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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  • Varkyl - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I would also like to know what kind of temperatures these cards are running at. If they are anything like their big brother 4850 they run very hot. So before I even think about buying one of these I would like to know that it isn't adding an incredible amount of heat to my HTPC. Reply
  • Basilisk - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    "The Radeon HD 4350 is an even cheaper alternative to adding 8-channel LPCM output and ...". Please enlighten me how 8-channel is possible on a card w/o HDMI. Are they using Magic? Or is there a way to extract it w/o HDMI? Or is the card they showed in the photo an example of a 4350 that's too-cheap to offer 8-channel? Or....

    Quite possibly I missed the obvious, but I didn't find any 4350's on the ATI site to double check this. Or, perhaps this review had a bit too much sales blurb and too little testing? I agree with others who feel that if you're going to hype 8-channel and HTPC, you ought to be performing quantitative/qualitative tests.
    Reply
  • Veerappan - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    As Natfly mentioned, they use an adapter to transform one of the DVI ports into HDMI (with some of the DVI pins carrying audio data).

    It's probably the same adapter that came in the box of my 4850.
    Reply
  • Basilisk - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Oh! Then... it's not a DVI-D dual-port card, despite the use of that connector?! Or, they diddle a non-data pin (like +5v for monitor stand-by) to permit both DVI-D/dp and audio? 'Spose that's too much out of an inexpensive card... Thanks for the info! Reply
  • Zoomer - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    If they are DVI-D, the DVI-A pins are avaliable for use.

    If not, there are always unused pins, extra ground pins, etc.
    Reply
  • Natfly - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    They send the audio over dvi, an adapter from ati will turn the dvi input to hdmi output w/ video + audio. I assume the retail packaging would ship with the adapter.

    ie
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...
    Reply
  • toyota - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    as usual you have some wrong numbers in the charts. the 4650/4670 have 32 texture units not 16. whats strange is that you actually corrected it in the 4670 review only to make the mistake again in these charts. Reply
  • vlado08 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I also expect comparison of video quality between nVIDIA Ati and Intel
    More explanation about video processing what does this specs mean are they possible to turn off:

    Color space conversion
    Chroma subsampling format conversion
    Advanced vector adaptive per-pixel de-interlacing
    De-blocking and noise reduction filtering
    Detail enhancement
    Inverse telecine (2:2 and 3:2 pull-down correction)
    Bad edit correction
    Automatic dynamic contrast adjustment
    Full 30-bit display processing
    Programmable piecewise linear gamma correction, color correction, and color space conversion
    Spatial/temporal dithering provides 30-bit color quality on 24-bit and 18-bit displays

    Is it possible to select the video output range 16-235 vs 0-255 manually?
    I expect that there will be more in dept article for HTPC and mabe there you will explain what should we pay attention to.
    Reply
  • vlado08 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Just to add

    Give us a screen shot comparison of the driver setting pages of the Ati nVIDIA Intel.
    I want to know what settings are possible with Clear Video vs Avivo HD vs Purevideo HD.

    Also about how do we select colors rec BT 601 vs rec BT 709
    Reply
  • pfroo40 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I would have appreciated it if they had included a video quality comparison for this new crop of HTPC cards. I made the mistake of buying a cheap 3450 for bluray, which does accelerates fine but has low image quality. It'd be useful for my next purchase if I had more to base a comparison on. Otherwise, so far it looks like the passively cooled 4550 would be a solid upgrade. Reply

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