Introduction

TV Tuners are becoming more and more popular as home theaters and computers start to merge. Already, many countries outside the US are making the move to integrated computer and home theater/entertainment centers in their homes instead of separate components, particularly in parts of Asia where space is limited. Of course, many people in the US are also beginning to see the benefits of combining their TVs and computers into one unit, and it seems reasonable to predict that this will be the norm in the near future.

We recently reviewed NVIDIA's DualTV Media Center Edition TV tuner card, and in the article, we looked briefly at the ATI Theater 550 Pro (again). ATI has had success with their Theater cards in the past, and now they are unveiling a new addition to the series, the Theater 650. This is the newest TV tuner chip/card from ATI, and like the 550 it's still a single tuner card (unlike NVIDIA's DualTV MCE), but there are some new features with this one that set it apart from the rest.

One of the most notable features incorporated into this card is that it has digital capabilities and is one of the first solutions to properly combine digital and analog TV reception, recording, and encoding in hardware in one solution. It boasts much better filtering capabilities as well; for example, it has a new motion adaptive 3D comb filter for better image quality. There are a few other features of the Theater 650 and of course we'll be looking at all of them further in the review.

We've chosen to limit the comparisons to only cards that are compatible with Windows Media Center Edition, in order to keep consistency between TV tuner applications. We will be comparing the Theater 650 to the older Theater 550, as well as NVIDIA's DualTV MCE. We'll be looking at not only image quality, but also CPU utilization between these three cards.

We were very appreciative of all of the comments and suggestions from the last TV Tuner article (the NVIDIA DualTV MCE) and hope to provide better coverage of this card and it's features this time around. Reader feedback is very important to us here at AnandTech and we are very concerned with what our readers want to see in a TV tuner card review. That said, in this review of ATI's Theater 650, we'll be looking at the card, its features and how it compares to a couple of other solutions in both performance and image quality. So without further fanfare, let's look at the ATI Theater 650 Pro.

The Card
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  • Mumrik - Thursday, June 15, 2006 - link

    Still, why didn't you touch on the Hardware DRM?
    None of us know what this element means for the card and it MIGHT just be the deal breaker that makes this card WORSE than the 550.

    You need to look into stuff like that, or somebody's going to make a purchase based on this "review" and quite possibly be very disappointed.
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Thursday, June 15, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The Hauppauge cards haven't really changed at all in over a year. Do we need to include socket 754 Athlon 64 and Pentium 4 478 in current CPU articles? Do we need to talk about the Radeon X800 and GeForce 6800 cards in new GPU reviews? That's basically what you're asking us to do, and while some people might find information helpful, it's not an effective use of time. The Hauppauge cards are very good in terms of image quality, but we still give the ATI Theater 550 a slight edge. Should we re-review both cards periodically to see if things have changed?


    Below are the updates I found for the Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150, the card that has mostly replaced the PVR-250 with better quality and a single chip solution

    http://www.hauppauge.com/pages/support/support_pvr...">http://www.hauppauge.com/pages/support/support_pvr...

    Name: pvr150_500_basedriver_2043_24103.zip
    Size: 2.2MB
    Updated: April 13, 2006

    WinTV2000 application update for the WinTV-PVR-150
    Name: wintv2k411_23347.exe
    Size: 2.5 Mb
    Updated: Dec. 15, 2005

    WinTV video decoder update
    Name: hcwsmd05_23290.exe
    Version: 5.0_23290
    Size: 1996K
    Updated: Oct. 17, 2005


    I'd call that updated in the past year. When video cards are updated, Anandtech and others test to see if increased performance and/or image quality results. Are you saying the same should not be done with TV Tuner cards?

    P.S. I could be wrong, but I don't recall you testing the WinTV PVR-150, which is considered by most HTPC enthusiasts to be a much better replacement of the PVR-250. If I'm wrong, apologies. If I'm right, then Hauppauge's cards have changed indeed since you tested the PVR-250.

    Reply
  • BigLan - Thursday, June 15, 2006 - link

    "The Hauppauge cards haven't really changed at all in over a year. Do we need to include socket 754 Athlon 64 and Pentium 4 478 in current CPU articles? Do we need to talk about the Radeon X800 and GeForce 6800 cards in new GPU reviews?"

