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Pinnacle HD Pro Stick: Decent Hardware, Terrible Software

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November 16, 2006 12:49:35 PM

Mike Baggaley liked Pinnacle's diminutive SD/HD USB tuner-as long as he didn't have to use the bundled software.
November 16, 2006 2:05:19 PM

Anyone who has worked with ANY Pinnacle software for the last 10 years knows that .... its sh8*&^. Sorry, but it is true. Their capture edit software (Studio) ALWAYS takes at least three major patches over a year and a half after release before it becomes stable. It's a serious QA problem that is characteristic of Pinnacle. To their merit, they usually get things under control after an extended period of time.

That said, they will probably fix the software for this device. The product, though, is fundamentally crippled (as are a lot of HDTV solutions) if it does not support unencrypted QAM feeds. This device is useless to me because I live in an apartment and cannot put an HDTV antenna on top of the house. Had it been able to do clear QAM, I'd be in for one. Too bad.
November 16, 2006 5:40:46 PM

What do you mean QAM? What does that stand for?

Im currently living in the dorms at college and am too cheap to spring for cable ($50 a month is more than i spend a month on food!). That said, I live in the dorm and am thinking about getting this.

It would be my first experiment in PVRs and TV Tuners for computers, but at 130, i dont think i can go too wrong. Now the article complains about the supplied software and offers MCE as an alternative, my laptop has XP home.... what about GB-PVR?

I dont have a dedicated antenna either, how good would the supplied one work if i put it near a window?

Im not that concerned about HD, but i would like to be able to leave my computer to record some shows...

On the topic of recording, what file format gives the best sound/resolution for the smallest file size?

Any answers would be greatly appreciated, thanks!
Anonymous
November 16, 2006 5:57:28 PM

Never never never never NEVER ever! Buy a product from pinnacle. First off, the hardware is plain crap. I won't go into detail, but just try to find third party software that works with it. If you manage to find something the picture and the sound still will be asynchronous. Nothing you can do about that.

And then:

Pinnacle media center for example. it starts with the installation where you can chose NOT to install things like TVTV or BS like this. Not install my arse, yeah right. Let's say you'll end up with a 800meg install to be able to watch TV.

I think you got the point. I hate pinnacle. From my deepest heart and soul. Any one want a pinnacle TV card? gimme you address I send it over for free and even pay you a few drinks. You'll need them for sure.
November 16, 2006 6:00:34 PM

Quote:
What do you mean QAM? What does that stand for?


I dont know what it stands for (Qxxx Axxxx Modulation)... too lazy to look it up on google.... but it is the encoding that cable systems use to send digital/HD broadcasts. They encrypt the channels for premium content, but are required by law to not encrypt the stuff that would be free over the air.
Quote:

Im currently living in the dorms at college and am too cheap to spring for cable ($50 a month is more than i spend a month on food!). That said, I live in the dorm and am thinking about getting this.


Then you would have to use OTA (over the air) broadcasts.
Quote:

It would be my first experiment in PVRs and TV Tuners for computers, but at 130, i dont think i can go too wrong. Now the article complains about the supplied software and offers MCE as an alternative, my laptop has XP home.... what about GB-PVR?


Dont know.

Quote:

I dont have a dedicated antenna either, how good would the supplied one work if i put it near a window?


If you are not in the city and close to the source, that itty bitty antenna will be useless. They make a couple of good winegard and <other brand> HDTV antennas that cost from $20 to $60 that will do the job well if you can get a clear shot to the transmitter. Since you are trying to get over-the-air anyway, you might as well go High Definition... everything is broadcast in BOTH formats right now. Why not choose the HD?

Quote:

Im not that concerned about HD, but i would like to be able to leave my computer to record some shows...

see above. If you are going for over the air, HD is as available as analog, so go HD!

Quote:

On the topic of recording, what file format gives the best sound/resolution for the smallest file size?


A .ts (transport stream) subchannel of HD runs about 6gig per hour.

An mpeg2 stream runs about 3Gig per hour. These are all you want to consider.

Disk space is so cheap, get an external USB harddrive and have at with the transport stream.
November 16, 2006 6:16:48 PM

Quote:

I dont know what it stands for (Qxxx Axxxx Modulation)... too lazy to look it up on google.... but it is the encoding that cable systems use to send digital/HD broadcasts. They encrypt the channels for premium content, but are required by law to not encrypt the stuff that would be free over the air.

