Asus My Cinema ES2-750/PT/FM/AV/RC Page: 1
Introduction
 
It's hard to start a review of a product from a company that we've seen so much from before. Asus accounting for a large, large number of reviews here at OC3D means we've heard their history and numerous facts a fair few times. So lets focus on the product, the ES2-750/PT/FM/AV/RC TV Card. TV cards have been kicking about for years and years now. Personally I had one installed in the first PC I owned, and have kept one in the family PC ever since. They used to be somewhat of an oddity, people seemed to take it that the PC and TV were two separate household electronics goods.
 
These days however, with products becoming even more versatile as one box replaces several, it's hardly a surprise to see TV cards being put into more and more PCs. Most of these being aimed at (as you can probably guess) the Home Theatre PC (HTPC) market. Many of the cards implementing Tivo like features and thusly allowing the user to record their favourite shows to a hard drive inside the machine itself. Saving the use of DVDs, CDs or even VHS tapes if you can remember them.

Specifications & Features
 
These, as normal, will be taken form the manufacturer's (In this case Asus') site. The international version to be precise as the according to Asus' UK site the card doesn't exist.
 
 
Nothing much out of the ordinary here. The card uses an AMD chip for it's Audio, Video and channel decoding and an NXP tuner. As you can see it's a PCI-E card conforming to ATX standards. It supports a multitude of operating systems and comes with a healthy bundle list.
 
And of course the listed key features:
 
Utilises the PCI-Express port for faster data transmission
Intelligent Image Enhancement
- HDTV Video Quality with 12-bit ADC brings you to the world of live TV
- Intelligent 2D & 3D Comb Filtering technology
- Ultra-high quality video decoder: De-interlace, provides
- ASUS Exclusive Noise Reduction technology
Insert-n-Play with an existing AMD Graphic Card
System install the driver automatically without hassle clicking process as long as your computer possess AMD VGA Card with driver 8.61 Version or later.
All-in-one Multimedia Centre
* Watch analog or digital TV on your PC
* Scheduled recordings and TimeShift supported
* FM radio listening
* Connect camcorders, DVD players and other external video-in devices for video capture
* Edit and burn TV programs on DVD or VCD
* Full function remote controller for easier channel surfing
 
Some impressive sounding features. The card sounds like it should add perfect TV functionality to your PC. It states that the card will work automatically with an ATI gpu installed, which I for one find quite interesting. The remote is another point that warrants interest, as many 3rd party remotes feel a little out of place when used with a real PC, we'll have too see how this one shapes out.
 
Next we'll dive in and look at the card itself and the software it's supplied with...
 


Asus My Cinema ES2-750/PT/FM/AV/RC Page: 2
Packaging
 
The card came in a glossy red box covered in information and graphics promoting its contents.  The front of the box is dominated by a picture of a guy kicking back watching the football on his PC (maybe the other half kicked him out the living room?). Surrounding the main image is an array of logos and certifications showing off what the card can do as well as the description 'Hybrid TV Card' written boldly across the bottom. The back of the box spilling, at first glance, what appears to be a lot of information on the product. Upon closer inspection actually elaborates on 6 points, just in 10 different languages each.
 
Box_front Box_Back
 
Box_corner
 
The packaging is quite attractive and would serve its purpose well in a retail store. Letting the customer know what it is before they pick it up and then presenting all it's selling points in an organised and informative way. Unfortunately the box had taken a bit off a battering on its way to me as you can see form the third picture above. Calling into question the safety of it's contents.
 
Box_In Box_open
 
As you can see above however the outside is just a skin for a more sturdy inner box which was better off. Inside the inner box was a cardboard separator keeping the contents from rattling around too much. It looks like it should survive in the hands of couriers.
 
Appearance
 
Card_Front Card_Back
 
Well there isn't really much to look at with the ES2-750. It's a rather small card only just exceeding the length of a pci-e x1 slot. There's only really two focal points on the PCB itself. The larger box to the left is tuner. The chip to the right of that card is the ATI HD750. The brains behind the card. Aside from those two parts theres little else to see, front or back.
 
