Many consumers will choose to use Windows XP Media Center Edition as their front end, and our Theater 650 reference board hooked right up to the Media Center OS with no problems. ATI claims the Theater 650 Pro will be compatible with Windows Vista, although the future introduction of CableCard (essentially a mini cable box decoder that will be built into systems) will make that a moot point for most people who are looking to make high-quality TV recordings on their PCs.
The Theater 650 Pro is also compatible with Media Center alternatives such as Cyberlink PowerCinema and Snapstream's Beyond TV. In fact, a new version of that software, Beyond TV 4.3, is launching on Thursday, June 8, and Snapstream is touting its Theater 650 Pro compatibility as a major selling point.
Recording TV on a PC is a tricky subject that often leaves casual users either confused with the multitude of hardware and software choices out there or else disappointed with the less-than-stellar results of their recordings. When standard-definition cable signals are sent to your PC, the final image quality ranges from merely passable to downright ugly, even with a card powered by the excellent ATI Theater 650 Pro. Over-the-air HD recording is better but requires a compatible TV tuner card and the patience to hang an antenna out of your window and find an HD signal.
Of course, all this is expected to change sometime next year when new PCs are CableCard compatible. From what we've seen, it will produce recordings on a par with high-end set-top box digital cable, include HD programming where available (albeit with still-undetermined levels of Digital Rights Management).