Is there such thing as software that can de-encrypt the signal? :twisted:

Quote:
A .ts (transport stream) subchannel of HD runs about 6gig per hour.

An mpeg2 stream runs about 3Gig per hour. These are all you want to consider.

Disk space is so cheap, get an external USB harddrive and have at with the transport stream.


So this turns out into something even more expensive than at first it seems... I need to buy an external HD anyways.

The article obvously says: STAY AWAY from the software. I have already heard of a patch to the software, though others say it takes several patches and over a year to really smooth things out. What are other options besides MCE and the incorporated?
November 16, 2006 8:52:14 PM

Quote:
...they will probably fix the software for this device. The product, though, is fundamentally crippled (as are a lot of HDTV solutions) if it does not support unencrypted QAM feeds.


I would hope that future versions of the software will be much improved, but in my opinion, it would have to be a ground-up fix. I agree, the lack of QAM support is a loss, but at the same time, I have to throw in that the Pro Stick is being marketed as a portable tuner and OTA is a little more versitile in that regard. QAM would have been great though. :) 

Quote:
What do you mean QAM? What does that stand for?


To expand on rdhood’s explanation QAM stands for Quadrature amplitude modulation. It refers to the type of digital cable signal that is transmitted to your TV. The benefit of QAM tuners is that they do not rely on the considerably less stable over the air signal; rather, they pull the HD signal right off of your digital cable. Before you get too excited however, QAM enabled tuners do not provide access to all digital cable HD stations. They are only able to decode stations that are considered “free and clear” which means that only the stations that haven’t been encrypted are accessable. Usually cable companies encrypt all stations that are not required to be “free and clear” by law, which generally leaves you with a handful of local broadcast stations. For those looking to get access to all of their digital cable stations, you’ll have to wait until the cable card tuners hit the market. (The last time I looked they still weren’t out yet, but are reportedly compatible with Windows Vista)

Quote:
what about GB-PVR?
There’s an article here http://www.denguru.com/2006/04/25/htpc_on_the_cheap_wit... on Denguru from an individual who is really enthusiastic about GBPVR. I haven’t tried it yet, but for my money, (or in this case the lack thereof) you can’t get something better for free than Media Portal which was developed by the same people that wrote The Xbox media center. It’s feature rich and pretty easy to use. I didn’t test the Pro Stick with either of these software solutions, but at least you’re not shelling out any dough to find out if they work.

Quote:
I dont have a dedicated antenna either, how good would the supplied one work if i put it near a window?


There is a website, that will tell you according to your geographical location how to best place your HD antenna I’ll look it up and get back to you with a link. Rdhood is right, OTA is really dependent on signal strength and the better the antenna, the happier you’ll be.

Quote:
On the topic of recording, what file format gives the best sound/resolution for the smallest file size?


It’s really based on your preference and your available disk space. .ts or .tp are high resolution MPEG2 transport streams and they’re beautiful However the file size is so large that you’ll soon find yourself with a space issue. (Personally I have about 3 terabytes of space to house recordings and such and I run out of space all the time.) If your computer can handle it you get the best bang for your buck with DivX. But MPEG 2 is a close second.

Quote:
Is there such thing as software that can de-encrypt the signal?


None that I am aware of at the moment.

Quote:
I have already heard of a patch to the software, though others say it takes several patches and over a year to really smooth things out. What are other options besides MCE and the incorporated?


I patched to the latest version of the software that was available when I wrote the article. (not sure if it’s the same one that is currently available)

If you’re looking to buy. I really liked Beyond TV. http://www.denguru.com/2006/06/29/snapstream_beyond_tv_... In fact it’s my favorite so far.
November 16, 2006 10:13:49 PM

I'm posting this for a reader who sent a question via email

Quote:


What version of the pinnacle software were you using? Looking at their site today, the most recent is 4.5.3. I'm curious as to what version you were using in order to give me an idea whether I can give the updates a try or to ditch the software altogether.

Great article, I was just considering a USB tuner the other day for my laptop, this fulfilled everything I expected and more. Thanks!