Ports HD750
 
So we'll move around to the I/O ports. Theres 4 on the back of the card, all of which need to be occupied if you want the card to fully function. These are. from left to right, Audio-video, IR Receiver, Analog TV & FM Aerial ports. Theres also a low profile backplate that can be used in place of the full length one, which could help massively for people looking to build systems into thiner HTPC cases to fit under their TV. The other picture shows the ATI HD750 chip, responsible for the encoding and decoding of the video & audio the card handles.
 
 


Asus My Cinema ES2-750/PT/FM/AV/RC Page: 3
Software
 
Now the software supplied with a TV card gives us a little more to talk about, rather than the quite plain looking card. This, arguably, can be the making or breaking of a TV card. As poor software can lead to a ruined experience while trying to watch your favourite program. Or lead to you missing a crucial episode in a series because it failed to record it properly, if at all. So lets take a look at the bundle that comes with the ES2-750. It contains the programs you can see on the screen shot below:
 
 Installer
 
Popping in the install disk it gives you the option to install only specific components, or hit one button and have it install the lot. trying to aim for the average users experience I opted for the latter of these options to start, and let it plow through and install everything automatically. After a few installers had run them self the software launched and presented us with a rather pleasant, simple blue screen that proceeded to start scanning for freeview channels. A few minutes later it had finished and with a click of the save button was ready for use.
 
Now I don't want to go into too much detail over using the software, or I won't have much to say on the next page! But I will show you screen shots of the most important pages of the software and describe what they do, and the logical place to start then is the Home page. From here, as you'd expect, you can chose to watch live tv, listen to the radio, watch some recorded TV, view the picture collection and access the settings menu. Pretty much what you'd expect from the home page.
 
Home
 
 
The next shot is of the TV page, arguably the most important page. A few options down the side allowing you to control and schedule what you want to watch, with the channel your currently watching occupying the majority of the screen (the black box in the picture as windows didn't like print screening the live TV). At the bottom a array of information letting you know what your watching, along with a signal strength indicator. To the left of the TV screen is the 'EPG' (Electronic Program Guide). It pretty much serves it's purpose as it's name suggests, The left panel going through channels and the right shows whats on and what will be shown.
 
TV EPG
 
The next two screens are two more offshoots of the TV screen. First off, the left, is the Channel page. Another fairly self explanatory sceen which lists the channels the software has found and lets you choose one to watch. To the right of that sits the RecordedTV page. This displays the videos that the programs recorded.
 
Channel RecTV
 
The next three screen shots we'll see are subsidiaries of the home page again, rather than the TV page. They are also quite self explanatory. The first is the Picture screen. It allows you to browse through the screen shots that you can take off either live or recorded video. The second shows the (untuned) radio page. From here you can tune in to any FM station available in your area. Lastly we see the video screen. Looks familiar? It's pretty much a clone of the recorded TV page we saw above. A quick link from the home page is quite welcome however, as if you record something you can access it faster to view later.
 
Pictures Radio
 
Vids
 
All in all the software looks pretty simple. Rather reminiscent of the firmware installed on normal TV's today which cant be a bad thing as I bet no enthusiast has problems operating them. Next up we'll see how the card & its partnered software performs.
 


Asus My Cinema ES2-750/PT/FM/AV/RC Page: 4
Testing
 
So we're past the pretty pictures and screen snaps of the software, now we need to get into the testing phase. Once again I'm in a bit of a sticky situation where there are no benchmarks, time demos or games you can test a TV card with. Therefore you'll have to rely on my experiences with the card to pass judgement.
 
Setting up
 
Unfortunately I'm going to start on a bit of a low note. The test system I used with the card originally comprised of a 3Ghz Wolfdale Chip, Maximus Formula Motherboard, 4GB of DDR2 and a old 7800GT. Now the minimum system specs listed in the SpeedSetUp Guide provided stated that a 'Graphics card with 32mb of memory is recommended'. But on the 1920x1200 26" Samsung TV I tested with, watching live TV lagged to the point where it plain spoilt the enjoyment of whatever you were trying to watch. Now this could have been down to the monitor resolution, but the 7800GT is still a respectable card when compared to a lot of peoples on-board graphics processors, so this cast doubt on how well the card would perform in a Small HTPC relying on an igpu. Swapping out the 7800GT for a 4850X2 resolved the majority of the lag issues. However having de-interlacing turned on in the settings caused the picture to jerk around even with the more powerful card.
 
