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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  • pjladyfox - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    She actually. ^__^

    The one thing that really irked me over the 550, which pretty much forced us to go with the X1800 AIW instead, is that without MCE 2005 it was not a very useful card. Heck, we did'nt even have the fallback of the Multimedia Center, which a lot of us who have had either ATI AIW or their stand-alone TV tuner learned to live with, and instead got shafted with the terrible bundled software. :P I mean, come on, if you bundled the nice Adobe software with the AIW why not at least do it with your tuner cards instead of pawning off the third-rate discount bin stuff?

    In either event I'm hoping that whoever did this article re-labels this one since this is definatly NOT a review in any sense of the term.



    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Thursday, June 15, 2006 - link

    quote:

    She actually. ^__^


    Ouch! I'm so sorry. No disrespect intended. :)

    quote:

    The one thing that really irked me over the 550, which pretty much forced us to go with the X1800 AIW instead, is that without MCE 2005 it was not a very useful card. Heck, we did'nt even have the fallback of the Multimedia Center, which a lot of us who have had either ATI AIW or their stand-alone TV tuner learned to live with, and instead got shafted with the terrible bundled software. :P I mean, come on, if you bundled the nice Adobe software with the AIW why not at least do it with your tuner cards instead of pawning off the third-rate discount bin stuf

    That's why at the time I went with a Hauppauge WinTV PVR-150. My TV Wonder PCI is fine for just watching (provided you use very specific versions of ATI's MMC software, as some have seriously broken the audio setup in their push to go from analog to digital across the PCI bus) but all the software solutions I saw were most compatible with Hauppauge boards at the time over the Theater 550. In fact, GB-PVR, my personal favorite, is great when paired with any PVR-xxx card. Bonus: it's free.

    I got a ReplayTV on the cheap with a lifetime subscription, so I dismantled my HTPC. Still, I'd love to replace my TV Wonder with a good card for casual use in my main system. With the lack of information on DVR and Catalyst Multimedia Center, this card won't be it. And I'm in full agreement of you that this article does NOT constitute a review.
    Reply
  • SHSPVR - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    In ABC it all get this error
    6/14/2006 11:35:54 AM - Problem connecting to tracker - (10049, "Can't assign requested address")
    Reply
  • hondaman - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I fail to understand why you think its acceptable to leave out the DEFACTO capture card. AGAIN. Hauppauge is the clear industry giant in video capture, and you publish another article, flippantly referencing us to your previous review of the card. Image quality is subjective, and its important to allow us to see, and judge, the image quality instead of your "just trust me" attitude.

    Leaving hauppauge out of a capture card review would be like reviewing ATI's latest video card, and comparing it to SIS instead of nvidia.
    Reply
  • Myrandex - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    One disappointing *feature* I discovered on my Theater 550 PCIE that is EXTREMELY IRRITATING is lag with the video in ports. I tried hooking up a game system to it, and if I hit the jump button for example, I would have to wait a little bit for my character to jump. I'm not talking anythign like either, I'm talking extremely noticeable. Itried contacting powercolor help, and they said update drivers (already did) and somethign else, and then quit responding to me. Is there anyway that this can be tested as if I would have known this ahead of time, I don't think I would have purchased it. Reply
  • nvmarino - Wednesday, June 21, 2006 - link

    If you want to connect a game console to your display via your PC you want one of these:

    http://www.simplifidigital.com/shopsimplifi/index....">http://www.simplifidigital.com/shopsimp.../index.p...

    As others have commented, tuners cards (especially those with hardware encoders) are not designed for this.
    Reply
  • mattsimis - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I agree, I had to get rid of my Theater 550 setup (and seems 650 is as bad) and swap back to a 7year old Brooktree 878 based TV Capture card due to the lag. The BT878 has a delay of about less than 100msec, its excellent.

    I have to use the Svideo Input on TV Cap Cards as the Satelite TV service here (Sky "Digital") uses encrypted signals that can only be decoder on their decoder box. Once you decode it, you can output the raw video signal (SCART RGB to Svideo adapter). I then input this into DScaler. Image quality was a bit better on the Theater 550, however the lag was unusable.

    From the article it seems the lag isnt just on the Video Inputs, but the TV Tuning too, so contary to the other reply, seems everyone will notice it. Cant understand how a 2000msec delay is considered "ok" for product release.


    Matt
    Reply
  • BigLan - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    "Cant understand how a 2000msec delay is considered "ok" for product release."
    These types of TV cards are designed for watching TV (not video games) and specifically for timeshifting/recording TV using a PVR application with a built in TV Guide, so channel surfing isn't necessary. For that purpose a 2 second delay doesn't really matter.

    What you want is a transcoder, which is a different beast altogether.
    Reply
  • sirfergy - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    That is because it has to encode the signal. You aren't supposed to use it as a video input to your computer for consoles. Reply
  • Crucial - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Your choice to not include the Hauppage cards was a slap in the face of everyone who asked for them and nothing short of a joke. The Hauppage cards are by far the more popular product and it would make more sense to compare them for those of us who might buy the new card if they infact are better. If your video card reviews followed the same pattern as your tv tuner reviews you would be the laughing stock of the internet. We want a screenshot of the apple, pattern and girl on a hauppage card to see for ourselves which card looks better. I'm guessing the couple of years old pvr150 would look better than all of them and ATI wouldn't let you show it. If not then do a couple more tests and update the review.

    As for the DTV portion of these cards, I'm sorry that you don't get DTV reception in your area but I couldn't care less. Millions of us do and use it. If Anandtech is going to be a top quality review site they need to find a reviewer who can get it. Important things to know about the DTV would be can a digital and analog channel be recorded at the same time? What kind of cpu usage does the tuner use when recording both or watching an analog and watching a digital? Can MCE use 2 of these cards and record 2 analog and 2 digital channels at once?

    Each time I see these reviews I hope you change you tune and do a real comparison of whats out there and being used instead of being the puppet for the corporation thats giving you free product to play with.
    Reply

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