Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 USB CableCARD Tuner
Hauppauge has had a long tradition of delivering tuners and capture solutions to the home theater PC (HTPC) market so it is only appropriate that the legacy continues in the modern era with Hauppauge’s new CableCARD offering, the WinTV-DCR-2650. Offering two tuners, a USB connection to PCs and a tantalizing low retail price in the Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) market, the WinTV-DCR-2650 is poised to find its way into many HTPC enthusiasts’ hands.
Packaging and Hardware
Our review sample did not come in the final retail packaging; however, we did receive all materials included in the package. Inside the box are the following contents:
- AC/DC power adapter
- USB cable
- Driver CD
- Quick install guide
The unit is primarily constructed out of black plastic with plenty of ventilation holes and wall-mounting holes that will allow both vertical and horizontal mounting. Dimensions are approximately 7 5/16" L x 4 1/2" W (incl. F-connector) x 1 1/4" H. LED functions and ports are clearly labeled. If there were a single word to describe the appearance, utilitarian seems the best choice.
The functionality of the front LEDs and rear ports are best described by the following diagrams:
The LEDs are encased by a somewhat cloudy plastic window which diffuses the light output into a pleasant and relatively dim glow.
When installing the CableCARD, it is important to insert it with the side containing the bar codes and numbers towards the bottom of the chassis. We were able to begin installing the CableCARD upside down, but, of course, we did not try to force the card in for fear of bending the interface pins hidden inside the unit.
Unless otherwise noted, all commentary regarding the feature set and functionality of the Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 relies on the use of the 29243 driver and firmware version.
The first thing to do upon connecting the WinTV-DCR-2650 is install the driver. Hauppauge provides a driver installation and firmware update utility on the WinTV-DCR-2650 support page that automates the process. It is recommended that you download and install those drivers versus those coming on the included CD which are most likely outdated.
Before we plugged our CableCARD in, we attempted to utilize the WinTV-DCR-2650 as a Clear QAM tuner. Try as we might, Windows 7 Media Center (7MC) failed to recognize the tuners without a CableCARD in place. Thanks to Missing Remote reader, bsieve, (did I mention, we have the best readers on the web? ;) ) we were able to get 7MC to successfully operate the WinTV-DCR-2650 with unencrypted QAM programming without the use of a CableCARD. The key is to continue setting up 7MC as a Digital Cable (CableCARD) tuner without a CableCARD inserted as shown in the gallery. When doing so, 7MC will perform a channel scan and QAM channels can be entered manually just as if a Clear QAM tuner had been detected.
Once our CableCARD was in place and the Digital Cable Advisor (DCA) in 7MC had been run, we stepped through the standard 7MC TV Setup process where both tuners were successfully detected as CableCARD tuners. As an aside, you can read more about my CableCARD installation process here.
Digging around Windows, we can see the Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 is installed as the typical network interface all DCTs are exposed as. We also have a web interface allowing diagnostic information to be displayed. One thing Hauppauge has yet to change is that the “Download drivers” and “Installation instructions” links currently point to incorrect pages. Instead of following the links, the latest drivers and instructions can be found on the product support page.
Hauppauge’s FAQ on the WinTV-DCR-2650 product page lists tuner sharing via Windows bridging as a feature, but when we tried to get this capability working the effort proved futile. We have asked for more instruction in this area and will be sure to provide instruction and an update once it is functional.
The first thing we tried was live TV. The WinTV-DCR-2650 gave full access to the cable package save for channels requiring the use of a tuning adapter. This is currently a known deficiency in the driver/firmware and we will update this review when we’ve confirmed that the issue has been resolved.
Update: Testing with the v29257 and v29259 driver/firmware package releases has revealed that tuning adapter support with our Cisco STA1520 is now working and SDV channels in the cable package can now be tuned properly.
Channel changes took about three to four seconds which is about as fast as we have come to expect from digital cable. When we tried resuming from sleep, we were pleasantly surprised at what seemed like instant availability of the DCT. By the time 7MC was launched and live TV engaged, the tuner was immediately ready for action. Of course, the WinTV-DCR-2650 is powered-on 24/7 so this may help explain why the resume time can be so quick.
We set up two separate continuous twenty-four hour recording sessions to stress the tuner. Three recording failures were observed (two in the first session and one in the second session) out of a total of seventy-nine recordings. Each failure was attributed to a “No TV Signal” error in the Media Center application error log. Several other recordings throughout a period of five days with the system allowed to sleep between recordings were all successful.
Update: When testing with the v29257 and v29259 driver/firmware package releases, the WinTV-DCR-2650 has successfully endured two twenty-four hour recording sessions without the "No TV Signal" errors observed before.
The WinTV-DCR-2650 was installed in an Intel Core i3-2100-based system that also contained a Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe to compare a couple things. First, we looked at resource usage with each tuner recording two identical programs. The only notable difference was that the USB-based WinTV-DCR-2650 required approximately 8% more CPU usage than the PCIe-based InfiniTV.
We then looked at the same channel using the same cable fed to both the WinTV-DCR-2650 and the InfiniTV 4 in a serial fashion. The most important factor, signal quality (aka signal-to-noise ratio), was virtually identical between the two with the Hauppauge reporting approximately a 0.5 to 1 dB better reading. The less important signal level/strength value of the WinTV-DCR-2650 was consistently higher by about 2 dBmV. Hauppauge engineering believes that any noticeable improvement could possibly be due to the tuners being external from the PC. We shouldn't read much into these values as they are merely calculated estimates. It would take an extensive amount of testing and costly equipment to truly determine the RF performance of each product. Even if the WinTV-DCR-2650 does have a slightly improved performance, any benefits would typically only be relevant for installations that are on the edge where an abnormal number of splits or other attenuating factors are degrading the signal level.
When we compared two identical programs recorded by the WinTV-DCR-2650 and the Ceton InfiniTV 4, there were no detectable differences in image or sound as we would expect with any DCT compared to one another since they capture exactly what is being sent by the cable provider.
We also were able to verify that the WinTV-DCR-2650 was functional with SageTV when using SageDCT to pipe in Copy Freely content.
The Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 is always on and draws power even when the PC is sleeping or powered off. The reward for this is that the tuner is almost immediately available when resuming from sleep. Each tuner instance requires 0.8 W.
Power Draw (watts)
The Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650 has the potential of offering a compelling choice in the market that is now brimming with DCTs as it is currently the least expensive way to gain access to the full slate of linear programming offered by a cable TV provider. It is external and can work with just about any Windows 7 PC so long as there is a free USB port. Tuning is always quick and responsive.
These are early days for the product which explains why some critical elements are outstanding. The lack of current support for tuning adapters and the “No TV Signal” issues observed are the most serious showstoppers at this time. We’ll be sure to update this review when they have been resolved.
Update: As of v29257 driver/firmware package release, the critical issues experienced with "No TV Signal" errors and lack of tuning adapter support have been resolved.
You may be wondering where you can buy a WinTV-DCR-2650. Currently, Hauppauge are continuing to fill pre-orders and plan to begin retail shipments beginning the second week of September.
- Flexible mounting options
- External form factor eases installation for those who are intimidated by opening a PC case and offers flexibility for small form factors and PCs without a free expansion slot
- Quick availability when resuming from sleep
- Quick channel changes
- Lowest cost entry for a DCT
- No TV Signal errors observed on a few recordings
- Tuning adapters are not yet supported
- Bridging support not yet explained/working
- Increased CPU usage over PCIe solution
Thanks to Hauppauge for providing the WinTV-DCR-2650 review sample.