Notes on my WinTV card

by Gerald Oskoboiny


This page has more details on the WinTV TV tuner card that I bought in October 1998.

I bought a Hauppauge WinTV card from NECX for US$110 or so. It lets me watch TV on my PC in a resizable, scrollable window (or full screen), using a regular cable connection for input.

It uses the Brooktree bt878 chipset (which is mostly compatible with the bt848) and is therefore excellently supported by Linux using the BTTV driver which is one of many Video4Linux resources.

To watch TV on my Linux box, I installed the BTTV driver on my 2.0.34 Redhat kernel, then installed a program called xawtv which displays a window with a TV image in it which is captured from the WinTV card's cable input. (and has other floating windows on demand for things like channel/audio tuning, a list of channels with thumbnails, etc.)

Overall impression: very positive! I'm amazed that my 3-year-old computer is capable of stuff like this. The frame rate is excellent (feels like 30 fps; I don't know for sure, but it must be at least 15 fps) while imposing absolutely zero load on the rest of my PC (zero CPU usage since the wintv card talks directly to the video and sound cards).

I can either display the image in a window on my screen (which can be present on each virtual desktop or not, as I choose, the same as any other window on my desktop); if the window is "sticky" and I switch from virtual desktop to virtual desktop, there's no lag whatsoever. Or I can make xawtv work in "full screen" mode, where my desktop is replaced with a black screen with a live TV image in the middle of the screen (only taking up about half of the monitor's size, though -- I'd like to figure out how to make it fill the entire screen, even at a lower frame rate / resolution so I can watch it from across the room. I already can and do watch it from across the room, but it would be nice if the image were larger. I suspect that if this isn't possible with the 2.0.x series of Linux kernels, it will likely be possible in the 2.1.x/2.2.x series which have some cool new framebuffer stuff.)

Here are some screen shots of my desktop shortly after installing xawtv etc.:

Channel Pane

Desktop Snapshot

Note: before sending me email about any of this stuff, note that your chances of having questions answered are much higher if you post them to a relevant Usenet newsgroup or something instead of mailing me personally.

I don't know much about this stuff; I was just able to get it to work on my system. (I'm happy to share what I know when I can, I just don't know very much about this particular topic.)

Related is this fantastic article from The Onion: New $5,000 Multimedia Computer System Downloads Real-Time TV Programs, Displays Them On Monitor

"This is incredible," said Wayne Messers, a Huntington Beach, CA, systems analyst who sampled the Presario 6000 last weekend at the National Computer And Electronics Expo in San Diego. "I'm watching TV, but there's a keyboard in front of the screen."

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Gerald Oskoboiny, <gerald@impressive.net>