The Pinnacle software has an auto updater that checks for a new version when you install it. I performed the update during testing, but I didn't reference the version that it updated to. (The testing on the ProStick was performed late last month)

Hope that helps.

Thanks for your comment!

-Mike
November 16, 2006 10:28:35 PM

That was actually me :D  , I didn't know that the authors of the articles participated in the forumz. Glad to know, thanks for the answer!
November 16, 2006 10:36:33 PM

Quote:
If you’re looking to buy. I really liked Beyond TV. http://www.denguru.com/2006/06/29/snapstream_beyond_tv_... In fact it’s my favorite so far.


Looking at the BTV website for supported tuner devices, there are several Pinnacle devices listed, one is "Pinnacle PCTV (USB)" and offers a driver for it. Would that be the Pro Stick?
November 17, 2006 5:15:40 AM

Yep, that's Pinnacle. Novel hardware (I own a DV300 and a DV500), but no matter how much their software "matures" it never quite reaches adulthood.
November 17, 2006 6:32:19 AM

Your article said as much about system configurations as it was about using the Pinnacle product.

Just to be constructive. Most likely you already have credit for the resulting question. The Pinnacle software....

Two reasons that the certain file(s) would not have run:

- decoders are proprietary

- file associations are controlled by another application,or applications.

Of course the reason the certain Audio ran,is because perhaps Pinnacle provided its decoder. (I dont know if this is true).

Being that to create a certain format,you need and encoder. Then in order to play it back you need a 'decoder. .... I had read in an article that the 'decoders are fairly conductive to the proprietary players.

You said that for example,the Real files had played. The 'decoder was available to the Pinnacle because (and check me here) Real IS INSTALLED on the computer.

Dealing with these encoder/decoders isn't as explicit as dealing with the 'file associations. Since encoders/decoders are conductive of the proprietary nature of them most often - hint,the ideal of the 'decoder being propietary....there is still unsettled differences in the applications wich play them back. While 'file associations are only explicit because you can control them with the operating system software.

Hope you keep jamming the wearwithals about those formats requiring encoders. Cause I would like to pick up a little more about them. They usually make themselves known as explicit as the propriety detailing (or not) the use of them for their products. And little else is said about them.

Maybe you got it glued.

Good article.
November 18, 2006 10:31:17 PM

Alright, I went to Best Buy today to look at one of these. Wow, that remote is TINY! I had a few questions that the uneducated workers there couldn't answer...

First off, we know it has its little antenna and can get HD over ATSC, but what about if I plug in the connection from my cable company? I'm talking about basic cable, the 70 or so channels that they offer bundled together, and that isn't in HD? Will the Pro Stick be able to record that? The truth is that I'm not all that worried about the HD, though if I knew of some show or sporting event came on in HD, I would record it in that over the normal, but really all I'm looking for out of this is a light PVR that will be connected to my Laptop whenever I'm in the dorm.

And what if down the road I get digital cable or satellite, something that requires a "box". Can the Pro Stick tune the box?

Thanks for any responses!
November 20, 2006 2:50:34 AM

I have had one of these tuners for about a month, and I have to say that I like it. I agree, the software sucks. However, it works better for me than Hauppage WinTV does. I got them both working, eventually, but the Pinnacle seems to work better.

In any case, it's already been reviewed so I don't need or want to do that myself. But to answer your most recent questions Gavinmh, yes, it works just fine with cable if you're paying for it. At least for analog cable it's working fine. I was using it all day today on my laptop, it works well.

As for tuning something that needs a "box," I can not answer your question. I suppose since it does come with the S-video and composite video inputs you could use it as a monitor for analog signals from a cable box, but you would not be able to "tune" the channel. You should be able to record the signal still though.

To answer one of your previous questions, I also live on a college campus. My school is in the middle of a major city, so it may be a little bit differnt situation than your's, but could still help. In any case, using the included wimpy antenna, I can pick up most of the HD channels in my area. It does have issues with any 1080 signals, with frame stuttering and audio/video mismatches, but it does work. The 720 signals are beautiful and flawless. I personally think that the reason for issues with 1080 is not due to the signal but rather the huge amount of information over the USB connection. If you want to record HD, I'd recommend anything other than a USB external hard drive. When I've tried that over USB, let's just say things didn't work out that well. Using firewire I had no issues. I don't have eSATA, so I can't say if that works better or not.

