ATI Theater 650 Pro & Catalyst Media Center Preview
After taking some time to get familiar with the Theater 650 Pro processor from ATI, it's clear that ATI has a another strong product in their multimedia line-up. We were impressed with the overall image quality of both the analog and digital signals and FM performance was excellent as well. Channel changing seemed a bit more snappy than the NVIDIA DualTV and ATI also has a leg up on NVIDIA with their Catalyst Media Center software, making it a more widely compatible solution.
From a practical standpoint, however, we have to ask the question, "what is more beneficial - two analog TV-Tuners that are cable ready or an Analog TV-Tuner and a Digital TV-tuner that can accept OTA signal?". For those in areas with limited Digital transmissions, the digital tuner will be virtually useless and an antenna may be an additional cost as it is not clear if one will be provided with Theater 650 based cards. Having two analog tuners seem to be a far more functional proposition, making it easy to record one channel while viewing another. While it is a "hot" idea to have DTV on your PC, simply relying on an OTA signal can make the experience anticlimactic in the end. Once DTV can be received on a tuner card through a cable/satellite connection, then DTV on the PC will be a true joy and surely render analog signal outmoded.
If a dual TV tuner solution is desired, the NVDIA DualTV is a solid offering in a single card solution. Some will argue that for the price of one NVIDIA DualTV card you can get two single-tuner solutions, and that would be valid based on existing products. However, until we know pricing on Theater 650 Pro based hardware, there is little reason to debate the topic. While it is true that two Theater 550 Pro based cards could be purchased for the same price as a single NVIDIA DualTV card, this does not help the HTPC enthusiast that may be using a small form factor PC, which typically has one PCI slot in most cases.
There is no denying the image quality of the Theater 650 Pro is superb, however. Of course, when it comes to assessing image quality, the final say lies with the viewer, making it a subjective proposition. While the Theater 650 Pro may product better images, unless you have the two cards side-by-side, I think most will be hard pressed to declare one better than the other in the vast majority of real-world situations. Regardless, the ATI Theater 650 pro appears to be yet another quality product in ATI's multimedia arsenal, and we look forward to testing retail-ready products when they become available. Word is retail product could be out on the shelves in the next week or so, at an MSRP in the $129 price range.