In our first article we took a look at some of the upcoming reviews for the storage sector and today we take a quick glance at some interesting multimedia products. We will close out our series with a long list of motherboards and memory items. Our visits with various manufacturers yielded some interesting information as most expect the arrival of Vista to be a boon for memory and multimedia centric products. We completely understand the giddiness of the memory manufacturers as Vista will need at least 1GB of memory to operate decently, and 2GB will be recommended. We will go over this DRAM requirement and additional memory technologies in our next series but today's emphasis is on multimedia products.

Most of the multimedia product suppliers are gearing up for next year with new product designs and functionality improvements. They expect to see a heightened awareness or interest of the average personal computer user in using the PC for media centric applications. In essence, with most versions of Vista including native Windows Media Center capabilities that have been greatly improved over MCE 2005, suppliers are hoping for the PC to finally become a mainstream digital content appliance in the living room.

While we think this is still a ways off or might morph into something different, the mere fact that you will no longer need to purchase a separate operating system for Media Center functionality should help move the PC platform in this direction, and with CableCARD support arriving in Vista we think the market for HTPC systems and equipment will enjoy steady growth over the coming months. As this market grows we expect to see a convergence in the technologies utilized in your typical set top box and the PC that will result in a true media center hub for the home. We will delve into this more in our upcoming HTPC articles but for now lets take a look at some interesting products we have in the labs today with an eye towards products planned for early next year.

Multimedia Products:

Diamond Multimedia

Diamond Multimedia has been around for over two decades now and specializes in video graphics, computer audio, and communication devices for both the home and business office user.

The Diamond XtremeTV PVR660 USB 2.0 is a portable Personal Video Recorder (PVR) TV tuner with an MPEG-2 hardware encoder. The unit also features an FM radio tuner. The PVR660 comes bundled with USB, S-Video, RCA, and FM antenna cables along with a credit card size remote control unit. Diamond Multimedia also includes an excellent software package that features ArcSoft's TotalMedia that does a very good job of impersonating Windows MCE 2005, at least to a certain degree. This is a benefit for those who have Windows 2000 or XP as their base operating system. We tried the unit with MCE 2005 as well and it worked flawlessly. The software package also includes Orb and muvee.

In similar fashion to Windows MCE 2005, ArcSoft TotalMedia is a single program that provides TV, video recording, photo editing, and media conversion tasks within a simple user interface. You can watch and record TV shows, edit photos or video, listen to music, rip CDs to MP3 files, and export or import your files to various portable devices. Using the TitanTV electronic program guide is as easy as entering your zip code and selecting your service provider.

The unit is enclosed in a compact portable housing and features a USB 2.0 interface. The front panel features the RCA audio, S-Video, and composite-video inputs along with an illuminated power switch. The back panel features inputs for a coaxial cable and FM radio connections. The unit has two USB 2.0 ports with one for connecting the unit to your PC and the other for the remote control interface. A DC power input is included for those using the PVR660 with a non-powered USB 2.0 port. The unit is Auto Compatible with NTSC, PAL, and SECAM TV Systems which means you can pretty much travel the world with it.

We found the unit offered very good performance during testing, but the picture quality was not as good as our AMD/ATI TV Wonder 550 or Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150. However, the differences were not as recognizable on screens less than 30" in size and considering it is using an analog interface, the artifacts and motion blur that we encountered at times was expected and present to some degree on virtually all PCI based analog tuner cards. The huge bonus factor for this unit is the fact that is portable, contains an excellent software package, and is auto compatible with all the major TV broadcast standards. The current price for this package is around $119 and until the CableCARD products become mainstream we highly recommend this unit for those who need portability or an extra TV tuner in the house.

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  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    Converting input from one sound API, to another, ON_THE_FLY, while playing a game, is not a trivial matter. Think of it along the lines of watching a movie, while decompressing an archive. I know that the Creative X-Fi's have a good amount of horsepower, but what remains to be seen, is if it can keep up, without any help from the CPU. Basically, this is a pretty fair comparison, because what you're doing is converting a data stream, while watching a video (put very simply).

    I honestly have no idea how Creative labs plans on doing this, and do not know much about their architecture, but what I can tell you is that while a video card MAY be able to do something along these lines, a sound card has no where near the on card bandwidth, and probably not any where near 1/10th the processing power. Besides this, take the video card for example again, when you increase the work load of the GPU, a faster CPU is often needed to keep up with it.

    You can remain the optimist, and I'll remain the pessimist, I guess we'll find out for sure in the end.
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    Its not as big deal as you make it out to be. Perhaps you can answer your own question if you read up on the card..cause its right in the ads for it. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    Also not raising prices, as seen by the release of more X-Fi based cards for LOWER prices. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    Sounds like a complete hack. I must say, this has to be the first bit of news regarding Vista, that has me saying to myself: "WTF were these guys thinking . . ." Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    The current chipset does not support openAL.

    Surprised you did not mention that if the person who buys it plays games.

    The current C-media chipset does not support openAL, and c-media has no plans to release a openAL card anytime soon. Bluesgears has asked them to but to no avail.

    This is the response i got from in email..
    "This is our request that we need to support OpenAL for our sound card. But C-Media, the chipset maker, still hesitates to support this OpenAL."

  • Gary Key - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    I will update the article about OpenAL support. It is certainly mentioned in the full review. At this time C-Media still has not decided to release driver support, for what reasons we do not understand, and we were hoping to have beta drivers or a firm answer before the full review. I am testing the card under Vista (RTM) at this time so we will have some comments about its performance and audio quality in games. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    edit: Yes i know you mentioned x-fi better for just games, but im just pointing out that the openAL part if someone is looking for this card for Vista and games to. Reply
  • JHutch - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    As I understand it (which could be completely wrong), the two major satellite companies in the US (Dish and DirecTV) do not use the DVB-S standard. Right now, I don't think there is ANY card that can grab digital TV signals from those two providers. Reply
  • kaborka - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    The docs for the card specified "free-to-air" satellite broadcasts. That rules out DishTV and DirectTV, which have their own encryption and require their own receivers. Reply
  • puffpio - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    That's what I want to know too...

    DVB-S is prevalent in Europe though right?

    I would still like to see one of these capture cards for directv or dish network..

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