Hauppauge WinTV HVR 950 USB 2.0 Stick Review

Hauppauge WinTV HVR 950 USB 2.0 Stick Review

by Greg Ross

Hauppauge WinTV HVR 950 USB 2.0 Stick Review

Hauppauge primarily designs video products for desktops and notebooks.  Recently, Hauppauge introduced one of the first self powered Dual Analog & HDTV TV Tuner that can connect to a single USB2.0 port on a notebook.  And the best part is that you do not even need XP Media Center Edition to use it!

Intro & Reason for Buying

The major problem that I had while searching for a TV Tuner was that it needed to work with XP Pro out of the box.  I do not want to go hunting for third party software (probably without support) that mightwork with the TV Tuner I purchased.

I previously owned an ATI TV Wonder USB2, a device that used a software based analog cable decoder.  My previous notebook (a single core Pentium M) was unable to handle the load when I tried to do more than view TV, and I wanted DVR capability.  Fortunately, my new HP nc8430 Core 2 Duonotebook was able to handle this heavy duty.  Unfortunately, I used the TV Tuner for so long (and it was a VERY low quality device) that it burned itself out in three weeks.

I had a Hauppauge WinTV PVR USB2for about two weeks, but it was returned shortly after hardware problems developed.  I have had previous and more positive experiences with Hauppauge, so I was willing to give them another shot.  If I could find another suitable TV Tuner.

Then I hit a break in my search for a TV Tuner.  Just released a few weeks ago, the Hauppauge WinTV HVR 950is a small, compact USB device that is capable of viewing and recording both SD and HD TV.  This review unit was picked up at Circuit City(and was the only unit in stock) for $105.99 after tax.

First Impressions

WinTV HVR 950 freshly purchased from Circuit City(view large image)

The first thing that I noticed about the HVR 950 is that it is a self powered USB device.  It does not need an external power source to operate, and also comes with a small TV Antenna that is capable of receiving SD (NTSC) and HD (ATSC) over-the-air signals.  It is also capable of receiving other NTSC signals, which allows me to view the cable at my apartment as well.

Yes, that is all you need in order to view TV (notebook not shown).  You can view your cable TV if you use your coax jack instead of the apartment. (view large image)

These aspects of the design translate into one very useful feature: this TV Tuner is a truly portable TV Tuner from which you can view TV virtually anywhere.  Your apartment, the park, hotel room, and even an airport terminal could provide the signal quality and reception that you need in order to view TV with this device.  The TV Tuner is roughly twice the width and about 25% longer and thicker than a standard USB key.

A flash drive compared to the TV tuner, look at that tiny little thing… (view large image)

The only bad part about the device it is a little too big and will block a neighboring USB port, if you are not willing to use the included USB extension cable.  Be prepared to deal with either option if you use this device when traveling.

Setup and Configuration

Setup on the device was extremely easy.  Install all the applications that come with the included CD, and the device is ready to go.  There are no extra software packages (aka crapware) that are included on the CD.

The two clicks install wizard… (view large image)

Upon starting the WinTV2000 application, the first thing the program did was prompt you to search for all available channels.  As you can see, the TV tuner with the included antenna can get quite a few channels out-of-the-box.

Channels it found…(view large image)

Since the setup guide recommends getting a larger antenna when using the device inside large buildings, I naturally had some pretty weak reception on a few channels.  Upon tuning to a channel with a low quality signal, the device would display a stuttering video until it received a command to tune to a stronger channel.  After pruning all the channels that were too fuzzy to view or could not even be received, I was left with about 50% of the channels that were originally detected.  The lack of reception was either caused by interference (since the antenna is not outside), or the fact that not every channel broadcasts all the time.

TIP for those of us who want both paid cable service and free HDTV feed:

Obviously, when one tries to plug two cords into one receptor, things could get a little messy (and it will never work)!  To remedy this problem, I recommend obtaining a simple and passivecable coax splitter.  This only works because my over-the-air Channel 3 (which is what channel the set top box uses for video out) was too weak to be used; this allowed my cable box to overpower that weak signal.  If you have a strong Channel 3 signal from the over-the-air antenna please check to see if your cable box can be re-configured to use a different channel.

Coax splitters have one in port and two out ports and is normally used to create two cable out lines from one wall jack.  However, a passive splitter can also work in the reverse direction.  I attached my HDTV Antenna to one out port, my cable set top box into the other out port, and finally connected the HDTV USB Tuner to the in port.  Again, since it is passive device, the splitter instead became a combiner and allowed me to receive the best of both worlds.

Standard Definition & HDTV Performance

In order to test out the TV Tuner’s ability to view and record standard definition TV, I used my Comcast cable connection in the apartment via my set top box’s video out feed.  Viewing TV was just that…viewing TV.  No glitches, no video quality issues, and overall the experience was good enough that I could comfortably abandon my regularly watched TV set.

One interesting feature about the TV Tuner when watching cable was that little to no lagwas noticed when viewing TV!  However, lag was introduced during a recording operation, so do not expect to record your LAN party activities any time soon if you use WinTV2000 to view what you are playing.

Viewing live TV isn’t that difficult for modern dual core processors (view large image)

Anyway, I found that for standard TV, the HVR 950 required about 45-50% of the CPUs power.  That is a fairly significant percentage given the power of the Core 2 at 2.16 GHz.  But it does its job well, so I am not going to complain. Clearly, this TV Tuner uses software based decoding, but as long as you have a Core Duo or Core 2 Duo processor you should be fine.  Based on my previous experience with software based TV tuner a Pentium M or lesser CPU would choke.

