Freeview may be the future of terrestrial television, but if you live in a reception black spot, it can be as frustrating to watch as the England cricket team. The £99 Terratec Cinergy USB XS Diversity is designed to bring Freeview into more homes via a laptop or desktop PC by incorporating a special signal-boosting technology. It's also handy for watching TV in the car, and its dual-tuner PVR functionality lets you pause and record live programmes.
Like all USB TV tuners, the Terratec Cinergy USB XS Diversity (let's just call it the XS Diversity) is extremely easy to connect to a laptop or desktop. It resembles a slightly oversized USB key and measures 30 by 15 by 80mm. This means you can receive TV on your laptop on the move, but bear in mind you'll also need to take the two aerials with you, each about 15cm high.
The XS Diversity has two integrated TV tuners, so it lets you watch one channel while you record another, or record two separate broadcasts simultaneously. You get an infrared remote control and you can pause and rewind live TV.
More significant, however, is its ability to run in 'diversity' mode. This allows the product to combine the signals received by each tuner to form a new, stronger signal for a more robust picture. The hope is that you will be able to watch Freeview channels in tricky reception areas.
The aerials connect directly to the end of the USB stick and can be attached to nearby surfaces care of their magnetic bases or suction-cup add-ons. The use of magnets means you can attach the aerials to metallic objects such as a radiator or the roof of a car to improve signal reception further.
Terratec says using the device in a car isn't 'normally' supported by the XS Diversity, but it worked for us. Your own results may vary, but we think it's worth trying -- anything that will keep the kids quiet on a long journey is worth a shot.
The XS Diversity comes with a year's Premium Account subscription to the tvtv electronic programming guide (EPG). This service integrates itself with the easy-to-use TV Tuner software, so you can see exactly what programmes will air up to a week in advance and schedule a recording if something good is on. You can also browse the EPG on the tvtv Web site and schedule a recording while away from home.
The primary weakness of the XS Diversity isn't a fault of the product itself, but rather the unreliability of Freeview TV. There's absolutely no guarantee the product will work in your area, diversity technology or not. For a better idea of your area's coverage, check out the DTT Web site.
Another drawback is that you lose all dual-tuner functionality when running in diversity mode. This is fine if all you want to do is watch a single programme, but if there's a conflict of programming interest between yourself and your spouse, diversity is your enemy, not your friend.
Our final gripe is about the sheer bulk of the XS Diversity, which means it's prone to simply falling out of your USB port. We recommend using the accompanying USB extension lead, which also stops it blocking the adjacent USB ports.
Those in the market for a USB TV tuner really should look no further. The XS Diversity packs in pretty much everything you could want. There's no popcorn in the box, but the diversity technology definitely gives a boost to weaker signals, even if it's not perfect. The bottom line is that it works better than any non-diversity TV tuner we've tried to date.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide