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MSI ATI Theater 550 Pro PCI
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Date: Aug 31, 2005
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Matt Beauvais
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Introducing the MSI Theater 550 Pro

After recently reviewing the Leadtek WinFast TV USB II Deluxe and Diamond's Xtreme TV PVR 550 Power Pack, there are certain things we've come to expect in PC TV tuners. For one, easy driver and software installation is important. And the bundled software and its functionality is a primary concern as well.  After all, what good is a TV Tuner without quality software to run it? And of course, the device's image quality has to be good.

On the surface, MSI's Theatre 550 Pro seems like an appealing product, but as we all know it's how a product performs in the real world that counts. ATI's Theater 550 Pro chip, which is at the heart of the MSI card, has been used to power a few different TV Tuners. We actually took a comprehensive look at the Theater 550 Pro's features a few months back should you want more details on this impressive chip. Today at HotHardware though, we're going to take a look at MSI's multimedia offering, to see if it has what it takes to be a serious contender in this market segment. Let's get started with an overview of the card's specs and the package contents.

Product Features and System Requirements
Package Contents
Package:
ATI Theater 550 Pro PCI Card
Remote Control
USB Receiver

Manuals and Books:

Quick Installation Guide

Software Packaged:

Theater 550 Pro Drivers
PowerCinema 3.0
MakeDVD
Power2Go 4 - DVD

System Requirements:

Windows XP
Pentium 3/4 or Similar CPU
Television Source(Antenna, Analog/Digital Cable, Satellite)
Available PCI Slot

Pricing and Availability:

$75 USD MSRP

Warranty:

1 Year Limited Warranty
Notable Features:

FM Radio Reception
16MB DDR memory and 3D Comb Filter Real-time MPEG2 hardware compression
Record from any video source (TV, VCR, DVD, Camcorder, etc.)
Skip Commercials on Playback
Auto and Full Channel scan
Scheduled Recording
ATI Theater 550 Pro Technology:
ATI Theater 550 Pro Features:
  • Video Decoder
  • Worldwide Stereo Audio Support
  • Digital 12-bit IF demodulation
  • MPEG-2 Encoder
  • 12-bit Video Decoder w/ Hardware 3D Comb Filter
  • Hardware Noise Reduction
  • FM Radio
  • Closed Captioning and Teletext Support
  • Integrated Anti-Aliasing Filters



 

 

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Taking A Closer & Package Contents

MSI ATI Theater 550 Pro
Goodies Inside The Box

TV Tuners aren't exactly massive pieces of hardware, as you can see below. The red PCB falls in line with many of MSI's other products. The ports, from left to right are: CATV In Connector, FM Radio Antenna Connector, and the AV IN Connector which allows for S-Video, Composite, and Audio L/R connections. As you can see, there are no heatsinks located on the PCB, and there's no need to worry about it overheating, or creating any substantial amount of extra heat in your case.

  

All of the goodies needed for the full TV experience are here. Recording shows, making and playing DVD's, even listening to the radio are all just a couple of clicks away. The PowerCinema software is your main tool, allowing you to watch TV, keep track of your recorded shows, view pictures, listen to music files, and listen to live FM Radio. MakeDVD and Power2Go can be used to burn all of your newly recorded media. The FM Radio Antenna is fairly long(just under 8ft), so you shouldn't have any trouble getting a decent signal. The AV IN Connector is included so you can grab media from other devices such as a VCR or DVD Player. To the novice user, ripping your home movies from a camcorder to your computer, and eventually burning them onto a DVD might seem like a daunting task. And to some degree it can be, however, all the needed tools have been supplied, and thanks to the help of various forums across the net, you're not looking at a mission impossible situation.

  

TV Tuner packages have become somewhat standardized. Aside from the required cables and TV viewing software, packages usually consist of a slim user manual, a few DVD authoring programs, and of course a functional remote that looks like it belongs next to your brand spanking new DVD player, rather than next to your computer. The remote has some great features, which we'll cover later on. Now, it's time to take the helm with the PowerCinema software.

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PowerCinema 3, And A Pearl White Remote

Surf the channels, scan the waves with PowerCinema
Remotely Controlled

Getting the drivers for the ATI Theater 550 Pro, and the PowerCinema software installed took no time at all. As with most software these days, just put the CD in the drive, follow the on screen instructions, and in a few minutes, you should be good to go. The PowerCinema software, on the outside, seems clean, functional, and easy to navigate. However, that's not entirely the case. Whenever we get new software, one of the first things we do is look at the options and settings. While PowerCinema gives you some level of control, such as being able to choose recording quality(good, better, best), audio recording formats, and color profiles, there isn't the level of functionality found in rival software. There's no ability to turn off timeshifting, or change your saved media folder/drive. There is also no channel listing available, so keep that TV Guide close.

  

 

PowerCinema 3.0 allows you to watch TV, listen to FM radio, and record both.  Unfortunately though, all of these actions feel a big sluggish. The software, while certainly not terrible, could respond a little quicker. We noticed slight pauses when just clicking through the menus, and experienced even longer pauses lasting a few seconds when trying to record. To make sure it wasn't the tuner, we tried another all-in-one media center program, BeyondTV 3.5. We received none of the delays that are found with PowerCinema. While these annoyances certainly won't cripple your media experience, it can get annoying after a while. Even more so if your trying to do something in a hurry. PowerCinema version 4 has recently been released, and while we did not have the chance to use the software, we couldn't find any complaints similar to the ones we had with PowerCinema 3. However, if your interested in PowerCinema 4, we suggest doing some research on it before you're purchase (it is NOT included with the MSI Theater 550).

  

We've come to enjoy the remotes packaged in today's TV Tuners, and this one compares favorably with its competitors. Quick link buttons are placed on the top of the remote, allowing you to quickly jump from viewing your pics, to watching TV, and then listening to the radio. The bottom half looks like any other TV/DVD remote. Keep in mind that with timeshifting, you can use the Fast Forward, Rewind, and Pause buttons while watching TV. The remote requires two AAA(Triple A) batteries to run, which MSI has included (everything you need to get going is found in MSI's package).

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Image Quality, Final Thoughts & Conclusion

The Question of Quality
Final Verdict

  

The MSI Theater 550 Pro offers great image quality at a good price. The occasional static and background noise can be seen in the image, but this is to be expected. The images produced are only as good as the cable signal being sent into the card, so keep that in mind. This isn't a top of the line product, however, and for the price level MSI is aiming for, the image is more than acceptable, as other TV Tuners in a slightly higher price range have comparable quality. However, we must reiterate that factors such as signal quality and weather can play a part in image quality. Some channels look better than others, and with a TV Tuner card paired with a computer monitor, background noise is a little more noticeable than if you were viewing the signal on a TV.

Looking back at what we've seen, MSI has succeeded in producing a good TV Tuner package. With the ATI Theater 550 Pro chip, you get decent image quality, and the ability to receive FM Radio. However, the complaints we had with the PowerCinema software take away from the overall experience. While it has a clean interface, and allows you to watch TV and view other forms of media, the features we've come to expect just aren't there, like TV listings for example. For those of you who have used other TV viewing programs, you might be disappointed by PowerCinema's performance and lack of features. This isn't to say that PowerCinema is a bad piece of software, it can certainly get the job done, just not always the way you might want. For the novice user looking for just the basic options, it's a good first step into the multimedia waters.

The recent batch of TV Tuner packages to hit the market have been fairly impressive. It's amazing how convenient it is to transfer any kind of media you can imagine, straight onto your PC, and then browse through it with a remote control. What's even more amazing is how easy it has become. Driver installation is down to just a few clicks of a mouse, and maybe filling in a couple forms with location information. Thanks to the fully featured remotes now found in most packages, you don't even have to be at your computer to channel surf, record, and even switch between TV, Radio, and DVD.

The MSI ATI Theater 550 Pro is a package aimed at those with a tight budget, or those who are just looking for a basic TV Tuner. With a retail price of around $75, you can get all the tools you need to watch TV on your computer, burn your media to DVD, and even transfer media from your VHS and Camcorder onto your computer. HotHardware gives the MSI ATI Theater 550 Pro an 8 out of 10 on the Heat Meter.

_Good Image Quality
_Can Receive FM Radio
_Included Remote Control
_Affordable Price
_PowerCinema lacks features
_Slow performance with __PowerCinema

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