ATI Radeon HD 4350 and 4550: Great HTPC Solutionsby Derek Wilson on September 30, 2008 12:45 AM EST
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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.