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I normally don’t write product reviews, so this should not be considered one. Rather I was more interested in relating my experiences from a consumer standpoint of the viability of ATSC Mobile/Handheld (M/H) service in general and that of a specific category – USB “stick” devices – in particular.

I had seen the various demonstrations of USB M/H devices at CES11 and was frankly unimpressed. The reception conditions inside the LVCC were hostile to anything “portable” and, therefore, could not adequately replicate reasonable user experiences. So, the Hauppauge people sent me an aero-m USB stick receiver to field test in anticipated consumer conditions. I am pleased to report the aero-m performs as advertised and admirably so.

The compact, light-weight (<1.7oz.), aero-m “stick” plugs directly into the netbook’s USB port and, after loading the driver software, delivers pictures in either window or full screen formats. The user interface is straightforward and intuitive. However, the aero-m does require significant computer (netbook) horsepower to function. The unit itself provides only tuner functions, delivering a selected compressed program stream via the USB port to the netbook’s CPU for decoding (decompression), then to the display and sound hardware for respective video and audio formatting.

Power consumption by the aero-m itself is between approximately one to 1.5 watts, depending on the mode of operation. It consumes about 15% less power in the M/H mode, according to Hauppauge specifications.

To field test M/H reception capability from a consumer standpoint, I traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, as Indianapolis has no M/H transmissions at this time. Scanning the spectrum on the bottom floor of the University of Cincinnati parking garage revealed two M/H channels, WLWT transmitting on Channel 35 (virtual channel 5) and WXIX on channel 29 (virtual channel 19). These were the only M/H services on the air in Cincinnati at that time.

M/H reception on both channels was equally good and impressive. Audio and video were solid as I walked around the garage, and signal was only lost when I got to the basement levels (where even the car’s FM radio did not work). As expected, regular ATSC digital reception was spotty or impossible in the same environment.

Testing the “mobile” robustness of the system was almost pathological, as the only reasonably safe way was to rest the netbook on the passenger seat and listen for sound dropouts while driving throughout the city. In this position the little aero-m monopole antenna was nestled against the back rest of the seat with virtually no clear signal path from the windows. I did not experience any drop-outs driving around the city which is amazing as Cincinnati has virtually no straight or level streets.

I then got on the interstate system and at 70mph headed out of town. Reception was consistent until reaching about ten miles west of the city where reception became more of a function of terrain than speed. At some point, about 15 miles west of the city, reception was abruptly lost – never to return, even when stopped or the antenna and/or the unit repositioned.

My conclusion is that M/H does indeed work and that the Hauppauge aero-m lives up to and perhaps exceeds reception expectations of the M/H system. However, reliable (if any) ATSC reception (M/H or not) from an un-elevated monopole antenna cannot be expected outside the transmitters’ Grade A coverage areas. With that conclusion, I submit that an ATSC M/H stick receiver such as the aero-m would be a very useful addition to a netbook accessory kit.

Ed

Posted by Ed Milbourn, May 31, 2011 7:20 AM

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About Ed Milbourn

After graduating from Purdue University with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Industrial Education in 1961 and 1963 respectively, Ed Milbourn joined the RCA Home Entertainment Division in 1963. During his thirty-eight year career with RCA (later GE and Thomson multimedia), Mr. Milbourn held the positions of Field Service Engineer, Manager of Technical Training and Manager of Sales Training. In 1987, he joined Thomson's Product Management group as Manager of Advanced Television Systems Planning, with responsibilities including Digital Television and High Definition Television Product Management. Mr. Milbourn retired from Thomson multimedia in December 2001, and is now a Consumer Electronics Industry consultant.