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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  • Calin - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    The 4550 will also has reduced power requirements over the 4650 - and this will help with the noise level too. Reply
  • xeutonmojukai - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    so let's get this straight:

    AMD has the best two-GPU-one-card solution on the market.
    They have the best HTPC cards on the market.
    They have the best single slot card on the market.
    They have the best entry-level card for quality gaming.
    They have the best integrated graphics...

    Not only that, but their prices seem to remain very low...

    I just hope all this inevitable revenue goes towards an excellent CPU line next generation.
    Reply
  • whatthehey - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Given the above is pretty much what Anandtech has said during the past couple of months, I love how all the idiots out there still try to say this site is biased against AMD and is in the pocket of NVIDIA and Intel. I've been a reader for a LONG time, and let me tell you I've seen them praise any company with a superior product. Sorry folkds, but the AMD CPUs right now simply can't stand up to Intel. NVIDIA is also better in several areas, but at least it's a generally close match.

    In summary: A great big F U to all those Inquirer readers.
    Reply
  • tuteja1986 - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    Will it come in APG ? Reply
  • erikejw - Wednesday, October 01, 2008 - link

    "For our comparison to integrated graphics, we looked at two games: Crysis and Oblivion. These games tend to cover the spectrum fairly well from DX9 to DX10, and they tell the same story: integrated graphics suck."

    So you really beleive that casual gamers will go out and buy the 2 most demanding games released(when new). That is quite hilarious.

    A casual gamer might want to play a game someone bought them for christmas like a 3d golf game or a race game or a strategy game or even a good fps shooter, not that common for casual gamers though.

    Why not compare those games instead of picking out crysis, hell, even last generation 500$ card have problems with that game.

    How about making a comparison of "normal" games and see what resolution you can play them. Who cares if you get 4 or 7 fps in Crysis with 2 different IGP solutions. I wan't to know if I can play a game at all and in what resolution.

    Of course IGP solutions is worthless for hardcore gamers, noone will claim anything else.However a good reviewer will have the ability to look beyond his own needs.

    IGP are supposed to be slower than discrete cards, that doesn't make them worthless.



    Reply
  • erikejw - Wednesday, October 01, 2008 - link

    I was mostly wrong here.
    I didn't even care to read the end before I wrote my response.

    I read the other review for a few days ago that the Shrimp did and this is directed towards that article and I thought you would do the same.

    You used a weird choice of games but you did put in settings that made the games playable and you compared resolutions that would make the game playable, hats off for that.
    Reply

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