run it on a Mac.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
I have to agree
Even if you could only reliably receive standard definition TV signals, this is a great idea.

In the UK you can get a similar device for regular standard definition TV's (just about every home in the UK has an antenna, so they are expecting a large uptake of over-the-air digital tv subscription competing with the usual cable/satellite packages which have already gone over to digital only service).

This would be a great alternative for those that don't need premium channels like HBO, etc and I don't see why this wouldn't work with desktop PCs as well (watching TV at work instead of spending the day on the 'net?) - in fact I might get one just for this!

But to travel with the capability of picking up local channels, even if the only reliable ones are SD would be brilliant.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Great idea, wrong hardware
You guys should have tested the FusionHDTV USB tuner instead. It works great for me, even on my old Dell Inspiron 700m or circa 2002 desktop (with Ti4200 video card) I can pull in sweet HDTV at 720p or 1080i with 5.1 audio. The only thing it can't do is play and record simultaneously - that requires more processor and disk speed. With a dual core machine I'm sure these babies would rock as a complete TiVo 3 replacement.
Posted by whogrant (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I disagree...
I own both the Fusion and the OnAir GT, and my fusion is sitting on the shelf collecting dust. I travel a lot and the GT doesn't drain my laptop's battery like the fusion, and the GT's software is a lot more stable, too! The OnAir outperforms any other tuner I've owned, and I use it to record shows to my computer. When I'm on the road, I'll use the antenna that came with the GT, which works well. I was able to fix a choppy channel by simply repositioning the antenna. I don't use it regularly on cable TV, but I can get some HD and a bunch of regular TV stations on it, if I wanted to. IMO, the fusion is certainly not as dependable as my GT is...
Posted by jnnygrad (1 comment )
Link Flag
Welcome to the future, we've been waiting
I've been tuning tv through an ATI all in wonder since the mid '90s. Actually, my next machine is the first personal rig I've planned to build without a vide/tv-tuner combination card. I guess the new thing here is the HD quality which is also now supported by a load of tv tuner makers.

I do have a question though, can anyone out there recommend the prefered tv-tuner for *nix systems? X 7.1 is suposed to have native ATI tuner support but us ATI owners have been an afterthought until now.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Try one of these
ATI cards are great, but they are always behind with their linux support. I would look at the MYTHTV (a great DVR-on-a-disc distro) hardware compatibility list (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://pvrhw.goldfish.org/" target="_newWindow">http://pvrhw.goldfish.org/</a>) to find a good card and building advice.
Posted by MTigerV (2 comments )
Link Flag
cross-compare similar products?
I'd be interested in seeing c|net compare similar products, especially the Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick and the Fusion USB tuner. How is the Pinnacle Pro Stick different from the AutumnWave?
* Less expensive.
* Smaller (about the size of a Flash memory stick).
* Works with Windows MCE. (The AutumnWave is only compatable with MCE on its analog tuner, you loose HDTV support, so if your PC comes with MCE pre-installed, you must install/maintain two media players.)
* Pinnacle promises that Mac support is coming "real soon now." Of course take that with a grain of salt.

I have no connection with any of these companies, but I'm in the market for a USB HDTV tuner (preferably compatable with Windoze MCE), and before I drop $100-$200, I'd like to see some real-world testing and comparisons.

The Fusion tuner (at least the latest model) also uses the LG v5 tuner chip. So I'd be interested to know why one user reported that the AutumnWave was so much more capable. Drivers or other software/firmware?
Posted by Brad Hansen (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
USB HDTV support for laptops
Replying to Brad Hansen's email, did you ever run across any comparison testing for your TV Tuner questions? I am also in the market and trying to discover which products would work the best for my new laptop. Any help you found would be great.
Posted by pwickens (2 comments )
Link Flag
Mobile its NOT.
Your article suggest that this is a mobile receiver. It is not. The US modulation, 8-VSB, is the worst in the world and is not capable of mobile reception.

At best this is a portable receiver.

The best digital TV modulation in the world is DMB-TH just chosen by China and developed here in the US. It CAN do HDTV mobile as can the European standard, DVB-T/H and the Japanese standard ISDB-T.

Every country but Canada and Mexico that looked at our modulation rejected it. China and Brazil being the latest.

We should reject it to and for the most part we are. That is broadcasters, retailers manufacturers and the public for the most part are paying very little attention to over the air broadcasting.

Hopefully, maybe, 8-VSB will just go away.
Posted by robmx (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Jittery Picture
It is both the tuner and the digital signal that is the problem. Unlike analog with digital if you do not have 75% signal strenght you will not get an usiable picture. With analog you can still watch but with a degree of snow related with signal strength. The stations need to push more power out, than before for addiquit viewing and the tuners really need to implement a preamp to strength the digital signals. Until then, people are going to continue to complain about this.
Posted by LinuxRules (222 comments )
Reply Link Flag
HDTV Works Great in SF!
We just reviewed the OnAir GT over at notebooks.com and were able to tune into 25 DTV channels, 7 of which are HDTV. I agree that this isn't quite ready for primetime (there are some software/support issues), but I can't understand how/why your tuner missed all the HD channels. I tried it in a few places around the city and it worked just fine. Hint-make sure 'timeshifting' is disabled in the options menu, some notebooks can have some trouble keeping up with the massive scratch files.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.notebooks.com/?p=149" target="_newWindow">http://www.notebooks.com/?p=149</a>
Posted by Notebooks.com (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Record Flickering Lines for $179
Whenever I record, there is a flickering line at the top of the screen that makes the result too irritating to even look at. Technical support says the line will always be there. That's a lot of help. I sure am glad they have technical support.

I only got this piece to record with. I really never bought into the idea of watching HDTV on a computer screen. I wanted to record, burn to DVD, and watch it on the big screen.

The other reviewers must only use this thing to watch TV.

OnAirGT comes with WinDVD Creator 2. It promises you can capture and burn the result to DVD. This is only a half kept promise because it will not and, according to Autumn Wave technical support, cannot capture anything digital, only hopelessly doomed analog.

That will be of no use come February 2009 and it is of little use now. Analog, I wonder, should I make it a really long and involved process with OnAirGT, WinDVD Creator 2, do a capture, create a project, create a movie, and burn to DVD, or just use a freaking VCR!

Sure there are a lot of other software options and I already own some that allow the .trp recorded video to be converted to mpeg and the mpeg converted to .vob with complete structure for burning and playback on a standard DVD player. The whole problem is this stupid, irritating flickering line at the top of the video.

If you plan on recording, forget it.

I returned it for refund. What a waste of time.
Posted by Jon Griffith (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I can never tell if the hardware I am looking at will support the USA standards. Every ad I have seeen just discusses "HD" and I know there are many different standards. Most websites. manufacturer's included are not specific. How about a simple statement "This device supports current USA standards." How har would that be?
Posted by patcheye.com (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hey, this is how you can do it . Its very easy , and you don t have to pay for the channels
All you need is your laptop ..imagine 3500 channels worldwide and you don t have to pay for them every month
Good luck and enjoy your new"tv"
http://e9ce6whcpeh5li4duujftk0s0e.hop.clickbank.net/
Posted by georgia2306 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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