    Two problems with this, Jarred. First is that the Hauppauge 250 got replaced with the 150, which offered better image quality and a lower price. Anand has never compared the 150 to the 550, or any other card. Sure you can say it's similar to the MCE500, but you didn't mention that in this article, only the 250.

    Next up is that you actually did compare the X800 and 6800 cards to modern GPUs in the Oblivion article.
    Reply
  • Crucial - Thursday, June 15, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Do we need to include socket 754 Athlon 64 and Pentium 4 478 in current CPU articles? Do we need to talk about the Radeon X800 and GeForce 6800 cards in new GPU reviews?


    If the S754 and S478 cpus were the last ones to be made and still the more popular cpu your darn right you do. The comparison to video cards and cpu's doesn't hold up because there aren't new tuner cards coming out every 6 months. Many people here don't agree with the statements that the 650 screenshots look better. Just because somethings new doesn't mean it's automaticaly better.

    quote:

    if I were seriously in the market for a device to do recording and timeshifting of TV content, I would still just pay Comcast $10 per month for the upgrade. It might cost a bit more in the long run, but the convenience factor is definitely still on the side of consumer electronics.


    As for that comment, are you writing these reviews for yourself or for the readers of the site? With an attidude like this it's no wonder the review doesn't cover half of what it should.

    quote:

    Basically, it sounds to me like a bunch of people already own Hauppauge cards and simply want us to confirm that they are the best card on the market.


    Basically it sounds to me like you only have a Theatre550 card and dont want to take the time or spend the money to review a hauppage card. That or ATI is pulling the strings and won't let you. If thats the case just say so and alot of the flack will go away. You can try and justify your attitude towards these reviews but it is not what a majority of the readers want to see.
    Reply
  • hondaman - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The Hauppauge cards haven't really changed at all in over a year. Do we need to include socket 754 Athlon 64 and Pentium 4 478 in current CPU articles? Do we need to talk about the Radeon X800 and GeForce 6800 cards in new GPU reviews? That's basically what you're asking us to do, and while some people might find information helpful, it's not an effective use of time. The Hauppauge cards are very good in terms of image quality, but we still give the ATI Theater 550 a slight edge. Should we re-review both cards periodically to see if things have changed?


    Thats some seriously flawed logic. In every review, one _always_ compares, HEAD TO HEAD, the king(s) of the hill vs. the newcommers. This goes for cpus, video, hd's, and yes, even capture cards.

    The bottom line duty of a capture card is to capture video. It doesnt matter an ounce that you previously reviewed a card. Image quality is something we must see for ourselves, and allow us to decide what looks best. That means running the SAME tests on the SAME capture cards.
    Reply
  • jeremyk442 - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Am I the only one who seems to think that the 650 looked worse than the 550 on the tomato shot? The differences in the stills were extremely subtle and give no indication of how much difference you would notice while using it. And this whole review felt like an advertisement for ati's new chip rather than a valid comparison (especially the image quality). Reply
  • JNo - Saturday, June 17, 2006 - link

    I agree. The 650 was praised (vs the 550) for warmer colours but in actual fact, the 550 shot was the only one where the woman's skin tone seemed more natural and you could make out extra *details* on her that were smoothed over in the other 2 cards e.g. just above and below her lips if I remember correctly. "Brighter" colours aren't always better if they just create colours that aren't in the signal. Hey, we could all just turn up the colour bar on our TVs for a better picture if that were the case... Reply
  • BigLan - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Looking closer at the tomato shot, I think there's something messed up in the GualTV test. It looks like there's some ghosting going on, which is either a problem with the tuner chip or a problem with the setup. I don't believe that the dual tuner could have that big an issue tuning channels without the community having noticed by now, which suggests the test setup is wrong. Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    This is a relatively new area of interest for me. Can some one point me to some information on which, if any, of these cards supports a signal from setalite sources? I have a dual tuner receiver and want to use my PC as the other output (my DVR is filling up and I would like to capture some of the prgramming to archive on my hard drive). Wow, I feel like a newbie! Reply
  • SHSPVR - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    No it do not supports a signal direct from setalite LNB you must used a sat receiver and I hate tell you but dual tuner sat receiver suck becuase of the fact that there are NO Blaster that support UHF Transmit signal so there for your SOL with 2nd TV output but you can setup the 1st TV output becuases it base on Standard IR Transmit signal.
    Reply

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