The Theater 650
We received the retail variant of the TV Wonder 650. This card is exactly what you would find in stores. The card came bundled with necessary software, an FM radio antenna, and an A/V input breakout box. To receive an over-the-air HD signal you must purchase an antenna/signal amplifier separately.
While all Theater 550 Pro-based ATI TV Wonder Elite cards came with a Remote Wonder Plus remote control unit, for the TV Wonder 650, ATI no longer ships the card with a remote included inside the box. Instead ATI offers a coupon that must be mailed in to receive a free remote control unit. This is something we highly suggest you do if you decide to purchase a TV Wonder 650 card, as ATI makes some of the best remotes in the industry.
In the pictures above, the TV Wonder 650 is at the bottom, in deep purple. For a comparison, we included a Theater 550 Pro card manufactured by Powercolor. Our TV Wonder 650 came in the PCI flavor. Some manufacturers will also be producing x1 PCI Express cards to suit the needs of users who have no PCI slots available.
If you just glance at the two cards, you may think they generally look the same, except for the PCB color. They both have the Theater processing chip in the center. Next to it is 16MB of DRAM. This acts as a buffer when the chip performs recording and encoding functions. On the back, there is a Rage Theater chip, not found on the Theater 550 Pro. The Rage Theater chip is found on ATI’s All-in-Wonder series, video cards with a TV tuner on board. The Rage Theater chip may help with VIVO (Video In, Video Out) functions. There are also two chips on the back near the PCI connectors that are not present on the Theater 550 Pro board.
Improvements over the Theater 550 Pro
When designing Theater 650, ATI took its Theater 550 Pro card, widely considered the best tuner in terms of image quality, and made it even better. The most important addition is DTV technology. The tuner can produce digital signals in ATSC or DVB-T for North American and European nations, respectively. ATI is a pioneer of this technology, and hopefully others will follow in their footsteps.
Image quality has also been addressed. It was already the best on the market, but there is nothing stopping ATI from making something good even better. Motion sensitive 3D comb filtering has been added, to reduce jagged edges on moving objects. Automatic color control has been added as well, for truer colors and high brightness. Edges enhancement gives sharper edges, but can be turned off when the edges look fake and unnatural.
Aside from these hardware enhancements, the software portion also took a huge boost. This was the only concern of most users of the Theater 550 Pro: “what good is the best hardware with the worst software?” The included Cyberlink PowerCinema was sufficient for TV viewing, but it lacked in depth multimedia features such as advanced recording options and encoding options. The software was also very buggy. ATI scrapped its Multimedia center program and created the Catalyst Media Center, a great improvement over Cyberlink’s program that lets you have the best possible experience with your Theater 650 card. We’ll talk about it later in the article.