Obtaining a proper TV signal was also a point that I investigated. I was lucky enough to have a connection from my house TV aerial (seldom used these days as the main TV has freesat) to look for channels on. This picked up a good number of digital freeview channels and all the analogue channels available in my area. I tried the small, unboosted aerial that came with the card as well but that picked up absolutely nothing, feeling a little as if it was just a token put in there to bulk up the package, but if you live in an area with very, very good signal you may get some use from it.
 
Usage
 
This was an awful test, I can tell you. Having to sit in front of a screen watching TV programs for a few hours. After the aforementioned hardware issue, watching TV using the card was pretty much as you'd expect. The picture quality was quite acceptable, even with de-interlacing turned off. Turning it on did improve it a little but resulted in a little lag as I described before.
 
The software interface was quite user friendly. It was a little basic for use with a mouse, but moving the cursor to the edges of the screen brought out extra buttons. What I found most impressive however was how well the software interacted with the remote. I've used third party remotes with Windows before, and while they did the job, they felt rather clunky and tacked on. The remote supplied with the card felt like it was designed to work with the software, as it should.
 
After a few hours use, the playback started showing signs of lag again. This normally coincided with performing other tasks on the machine which you might not find such a surprise. But even the simplest of tasks such as opening a web browser caused the image to stutter. Any more intense activity and the audio faltered as well. This was seemingly random however. Some times you could have the TV playing away in the background with browsing the net or organising files and it would sit there smooth as butter. While others you can find yourself watching a film full screen and the picture would pixelate
due to interlacing or stall only to resume a few seconds later to find you've missed an important event. This also occurred while trying to record a program. While writing to the drive the image broke up, meaning the recording came out as un-watchable as the original.
 
It's a shame that the card has been weighed down with a seemingly random annoyance that spoils it's very purpose. We'll summarise on the next page in the conclusion...
 
 


Asus My Cinema ES2-750/PT/FM/AV/RC Page: 5
Conclusion
 
What defines a good TV card? At a very basic level, it needs to be able to display TV programs on your computer for you to be able to enjoy. Other functionality such as the ability to record, the FM radio tuner and the remote are luxuries added on to entice you into buying that particular make & model of card. While it's working, the ES2-750 performs it's basic duty, and does it rather well. The extras that are added on then boost the experience to a level where i would quite happily have paid to have the card in my PC. The software deserves a special mention. Although not created by Asus, it was a very good choice of theirs to pick it up, and to then merge it so seamlessly with the remote made it feel like you were using a plain and simple TV, rather than a windows based PC. The ability to set it up to record your shows while away was a nice touch. An improvement in that area would have been dual tuners, allowing you to watch something on one channel while recording something that was showing on a different one. This being the lower end of the pricing for TV cards however the extra tuner may have eliminated it as a cheap choice.
 
Unfortunately i found that the ES2-750 was let down by it's erratic playback. I found it difficult to watch anything when every few seconds it would all pause, then resume without showing you all you had missed. The fact that the interruptions seemed to be random lead to no solid conclusion about the cause.
 
The price for the card at the time of writing sits at the 40 mark form our friends over at Ebuyer. A very reasonable price for a bit of kit if it worked 100% of the time. But due to it's temperament over the time I've had with it, it's rather hard to say that the Es2-750 is a steal.
 
All in all, when the ES2-750 works, it works extremely well. User friendly and it's extra features are actually useful. Unfortunately, it seems to decide when it wants to work, as opposed to always working or at the very least working when you want it to work. And for this reason I'd recommend looking elsewhere than this card.
 
The Good
- Easy to install
- Strong Software
- Small Form Factor
- Cheap
 
The Mediocre
- Single Tuner
 
The Bad
- Erratic Live TV Playback
 
 
 
 
Thank you to Asus for providing the review sample. Discuss in our forums.