In our last roundup of internal TV tuner cards, ATI's TV Wonder Elite came out on top, powered by the Theater 550 Pro, a single-chip video-decoder and MPEG-encoder solution that delivers high-end TV image quality. The company's newest version--the Theater 650 Pro--was announced early Tuesday morning.
The Theater 650 gives us a new video decoder and several picture quality tweaks and performance improvements. Some of the highlights include:
In addition, ATI's long-standing Multimedia Center software has been renamed Catalyst Multimedia Center, and notable features include support for dual analog/digital TV tuner cards, a nice translucent video window effect, called ThruView, and the ability to record to a number of formats, including MPEG-4, WMV 9 and H.264.
Of course, many consumers will choose to use Windows Media Center as their front end, and our Theater 650 reference board hooked right up to MCE with no problems. ATI also says the Theater 650 will be compatible with Windows Vista--although the future introduction of CableCard systems for PCs will make that a moot point for most people who are serious about using their PCs as a DVR.
The Theater 650 Pro is also compatible with Media Center alternatives like 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. Check back later in the week for our rundown of the new Beyond TV.
We should start seeing commercial products using the Theater 650 chip in July, but ATI sent us a reference board that we have hooked up a Media Center PC in the CNET Labs. We'll be posting our impressions in a full review shortly.