Ah the joys of business travel. Once again we were grounded at DFW because of thunderstorms after three days of meetings in New York City.

We could have done our trip reports but simply weren’t in the mood.

We wanted to let our brain unwind but watching the CNN repeats on the two airport monitors wasn’t on our wishlist.

We had two hours to kill so we decided we’d test the new notebook add-on we’d bought for our son at a big box store for his return to college. He had put in his request for a flat screen TV and stereo system but we’d found something that seemed to be just the ticket for his school apartment and a heck of a lot less expensive.


It was Pinnacle’s PCTV HD Pro Stick and if the package was right it would do it all – anytime, anywhere standard and high-def TV viewing; DVR time-shifting; pause, rewind, fast-forward functions; even the ability to grab area radio stations. About the size of a standard USB flash drive, seemed pretty difficult to believe that the little device (plus the telescoping antenna and mini IR remote) could turn his new Media Center notebook into a complete entertainment center.

Our Centrino Core Duo notebook with 1GB of RAM, 120GB HD, NVIDIA graphics controller with DirectX9 support and internal DVD burner was more than powerful enough to test his new college entertainment solution.

We fearlessly opened the box and wondered where all the TV parts were. The complete package included the USB 2.0 stick, USB extender cable, antenna, AV input adapter, remote, quick start guide and two CDs – one for the PCTV installation, one labeled Pinnacle Studio QuickStart.

The HD tuner for our big plasma TV at home cost $500 and needed a technician to connect it to our cable system.

This unit cost less than $130, had everything we needed including its own antenna and ability to connect to cable, dish or outdoor antenna. Hard to believe that the little package could capture any TV signal over-the-air including next generation ATSC digital TV, ED and HD TV as well as standard definition TV, even area radio stations

Figure 1 – All-In-One – The Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick package includes everything you need to set up your desktop or notebook computer to receive and watch TV thru-the-air. Initial set-up takes about 20 minutes. After that you can connect the components to your well-powered notebook and watch your shows in minutes.

Figure 2 – Choose Your Source – While you’re on the road you simply plug in the USB SD/HD TV tuner stick to your notebook system, connect the collapsible antenna and grab TV channels over the air. At home you can use the A/V input adapter (shown above) to connect to cable, dish system or outdoor antenna.

What better way to test the product than in the middle of a thunder storm in the middle of Texas?

We connected the PCTV HD Pro stick to one of our USB 2.0 ports, connected the collapsible antenna and loaded the PCTV MediaCenter installation CD in our drive. Set-up instructions were easy to follow and took about 20 minutes.

We let the unit scan all of the available TV channels it could find and were surprised to see more than 15 SD and 10 HD channels on the list. By double-clicking on the channel we were able to preview the show in the small window.

For the next hour-and-a half we toggled between five different channels/programs just as we would do at home. A number of folks who were tired of the baseball game looked over our shoulder as we went between PBS and other shows. Just when we thought we’d try out the timeshifting feature – the ability to watch one show and record another – our flight was called so we would have to wait until we got home to see if we really could record shows and watch them anytime we would like.

Since we never mastered our VCR we weren’t optimistic.

On the flight home we read the quick start guide more thoroughly and poked around the software. It was still hard to believe we could put our notebook computer and a TV receiver in our backpack but it was all there!

The next evening we set up in our home office and focused on turning one of our other PCs into a complete all-in-one entertainment center so we could record shows we often missed on the Discovery and History channels for later viewing. The buttons on the top navigation bar let you choose the features – TV, radio, playback, EPG. The buttons on the bottom bar provide timeshift control – channel up/down, stop, play/pause, record, volume, view advanced timeshift features and channel name/number.

Figure 3 – MediaCenter — The included software instantly turns your notebook or desktop system into an all-in-one entertainment center delivering TV and radio entertainment as well as easy access to all of the music, photos and video stored on your system.

We tried the collapsible antenna again and were surprised to receive more than 30 stations thru-the-air. When we used the dongle that came with the product we connected to our cable and were immediately able to receive/view shows on our 24-in monitor in brilliant HD.

The EPG (Electronic Program Guide) was remarkably easy to use and was good for our home since we had never bothered to buy one of those timeshifting boxes/services. Instantly we had a DVR (digital video recorder) without any monthly contract fees or access tracking.

We accessed the channel list and clicked on the channel name/number field.

Figure 4 – Timeshifting – After choosing the TV and radio stations/channels you want to view/listen to with the online EPG (Electronic Program Guide), you can also use the PCTV HD solution to timeshift programs. You can record content for later viewing so you can watch it when you want, where you want. It is a full DVR (digital video recorder) without the high initial cost and monthly charges.

It was just that easy to pick the shows we wanted to timeshift and record on our home NAS (network attached storage). While we prefer to move the shows to our notebook when we’re on a trip, the kids also use it to record shows they can download to their video MP3 players, smartphones and PSP.

The infrared remote controller is smaller than the one we use for our family room plasma set but it’s great for giving you complete TV control without having to be sitting at the desk or keeping your notebook at arm’s length.

The only downside we found in turning our home office computer into the all-in-one entertainment MediaCenter for our household was that we had to visit the big box store again. Our son insisted he had to have the unit we had bought for him to take to college and the wife has gotten accustomed to timeshifting programs so she can watch them when it is convenient for her.

He got his.

We bought the third unit that now goes with us when we’re on a trip. If we don’t like the show we timeshifted we simply scan the stations in the local area and watch something else…anywhere, anytime.

For more information on the Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick visit www.pinnaclesys.com.