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It’s been almost a year since we tested Pinnacle’s original PCTV HD Pro Stick TV tuner. In that time, Pinnacle has fixed many of the original product’s shortcomings. The new PCTV HD Mini Stick is even smaller than the original HD Pro Stick, which was itself the size of a fat USB memory key. You could easily chuck the 1”x0.5” PCTV HD Mini Stick in your bag and never notice it. The remote is also slimmed down considerably and could slip into your back pocket comfortably.
One thing Pinnacle didn’t change is the small telescopic whip antenna, which features a magnetic base. When we first raised concerns about putting a magnet in our laptop bag, where we usually have a portable hard drive also rattling around, Pinnacle said there was no reason to be alarmed: No one had ever reported the magnet scrambling any data. With the PCTV Mini Stick, Pinnacle has changed its story. A sticker on the base of the antenna now reads: “Warning, magnet, please keep away from credit cards, magnetic media, hard drives, and other objects sensitive to magnetic fields.” Gee, thanks guys. Of course, the lousy thing is that you can’t use the antenna without the base. If the company had designed the antenna so you could separate it from the base and clip it to something, there wouldn’t be any problem. The current design means you have to choose between the possibility of nuking your notebook PC’s hard drive or not packing the antenna.
We successfully installed and configured the PCTV HD Mini Stick on an older Core Duo dual-core notebook running Windows XP and tuned into about a dozen local ATSC digital stations. Image quality was good but, obviously, very dependent on the broadcast signal. Overall, the tuner ran fine but was a bit laggy on the notebook. We’d recommend the more current Penryn-class Core 2 Duo to run the tuner.
Part of the size savings likely comes from Pinnacle jettisoning support for analog broadcasts. The HD Mini Stick can handle ATSC digital terrestrial transmissions and unencrypted cable transmissions in the ClearQAM format. We dinged the original HD Pro Stick for not having ClearQAM, but we think it’s a bit premature to zap NTSC. Sure, the feds will turn the lights out on over-the-air NTSC, but cable companies continue to broadcast NTSC and many people will still hook up their PCs to the cable at home.
Sadly, that makes the PCTV HD Mini Stick of limited value. Yes, you can use it to watch ClearQAM digital broadcasts on cable, but ClearQAM support by cable providers is spotty. Even if you can receive your local major broadcasters in ClearQAM on cable, what if you want to watch CNN or the Cartoon Network? With the PCTV HD Mini Stick, you’re out of luck.
The PCTV HD Mini Stick is useful only for those who really want to watch digital TV using rabbit ears. Forgive us, but we’d rather shell out for a tuner that also gives us NTSC capability.
So tiny you could sneak it into a maximum security prison.
NTSC capability makes it of limited value for most people.