Thereís more to computers than the internet, word processing, and gaming. Today, a PC has its rightful place in the living room where it is the core of a good home theater system.
Watching TV on the PC has become very popular over the past few years, especially with the introduction of Windows XP Media Center Edition. Many of these preconfigured Windows MCE computers come with a TV tuner, sometimes two and are designed for the ultimate media experience.
Unfortunately, often times the TV tuners in OEM computers are proprietary and cheap. Many of these tuners deliver subpar image quality, and do not have dedicated hardware onboard to encode the recorded video and sound. Essentially, these tuners are just bridges between the cable signal and the PC. Fortunately, there are several aftermarket alternatives available on the market that are quite capable performers.
Todayís latest TV tuners offer features like hardware MPEG-2 encoding, which offloads the work from the CPU when you record TV. There are filtering algorithms that reduce background noise and features found on TV sets like 3D Comb filtering for a clearer picture. Some even come with HD programming and FM radio tuning capabilities.
ATI has been a leader in the TV tuner department for some time now. After the release of their HDTV Wonder and Theater 550 Pro cards, they were widely considered to be one of the best TV tuner manufacturers thanks to the high quality picture and low CPU utilization their cards produced. Weíll be looking at ATIís newest tuner, the TV Wonder 650, which is based on ATIís new Theater 650 ASIC. It is an update of their previous award-winning chip, the Theater 550 Pro. Like most TV tuners it is a single tuner card. New features include over-the-air HD reception, MPEG-4 and DivX encoding (via the Catalyst Media Center software), and more.
Letís take a look at the card itself!