Viewing and recording TV signals through your PC is at best a messy affair, with a wide variety of hardware and software combos attempting to replicate the simple utility of the popular TiVo set-top box. Even when everything works out perfectly, you're usually stuck with a signal that's seriously degraded when compared to that of a basic cable-box-to-TV connection. ATI's new flagship TV tuner is the $125 TV Wonder 650, and thanks to its use of ATI's new Theater 650 Pro chip, it provides the best signal quality we've seen to date from a TV tuner card. Since budget TV tuner cards aren't much cheaper, this should be your go-to choice, especially if you're using a large display where errors are more readily apparent.
The ATI TV Wonder 650 includes inputs for both cable/satellite signals and over-the-air (OTA) HD signals. The latter requires an antenna correctly positioned to receive OTA transmissions but is the only option right now for HDTV content through a PC TV tuner. An external connection block that plugs in to the card provides composite and S-Video inputs.
The latest version of ATI's software, Catalyst Media Center, is cleanly designed and easy to navigate. While you can watch and record TV and access music and videos through it, there is no tab for photos, which keeps it from being a full substitute for Microsoft's Media Center Edition (MCE) OS. It does include a handy transcoding app that converts video files for use on, for example, a PSP or a video iPod.
Unlike ATI's new budget card, the TV Wonder 200, this card can also be used with MCE, as well as with other programs such as ArcSoft Total Media, a Media Center clone that does a great job mimicking the simple interface of MCE. ArcSoft's app also adds some nice additional functionality, such as basic photo editing.