Hope this helps.
November 20, 2006 12:50:28 PM

Thanks so much, that answered the last of my questions, atleast until I go out and buy it on wednesday!

Actually, one of the above posts talked about codecs and them being proprietary and such, if I use the supplied software, will I have to hunt around and get my own codecs for the formats I want to save in/view in?
November 20, 2006 8:50:44 PM

I have not needed to hunt around for codecs. I've really only recorded in Divx, and it either came with it in the software package or I already had it on my computer. It is a new computer, but I bought it from Sony and I'm still finding things on it that I didn't know they helpfully "gave" me. It's quite possible they installed the Divx codec then.
November 21, 2006 4:27:57 PM

Quote:
Being that to create a certain format,you need and encoder. Then in order to play it back you need a 'decoder. .... I had read in an article that the 'decoders are fairly conductive to the proprietary players.


proper acquisition of codecs will likely always be an issue, but files that should use the same codec such as DivX should behave consistently. I think it comes down to the fact that most of the time, the software that ships with any TV tuner hardware should be considered, at best, a temporary solution.

Quote:
And what if down the road I get digital cable or satellite, something that requires a "box". Can the Pro Stick tune the box?


The problem that you are going to run into with a cable or satellite "set top box" is changing channels. You'll need to get a remote can interface with the box using an IR blaster. (The included one will not.) Most media center software will contain some sort of tutorial on how to set up a set top box.

Quote:
will I have to hunt around and get my own codecs for the formats I want to save in/view in?


This would depend on whether or not the DVR software that you choose to use comes bundled with a set of codecs. Otherwise, getting DivX is simple
November 22, 2006 3:58:21 PM

I just noticed that these are being sold on the WOOT today for $84.99.
November 29, 2006 4:25:50 PM

I received an email from Eddie with some more information regarding the open source media center software compatibility

Quote:
"I read your review on this product and ordered it, however, contrary to the article, I can't get it to work with the 2 open source media centers. Anywhere I can look to get help?"


That's disappointing news. I apologize for making the assumption that the open source solutions would work with the Pro Stick. I have had great success with compatibility using the open source media centers in the past. If you're feeling adventurous and don't mind leaving the windows OS you could try Knoppmyth which is another open source solution.

That being said, the Pro Stick is a reasonably new product and it might be merely a matter of time before it is supported.

Open source projects are usually open to suggestions. I would make sure to post in their forums to see if they have any plans to support the pro stick in the future.

[/quote]
December 27, 2006 7:56:17 PM

Quote:
MichaelBaggaley wrote: There is a website, that will tell you according to your geographical location how to best place your HD antenna I’ll look it up and get back to you with a link. Rdhood is right, OTA is really dependent on signal strength and the better the antenna, the happier you’ll be.


Check AntennaWeb.org for a nice little antenna primer and info on how to point your antenna.


-
May 3, 2007 6:56:33 PM

i tried the Pro Stick a few weeks backs... big mistake. it locked up my CPU at 100% during install and i haven't been able to play video since. not WMP not Beyond TV. nothing. F*CK BAD SOFTWARE and cheap ass companies who route their support problems to India. Pinnacle could do nothing for me.

maybe someone here has advice. i think it first happened during the DivX portion of the (very long and messy) install. now everytime i try to play video the same exact thing happens: CPU hits the roof and everything starts to hang until i end task whatever player. no video to be seen

i just spent $$ on BT and a new Hauppauger card that just sits here. waiting. i promise to love anyone who can make video appear again on my monitor
May 3, 2007 7:07:30 PM

Here are some fairly elementary steps you can try:

Uninstall the Software (obvious and probably already done)
Clean the registry of any remnants of the software. You can do a search for pinnacle and delete probably every entry that contains that. OR if you feel uncomfortable with that, download a registry cleaner such as EZ16 power tools or EZcleaner.Use an audio video codec cleaner to clear out bad codec entries, which could be the problem. I used to know a good one, but I can't remember what its called anymore.

Hopefully these will help at least a little bit.
May 3, 2007 10:48:12 PM

was it maybe Vidc.Cleaner? just tried that and the report came out clean. still no video. also tried EasyCleaner but no go.

damn. really wish i could fix this... any other ideas?
!