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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  • BigLan - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    htpcnews.com and thegreenbutton.com would be two good places to start. There's no card available in the US that can tune a satelite signal directly - they all rely on the set top box connected via s-video. Any of the cards reviewed here, or the Hauppauge PVR series will be able to handle that task. Reply
  • vailr - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I'm using a TV Wonder Pro, which has much less tuning lag time than the 2 seconds shown for the Theater 650. Maybe: mention alternate choices for those wanting a TV card with less tuning lag time. An exhaustive TV card review would include ALL the various ATI cards, the Hauppauge cards, Avermedia, MSI, nVidia, and several of the high-end HDTV cards, such as the Fusion HDTV. (Some are designed to only work with Windows MCE). There's even a "Linux-only" TV card available. Suggestion: Maybe, partner with Newegg, and do a mini comparison review of every TV tuner card available thru them? And ending with an "Editor's choice" TV card. Reply
  • pjladyfox - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I'm going to second this idea. A nice TV Tuner card roundup, covering ALL, available cards thru Newegg would be something I'm sure a lot of people would be interested in; possibly even asking for suggestions on questions to focus on for such a roundup.
    Reply
  • darkfoon - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Thirding.
    I have a hauppauge WinTV 250, although I wish I had something that gives me more control over the denoising aspects, or does better denoising (My signal quality is entirely dependant on whether Comcast feels like screwing its standard Basic customers on any given day)
    I'd really like an article that compares even cards that I don't know about; cards that could better suit my needs.
    Reply
  • pjladyfox - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I usually look forward to reviews posted on Anandtech due to the depth and detail provided but this one has got to be the worst one I've seen to date. Here's just a sample of questions and details that should have been covered:

    a. Why was there no mention and/or details given in regards to the DRM hardware that has been mentioned in the press release?

    b. Why was this card not paired onto a system using a X1600-series video card to test the AVIVO integration?

    c. Why was there no details given about the Catalyst Media Center beyond just it being a footnote?

    d. Why was there no details given about other PVR software, such as BeyondTV, support being available?

    e. Why was there no details given in regards to capturing from other sources, such as VCR's, from the review?

    f. Why was there no details given in regards to the MPEG-4 hardware utilization during the CPU testing?

    I mean, Goddess, I could go on and on about just what was missing from this article but I'm sure many more will ask the same question; was this truely a review or just a PR article?
    Reply
  • SHSPVR - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    quote:

    f. Why was there no details given in regards to the MPEG-4 hardware utilization during the CPU testing?

    bad news I found out that the 650 dosen't have a hardware trasoncoder it using ref to Soft Avivo Video Converter so there for MPEG4, DivX, WMV9, H.264 it done in REALtime Hardware
    Reply
  • SHSPVR - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Done there not edit post button

    bad news I found out that the 650 dosen't have a hardware trasoncoder it using ref to Soft Avivo Video Converter so there for MPEG4, DivX, WMV9, H.264 it not done in REALtime Hardware
    Reply
  • pjladyfox - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Pardon my language but WTF?! Then how the heck are they able to say that they are Microsoft Vista premium logo ready??

    Here is a snip from a Dailytech article at http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=2842">http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=2842:

    ----------------------------

    The following are requirements for Windows Vista Premium logo-compliant PC and will be mandated by June 1st, 2007:

    * Must have H.264 hardware decoding
    * Must have HDCP
    * Must support multi-monitor support
    * Must have HD audio
    * Must have HD audio jack presence detection
    * Must have Serial ATA 2.5
    * Must have minimum of 50MB NV cache on hybrid HD's with at least 8MB/sec write 16MB/sec read (for mobile only)
    * Must support booting from USB flash drives
    * Must have Windows Vista Green Button on all remotes
    * Must have Green Driver Quality Rating (DQR)
    o Green score of 7 to 9
    o Yellow score of 4 o 6
    o Red score of 1 to 3

    ----------------------------

    I'm really starting to re-considering the Happauge cards at this point. -_-
    Reply
  • SHSPVR - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I guest you didn't read it very well hardware decoding is not the same as hardware encoding Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Mod parent up. He hits every piece of constructive criticism for this article dead on.

    Good to know about the product, and that Anandtech listens and improves (the nVidia DualTV article was worse) but so much important information was left out of this one.

    If the information wasn't available at the time, then Anandtech either should have waited to do the article, or made very clear that this was a very early preview. After owning several ATI TV tuners myself, I know what every ATI xxWonder owner knows --don't buy one until you've heard from others how their Multimedia Center software works, and whether the kinks are worked out. ATI's had a lot of nagging bugs with this software and Anandtech didn't even cover this ground. Add to that the issue of the DRM hardware, quite possibly THE single most important factor in whether Anandtech readers might buy this card or not, and hardly any mention of support under non-MCE Windows versions or third-party products (those that most of us would if we found that Catalyst Media Center sucked) and this article is mostly sizzle, very little steak.
    Reply

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