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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  • Egglick - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I don't know about you guys, but I'm not as convinced as the reviewer that the 650 has better image quality. It's clearly got better color than the 550, but I see alot more noise and artifacts. Take a look at the top corners of the tomato, and the added noise (around everything) in the test pattern. This is likely due to the "edge enhancement" feature, but that should've been turned off before running tests like this.

    I also agree that there should have been a Hauppauge card included, as well as alot more discussion on the DTV features of the card.
    Reply
  • BigLan - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    It could also be that the 550 setup was using an MPEG2 setting with a lower bitrate than the 650 or Nvidia card. Nothing about that was mentioned, but hopefully they'll have chosen the same on each system.

    Actually a comparison using different quality settings would have been very nice to have seen, as reportedly the dual tuner produces a better picture at a lower bitrate than other cards. This can be an important feature for some consumers who are willing to trade off some PQ and record at 1 GB/hour rather than 3 or 4 GB to get much longer recording time from their PVR.

    I'll also note that no system specs were given either. Are we looking at a 2.4ghz p4, X2 or Conroe system here? Other comments have covered the lack of HDTV testing.

    Lastly - the Hauppauge 150 is actually better than the 250. I don't think anand has ever looked at it, so I don't know how they would know the quality of it. While the 150 is cheaper than the 250, it is a newer, better card.
    Reply
  • Araemo - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    CPU Usage numbers are fairly useless without knowing what CPU the test system is running.

    100% usage on a p3 is going to be noticeably less annoying on an FX-60(And will max out at '50%', since it will only use 1 core... I know there is only one graph showing in task manager, but task manager has the option of showing only one graph no matter how many CPUs you have, so that isn't really definitive.)

    If you guys did say what CPU it is(and what the whole system is?), I missed it.
    Reply
  • Squidward - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Did you guys get to use the new Catalyst Media Center software at all? I've been curious how it compares to the old MMC software that's had the same nappy interface since 1995. Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Why didn't you touch on the hardware DRM engine that's mentioned in ATi's press release?
    A lot of us really want to know what the heck they're up to with that...
    Reply
  • pjladyfox - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I was wondering this myself since it will factor greatly into the purchase of any tuner hardware. Reply
  • archcommus - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    Would you say the improved image quality is worth selling my 550 card for? Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    I want a card with dual ATSC tuners! There's a company with a reference design out for a year or more, yet no one is making this type of card. Reply
  • Chadder007 - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    No QAM support....No Care. Reply
  • AlexWade - Wednesday, June 14, 2006 - link

    No HDTV support....No care.

    Seriously, when are ATI and NVidia going to realize regular TV is going to be cut off soon? We have less than 3 years to go all digital, and new SDTV cards keep coming out. Brilliant.
    Reply

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