Diamond's XtremeTV PVR550 provides everything you'll need out of the box to turn your desktop into a media center PC, but its TV image quality is not ready for prime time.
Diamond Multimedia packages the XtremeTV PVR550 as a complete entertainment PC/DVR solution, built around a TV tuner card with an embedded MPEG encoder chip and ports for TV (coaxial), S-Video, audio in, and component (RCA) video in. For $130, you get a lot of features, but video quality is not as good as that of other cards we've seen.
The PVR550 works with systems running Windows XP Media Center Edition and includes a version of PowerDVD for viewing TV, but you'll have to provide Diamond Multimedia with proof of purchase to receive an unlock key code to use it. For Windows XP Home or Professional users, the card ships with SnapStream Media's Beyond TV 3.5 Subscriber Edition and BeyondMedia software, which provide a reasonable replication of Media Center's functions, including the ability to watch and record live TV and schedule recordings. You also get SnapStream's Firefly remote and IR receiver to control the action from the comfort of your couch. (Read our review of Beyond TV 3 for more information on this software.)
S-Video and RCA video cables are part of the package, as is a comprehensive quick-start guide with easy-to-follow instructions for connecting to multiple A/V sources, and an installation/driver CD. The audio jack is a single plug connection that requires a splitter cable, which is included in the box. Sadly, the card lacks an FM radio tuner.
The Xtreme TV PVR550 installed in a matter of minutes on our Media Center system, requiring a simple driver installation. After choosing Live TV through the MCE menu, we experienced mixed results as we cycled through our available channels. Signal quality varied widely, and there was noticeable ghosting and flicker on several of the lower channels; in some cases, the picture was grainy. Some images came in better but were not nearly as good as from a dedicated set-top TV tuner, a problem of varying degree for all TV tuner cards. Recorded programs were soft around the edges but still close to their original quality. On our direct signal DVD tests using the S-Video connection, image quality was good but not great. The picture was sharp and virtually free of artifacts, but there were instances of noticeable background flicker. Of the cards we tested, the ATI TV Wonder Elite offered the best pure video quality.