The Perfect HTPC Cards

Like the rest of the Radeon HD 4000 series (4870, 4850, 4670 and 4650) the new Radeon HD 4550 and 4350 both support 8-channel LPCM over HDMI. This makes these two cards the perfect addition to any HTPC for use in a 6 or 8 channel home theater setup. The Radeon HD 4550 reference design is a full height PCI Express x16 card but it's completely passively cooled, making it an even better HTPC solution than the 4670 and cheaper. If you don't care about gaming performance but want a good way of upgrading your PC to full hardware H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2 acceleration, the 4550 is perfect, especially if the multi-channel LPCM over HDMI output matters to you.


Radeon HD 4550

We tested the 4550's 8-channel LPCM output and it worked just as advertised, no different than the more expensive ATI cards. And honestly, compared to integrated graphics solutions, getting 8-channel LPCM and hardware decode working is just as easy if not easier.

The only requirement is that you install the Realtek HDMI Audio driver from Realtek's site, once that's done you'll get the option to enable 8-channel audio output in Vista's speaker configuration settings.

The Radeon HD 4350 is an even cheaper alternative to adding 8-channel LPCM output and hardware Blu-ray acceleration, however the half-height reference design does require a fan by default. While add in board partners will undoubtedly produce passively cooled versions, the default 4350 includes a fan; it's small and reasonably quiet, but it's still a fan.


Radeon HD 4350

AMD states that while both the 4550 and 4350 support full hardware Blu-ray decode acceleration, the 4350 may not be able to fully accelerate a high bitrate 2nd stream for picture in picture scenarios. We didn't have the opportunity to test this on our 4350 but we'll be following up with more HD decode tests in a future HTPC article. Both GPUs should decode a single stream 1080p Blu-ray movie without any issues, offloading 100% of the decode pipeline to the GPU; we confirmed that the 4550 works as expected and we're assuming the 4350 is the same given that the hardware is identical.

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  • TA152H - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I'm a little surprised there were no tests with the AMD IGP and these cards. Individually, they don't perform so well, but did Anandtech forget that AMD allowed their IGPs to work with discrete cards now, so you can get benefit of both. Assuming even a 30% boost, the 4550 would change pretty considerably in terms of what it can and can't do.

    Also, some people with older systems might be inclined to pop one of these in to run Vista on their older system. If these come in AGP, I'll surely buy a few, they are absolutely excellent cards for an incredibly low price. Sites like this can whine about what it isn't, but what is it will sell extremely well. The price is right, it will run Vista adequately, offloads work from the processor for playback, and is silent (the 4550 anyway). It's going to sell really well, especially for people with AMD IGPs that want them to work together. Again, it's a pity Anandtech didn't have the sense to try this out and see if it was worthwhile.
    Reply
  • Devo2007 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I see there are three connectors on the 4550 card. One of them is obviously HDMI, the other one is DVI, but what's the third? Could it be a DisplayPort connector or something like that? Reply
  • Wineohe - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I'm of the camp that I would never go this route if I was serious about building an HTPC system. I would frankly not play games anyway on an HTPC system and even with the 4550 game play is marginal. As mentioned by another post the power consumption is terrible. The G45 still seems like the best HTPC solution. If it were more powerful in terms of 3D it would probably be more inefficient also. I guess if you were really stuck with your system board (budget) or you wanted 8 channels (you have an AMD board) then it is a solution. Reply
  • Nil Einne - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Um, the G45 is an UTTER POS even for most HTPC purposes. Post processing options are virtually non existant, it doesn't support PIP IIRC, it doesn't have decent audio over HDMI support either and the drivers have numerous problems (e.g. with 1080p altho perhaps this is fixed). If you want integrated, go the AMD ATI 3200/3300 (780/790) or perhaps the 9300 for Intel Reply
  • Nil Einne - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    Apologies, was wrong about the audio output. The G45 audio output is fine (actually Intel has had 8 channel LPCM for a long while). But my comments on post processign and particularly driver issues and 1080p support were right, e.g. http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=3430&am...">http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=3430&am...

    The worst thing is, Nvidia and ATI/AMD are continually improving their drivers in terms important for HTPCs whereas Intel doesn't seem to much
    Reply
  • VaultDweller - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    OK, so I admit I've always been a bit confused when people start talking about HDMI audio support on video cards.

    How does the video card actually get the audio from the sound card to output it? From the picture it looks like the 4550 has an HDMI input and output... but doesn't that mean the sound card needs to have HDMI output to pass it to the video card? And aren't there almost no sound cards with HDMI output?
    Reply
  • deruberhanyok - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    No, the video card has an audio controller built-in, and you get the HDMI video and audio if you use the built-in HDMI port (or, for Radeon cards that do not have an HDMI port built-in, you get the video and audio if you use the included DVI->HDMI adapter).

    A sound card is not required. This works for regular audio as well (from games or your operating system).
    Reply
  • ThermoMonkey - Sunday, October 19, 2008 - link

    Sorry to say but that's not true at all. The Video card takes the audio signal from a sound card and combines the sound with the video output to pass through the HDMI. Look for your self http://ati.amd.com/products/Radeonhd4500/index.htm...">http://ati.amd.com/products/Radeonhd4500/index.htm...

    "HDMI - Enjoy the latest audio technologies using HDMI with 7.1 digital surround sound support delivering 8-channel audio. Also, xvYCC support allows the user to enjoy a wider range of colors when connected to a capable HDTV."

    It says surround sound support (not integrated) which only means that it connects to an on board (mobo) sound card via PCI bus to provide 7.1 channel audio.

    Many competing graphics cards have a SPDIF connection to pass the audio through HDMI but that is only 2 channel. That's what separates this card from the rest.
    Reply
  • woolooloo - Thursday, October 30, 2008 - link

    Sorry, but actually it is you who are wrong. Listed in the specs table for the 4350 (and I'm sure the 4550 is the same):

    Integrated HD audio controller with up to 2 channel 48 KHz stereo or multi-channel (7.1) AC3 enabling a plug-and-play cable-less audio solution
    Reply
  • VaultDweller - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    An additional question... Is there actually any reason that I should care about this with a 5.1 speaker/receiver set (linkage: http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet...">http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/sto...0551&.... Reply

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