eVGA Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700 review: eVGA Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700

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The Good Includes comprehensive media software; wide range of A/V inputs and outputs.

The Bad Costs $50 more than the comparable ATI All-in-Wonder 9600 XT; inferior remote control; no IR blaster; complicated software-update process; supports only a single monitor.

The Bottom Line One of the first Nvidia-based self-contained 3D-graphics/TV-tuner cards, eVGA's Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700 is adequate for anyone who wants to watch and record TV and play games on the same PC.

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7.2 Overall

The 128MB eVGA Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700 and its main competitor, the ATI All-In-Wonder 9600 XT, are both designed to turn your PC into an ad-hoc media center with digital-video-recording functionality and a host of media-playing and recording software applications. They're very similar products and even rely on some of the same software to do the job. Key differences in cost, features, and performance tip the scales in favor of the All-In-Wonder 9600 XT, though the core Nvidia Personal Cinema platform could emerge as a peer or a superior to ATI's All-In-Wonders. The eVGA Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700, however, is not the card to do it.

The most obvious difference between the two cards is the price: the Personal Cinema 5700 costs $299, where the All-In-Wonder 9600 XT costs $249. For the extra $50 you pay for the Personal Cinema 5700, you get an I/O dongle with HDTV adapters--ports available on the All-In-Wonder 9600 XT only with an optional $29 adapter. Another negative is that the Personal Cinema 5700 requires a connection to your PC's power supply, which is potentially an issue if you have a small-form-factor case or a lot of other components already installed in your PC. The All-In-Wonder 9600 XT has no such requirement.

Otherwise, the various inputs and outputs on the two cards are basically the same. On the rear of the Personal Cinema 5700, you'll find coaxial inputs for TV and FM radio signals, a special port for the IR remote-control receiver, an audio-out jack, and a single DVI port--a shame, since installing a TV-tuner card seems like the perfect way to use two monitors. The aforementioned I/O dongle accommodates all manner of home entertainment devices, housing the composite-video and left and right audio-input ports on one side, and the S-Video and component-video ports, which support modest 480p HD output for DVDs, on the other. Standard five-foot, three-jack RCA cables are included, but you may need to swing by the local A/V store to pick up a longer set, depending on how far away your PC is from your audio/video components.

The Personal Cinema 5700 also includes a wire antenna for FM radio and a VGA adapter for standard CRT monitors. This range of inputs and outputs is very similar to that offered by ATI's All-In-Wonder card. It should fit the needs of most users, though failing to support dual monitors is a glaring oversight. Nor were we impressed with the included remote control and RF receiver. The remote's mouse-cursor control was annoyingly jerky, and we were disappointed by the limited choice of applications mappable to the programmable buttons. Also missing from eVGA's RF base is an IR-blaster port, which means that you can't use the remote to control a connected set-top cable box. According to eVGA, however, future versions of the card may include this feature.

Hardware capabilities aren't the only similarities between the Personal Cinema 5700 and the All-In-Wonder 9600 XT. Similar in concept to ATI's well-developed Multimedia Center software, Nvidia's ForceWare suite serves as the hub for the Personal Cinema 5700's DVR software and its various media players and DVD-burning apps. Nvidia's software menus also link to apps that come with the Personal Cinema 5700, including Ulead DVD MovieFactory 2.5 SE (for creating DVDs) and Ulead VideoStudio 7.0 SE (for movie editing). Both cards use the same easy-to-use Guide Plus+ software for a TV-channel guide. Unfortunately, both cards also suffer the same limitations when it comes to digital video recording (DVR). Neither can decode an encrypted cable-box signal, which means that unless you're recording from an over-the-air broadcast or an otherwise decrypted television signal, the channel guide and the DVR capabilities become useless.

Both the Personal Cinema 5700 and the All-In-Wonder 9600 XT feature identical performance to standalone graphics cards that use the same chips, but you can see from our performance results that the reference Nvidia GeForce FX 5700 is still slower than the Radeon 9600 XT. This means that although there is no 3D performance degradation when moving from a standalone graphics card to a combo card using the same core 3D technology, the All-In-Wonder 9600 XT uses a faster chip than the Personal Cinema 5700 does, making the former the best all-around TV-tuner/graphics card at the midrange level.

The issue of the Personal Cinema 5700's performance brings up the complicated matter of updating its driver software. When you update the card's 3D-graphics driver, you also have to reinstall the ForceWare suite's WDM video driver; otherwise, the new graphics-driver installation disables the card's video functions. Two-step driver updates are bad enough; what's worse is that eVGA doesn't mention how to update the drivers--something graphics-card owners do regularly--anywhere in its documentation or on its Web site. The Web site, in fact, confusingly lists several different versions of Nvidia's main 3D-graphics drivers and places the WDM driver at the bottom of the page with no explanation. We are surprised by this, because we imagine that two sentences of instruction would probably save eVGA a fortune in support-call expenses and unhappy customers.

Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
eVGA Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700 (ForceWare 61.34 driver)

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 with medium-quality settings  
1,024x768 with high-quality settings  
1,600x1,200 with medium-quality settings  
1,600x1,200 with high-quality settings  
eVGA Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700 (ForceWare 61.34 driver)

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
eVGA Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700 (ForceWare 61.34 driver)

Far Cry (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
1,600x1,200 with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering  
eVGA Nvidia Personal Cinema 5700 (ForceWare 61.34 driver)

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