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The Audio Critic

Home Theater BIG Screen, 2000 watts

MP3's v.s CD's, DTS v.s Dolby and other Stuff

Macrovision and how you can avoid it

Read this article for some Sound Advice

Build your own set of biline speakers

Spherex 5.1 (Home Theater in a box) Speaker Review

Proview RX-326 32" LCD HDTV Review

LG LDA-371 DVD Player Review

A Computer for the Living Room, a look at HTPC's

Spyder3TV Review

ATSC: what is it and why should you care

Boxee Box Review

Macrovision protection on VHS Tapes

I recently embarked on a crusade to find the perfect solution that would enable me to record a Macrovision encoded signal without the aid of any external devices, also the recorded signal had to be completely free of any artifacts that this anti-piracy mechanism was famous for introducing into the video capture I decided to avoid VHS/S-VHS units and attempt to record directly to a computer. Obvious benefits would be ease of editing and the ability to transfer any captured material directly to DVD, also once captured the material would remain in its digital format throughout the entire process.

I started on this journey after purchasing an ATI All-in-Wonder 9000 pro video card and attempting to convert my daughters substantial VHS collection to DVD. Basically the ATI purchase was problematic to say the least, you can read about that Here.

I quickly discovered that it was not going to be possible despite my best efforts with that capture device. So I purchased the following devices and tested them against Macrovision to try and determine which was the best capture device, the list with a description of the device is below.

  • AVerMedia UltraTV USB 300
    Award Winning, Palm Sized USB 2.0 TV Tuner & Personal Video Recorder (PVR)
    Award Winning, all-in-one Hi-Speed USB 2.0 TV Tuner/PVR that can do it all! Use the PVR features to Pause, Rewind and Instantly Playback Live TV so you will never miss an exciting TV moment! Experience unprecedented TV clarity with AVerMedia’s exclusive V-Sharp De-Interlace technology. Get rid of those stacks of VHS tape by converting them to DVDs! You can even personalize them with the included basic and advanced editing software from Ulead! With a fully resizable window and 16 channel TV preview, the UltraTV USB 300 is versatile yet complete TV Tuner solution!
  • Hauppauge WinTV-GO
    Live TV from 125-channel cable ready tuner or from external audio/video source. TV-in-a-window (any size) up to full screen. Channel surf 16 channels.
    SoftPVR™ for making digital recordings in an MPEG or DivX® format, from TV or from an external A/V source.
    Capture high quality still video image, up to 1600x1200 pixels, in BMP, TIF, TGA and JPEG.
    Videoconference* with Microsoft NetMeeting or Windows® Messenger by adding video camera.
    Windows® Plug & Play for easy installation.
    Single slot PCI card with bus-master technology.
  • Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250
    Watch TV on your PC screen using a 125 channel cable ready TV tuner. Surf the net while you watch TV on your PC screen!
    Record your TV shows to disk using the built-in hardware MPEG-2 encoder. Uses from 1-2 Gigabytes per hour of recorded video. While recording, the WinTV-PVRs' hardware MPEG encoder does all the work so your PC continues to run at full speed!
    Pause your live TV shows with instant replay, fast forward and rewind.
    Composite/S-Video and audio inputs, to connect to VCR or camcorders. Turn your home video tapes into MPEG movies, then burn them onto CD or DVD!
    dbx-TV stereo decoder, for great TV sound.
    WinTV-Scheduler, so you can schedule your TV recordings on a daily, weekly or once only schedule.
    WinTV-Editor, so you can cut and trim your videos without losing video quality!
    Ulead® DVD MovieFactory 2™ to author and burn DVDs, Video CD's or S-VCD's. Play them on your home DVD* player!
AVerMedia UltraTV USB 300
  This device captured most of the material I threw at it with some minor artifacts mostly a noticeable light to dark shift between frames. Then I threw it the 2 worst Macrovision titles in my collection "Big" and "Apollo13" it was able to record "Big" but the video would shake/distort at random intervals, when I attempted to record "Apollo 13" I noticed stuck/freezing frames. For some reason "Apollo 13" is the hardest VHS tape I've seen to record I suspect this might be because of it being a "Digital" transfer. All things aside this device worked as advertised and in all other respects it would make a great addition to anyone with a laptop who wants to add a TV tuner. One note of interest is that when I updated the drivers the device would not record a Macrovision signal at all!

Hauppauge WinTV-GO

  This card was able to capture every Macrovision encoded title with no artifacts of any kind! In fact its as if Macrovision doesn't even exist on the incoming video signal! I liked this card so much that I decided to upgrade to the WinTV-PVR-250 as this card adds a Hardware Mpeg2 encoder to the package that allows capturing with barely any CPU participation from the host system.

Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250
This card was able to capture every Macrovision encoded title and when coupled with any decent video card can replace 90% of the functions that the ATI All-in-Wonder card boasts. Your main video card will need to support 'multi-display' or support output to a Television to get 100% of the features of the All-in-Wonder. the only possible drawback is the supplied remote that comes with the WinTV-PVR-250 is 'IR' based not 'RF' based which means you'll need to be in direct view of the supplied 'IR' reader where the ATI 'RF' remote does not suffer from this limitation.

I recently tested the new 'Elite' and 'Wonder TV Pro' versions of ATI's stand alone TV tuner capture cards unfortunately these also suffer the Macrovision issues of the All-in-Wonder cards, you can read about it Here. I also felt that the picture quality of the WinTV-PVR-250 was much better than all the ATI devices, in fact the 'Wonder TV Pro' was very bad showing a lot of tearing/shearing in any fast moving scenes

The reason that the Hauppauge cards work so well is in the way they display images onto your screen the card digitizes video using pro quality 4:2:2 video sampling. Then the digitized TV image is sent directly into the memory of your PC’s VGA card without creating overhead for the CPU it works with any PCI or AGP VGA graphics adapter that supports Windows Direct Draw.

Macrovision works by playing havoc with the AGC (Automatic Gain Control) of most capture devices (which is why some older VCR's without an AGC record fine) since almost every capture device uses an AGC circuit of some kind they are affected by Macrovision while recording but it would seem that Hauppauge either utilizes a different mechanism to control the AGC or it simply does not contain one. strange considering the excellent capture quality I was able to get from this card.

So I recommend any of the Hauppauge products to solve the pesky Macrovision problems and you can install one of these along side any ATI All-in-Wonder card for exclusive use for Macrovision sources without affecting the ATI card in any way.

Update Feb 25th 2007
I just upgraded to Vista and the ATI TV Wonder USB I was using has no device drivers for Vista and now that ATI was purchased by AMD (American Micro Devices) I don't know if they will ever make drivers so I purchased the Hauppauge PVR USB2 this external device works exactly as expected and ignores Macrovision and they have drivers for Vista,mind you at the time they were beta drivers and I had to get them from an obscure forum run by Hauppauge, but they should be on the regular website soon as the only issue I had was getting the sound from the FM Radio everything else worked great.

So I hope this helps those of you in the same situation as I was.

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