High Definition TV was another matter entirely.  When using the standard antenna to receive over-the-air HDTV, it required as much as 75% of my Core 2 (2.16 GHz) processor’s power.  Clearly, decoding live HDTV is a beast of a task, and one task that you would probably need a T2500/T7200 processor to successfully run with some head room to spare for additional background programs.

Even the mighty Core 2 struggles to decode HDTV (view large image)

DVR Capabilities

The good news about the DVR capability is that it works pretty well.  It requires very little additional processing power from my computer, but it can take a significant amount of hard drive space to record.

In order to record SDTV, one merely needs to configure the WinTV2000 program to record at the desired setting, click the square red record button to pull down the recording window, and then hit the actual recording button to start.  There are four settings that can be used to record SDTV, of which the highest setting records at about 2.4 GB/hour (in DVD quality mode).  SVCD (about the same bit rate as cable) requires 1.2GB/hour.  For those who are too space conscious, or experiencing a lack of space, can record at lesser qualities with lower resolutions and more compression applied to the video.

Additional windows used to set up and run the recording procedure. (view large image)

HDTV is, again, another matter entirely with regards to its storage requirements.  According to my calculations, these settings would take up this amount of space if a show were recorded for one hour.  All of these rates were calculated based on video clips that varied from thirty seconds to five minutes in length, so they are only an approximation

  • VCD: 613.6 MB
  • MPEG1: 986.1 MB
  • SVCD: 1.113 GB
  • DVD: 1.6 GB
  • HDTV (720p): 6.04 GB
  • HDTV (1080i): 8.64 GB? ? ?

I was only able to test recording 1080i once, but the recording was not long enough to get an accurate measure of the bit rate as I was experiencing heavy signal interference at the time.  Broadcasts of 1080i are definitely hard for me to track down.  However, in my experience with HDTV during my internship, I do know that 1080i has a maximum bit rate of 19.2Mbps.  That means a full hour of 1080i HDTV take upwards of 8.64 GB of space, in the worst case scenario.  However, as this is uncompressed video it be possible to use third party applications to encode the video to a lower bit rate without losing too much quality.

The only glitch in the overall experience was the occasional blurring of fast moving action in the recorded videos.  Since the live feed of the TV, when recording, does not appear to have that problem, I’m certain that it is a software problem that could be fixed through an update of the drivers or WinTV2000 application.

Finally, there is a mechanism to silently schedule TV recordings using the TitanTV program.  It is simple enough to understand, and within about 30 seconds I was able to set up a timed recording.

As a side note: if you record a TV channel while you are NOT actively viewing the WinTV2000 program, it will start up the program on your screen.  There is a setting to allow it to record in a muted mode, but the only problem with the pre-programmed functionality of this DVR software is that it does not shut down the application after it is done recording the allotted content.  That means that you will be coming home to the TV tuner still running any time that it was programmed to record something earlier in the day.

Short and simple…that’s what I like about this recording program!  If only it would shut down when it was done… (view large image)

Minor Glitches

During my evaluation of this unit, I ran across a few minor glitches.

First of all, if you decide to plug in the TV Tuner into a different USB port you have to reinstall all the Hauppauge drivers.  I discovered this when I unplugged the tuner from my dock and used it on the road.  Despite the fact that the Quick Start guide mentioned this problem, Hauppauge really should have fixed this problem before this product was released.  However, once you plug the device into all the ports you might use it on you will be fine.

Secondly, and more importantly, updating the video card drivers will cause the WinTV2000 application to stop working.  That problem was not mentioned in the documentation for the tuner, and I cannot find a solution to it…other than reinstalling allthe drivers and software for the TV Tuner.  After updating from the manufacturer drivers to Catalyst 6.9 to Catalyst 6.10 and then back to my manufacturer drivers, I am a little tired of reinstalling this software.  Fortunately, it always comes back to working status after reinstalling.


The Hauppauge WinTV HVR 950 USB2is a TV Tuner that gives hope to the masses of people that have non-Media Center PCs.  It is fairly compact, and provides both a quality SDTV and HDTV experience to the end user.  Despite the fact that the DVR software is a little quirky, the Hauppauge WinTV HVR 950 TV Tuner is a very good investment for media enthusiasts.  Overall, this unit is more than worth the expense, and its strengths far outweigh any weaknesses in its software.


  • Works in XP Home & Pro.
  • Self-powered, mobile TV Tuner device.
  • Does not require an AC adapter.
  • Comes with a compact TV antenna for HDTV & SDTV.
  • Live HDTV (and recorded HDTV) has excellent, and very impressive, viewing quality.
  • Does not run too hot during operation, despite the small size.
  • SDTV recordings are fairly compact as well, if you configure it for SVCD recordings.

Important Points

  • HDTV recordings can take up a gigantic amount of space!
  • USB TV Tuner stick is both wide enough and tall enough to block a nearby USB port.  This can be remedied by using the included USB extension cord.


  • If you update your video card drivers you will need to re-install all Hauppauge programs.
  • If you plug in the device to another USB port, you have to reinstall the drivers for the tuner.
  • Recorded video occasionally has some blurring during fast movements, but the effect is usually fairly light.
  • Pre-programmed recording program is a little odd
    • While it does record silently when asked to (the audio is in the final recording), it has to pull up the program to actually record the clip.
    • That same application does not shut down once the programmed amount of time has passed.  The recoding will stop, but the TV viewing application does not.





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