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ATI TV Wonder HD 600 PCI & HD 650 Combo USB
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by Nate Marion on February 28, 2008 in Displays

AMD recently released two new ATI TV Wonder HD tuners, both of which have been in our lab for the past few months. In that time, we’ve put them through numerous tests to see what each one was made of. While the 600 PCI left a bit to be desired, the 650 Combo USB proves to do a lot of things right.

Introduction

It seems like the HTPC market is growing faster every day, and I don’t think there’s any better example of this than the fact that the last chipset/motherboard refresh gave us micro-ATX motherboards with built in HDMI outputs from ASUS, Gigabyte, Biostar, MSI, and Sapphire. The video card front is no different; both ATI and NVIDIA are marketing cheap video cards whose feature-lists contain little more than hardware video decoding, and have been HDMI compatible for a long time.

Putting together an HTPC today isn’t just easy, it’s also relatively inexpensive – $500 and a casual eye on a hot deals forum can produce a decent machine with money to spare because there are plenty of good hardware (and thus, rebate) options to choose from.

This brings us to today’s review of two ATI high definition TV Tuners. ATI has been making TV tuners for the PC since… well, since there were TV tuners for the PC, and their TV Wonder and All-In-Wonder product lines have been award-winning mainstays of the HTPC market segment since before the HTPC got its own market segment. Simply put, ATI knows what they’re doing. So we’re going to take a couple of ATI’s more recent TV tuner products for a spin.

The TV tuner is what brings the HT to the PC, so it’s important to know what your money is buying – unfortunately, it’s very difficult to provide a review that will be 100% accurate to every reader when it comes to tuning TV because there are a lot of external variables to deal with, and no universal benchmark to clearly measure performance. That said, we’re still confident that our subjective experience can help you make an informed buying decision. Let’s get to it.

ATI TV Wonder HD 600 PCI

According to the ADM website, the features of the ATI TV Wonder HD 600 PCI include:

    Single hybrid tuner offering tuning for:

  • Over-the-air Digital TV/HDTV (ATSC)
  • Clear-QAM Digital HD Cable
  • Over-the-air/Cable Analog TV (NTSC)
    ATI Theater Video Processing Technology
  • Software MPEG-2 Encoder
  • Automatic Color Control
  • Automatic Gain Control
    ATI Catalyst Media Center featuring
  • Full PVR and time shifting functionality
  • DVD Playback Software
  • DVD Authoring Software
  • ATI Theater Video Converter Software
    AMD LIVE! CD featuring AMD LIVE! On Demand

System Requirements

The system requirements are easily met, but there is a pronounced lack of 64-bit support. Per the AMD website:

    Operating Systems

  • Windows XP Home Edition
  • Windows XP Professional Edition
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • Certified for Windows Vista
    System Requirements

  • 512MB of system memory, 1GB recommended for Microsoft Vista
  • Sound Card and speakers
  • Motherboard with available PCI slot
  • DirectX 9 or better graphics card
  • Cable TV signal or amplified antenna for NTSC TV signals
  • Amplified antenna for ATSC HDTV signals
  • Installation software requires CD-ROM drive
  • DVD Authoring requires DVD Burner
  • DVD decoder is included with ATI Catalyst Media Center

What You Get

Our review samples came in plain white boxes without the retail packaging. The ATI TV Wonder 600 PCI package includes the tuner card itself along with an infrared remote control and USB receiver, and an adapter for stereo audio input.

The card is half-height, meaning that it will be able to fit in some of the smaller HTPC cases available with the use of a smaller PCI bracket. The card’s single TV tuner is clearly visible, and the remaining inputs are for stereo sound, composite video and S-video. Note that there is no FM tuning capability on this card.

ATI TV Wonder 650 Combo USB

According to the ADM website, the features of the ATI TV Wonder 650 Combo USB include:

    Two built-in tuners offering combo tuning for:

  • Over-the-air Digital TV / HDTV (ATSC)
  • Over-the-air / Cable Analog TV (NTSC)
  • Clear-QAM (unscrambled) Digital HD Cable2
  • FM Radio
    ATI Theater Video Processing Technology

  • Hardware MPEG-2 compression
  • Motion Adaptive 3D Comb Filter
  • Automatic Color Control
  • Automatic Gain Control
  • Noise Reduction
  • Edge Enhancement
    ATI Catalyst Media Center featuring:

  • Full PVR and time shifting functionality
  • DVD Playback Software
  • DVD Authoring Software
  • ATI Theater Video Converter
    AMD LIVE! CD featuring AMD LIVE! On Demand

An important note is that ClearQAM signals can only be viewed using Microsoft Vista.

System Requirements:
The supported operating systems and system requirements are identical to the TV Wonder HD 600 PCI, with the exception that instead of a free PCI slot, you only need a free USB port and a nearby electrical outlet.

    Operating Systems

  • Windows XP Home Edition
  • Windows XP Professional Edition
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • Certified for Windows Vista
    System Requirements

  • 512MB of system memory, 1GB recommended for Microsoft Vista
  • Sound Card and speakers
  • DirectX 9 or better graphics card
  • Cable TV signal or amplified antenna for NTSC TV signals
  • Amplified antenna for ATSC HDTV signals
  • Installation software requires CD-ROM drive
  • DVD Authoring requires DVD Burner
  • DVD decoder is included with ATI Catalyst Media Center

What You Get

The ATI TV Wonder 650 Combo USB package includes the tuner box, USB cable and power cable, FM antenna cable, and an infrared remote and USB receiver. The infrared remote receiver is identical to the one included with the ATI TV Wonder 600 PCI, but the remote has a slightly different layout.

The receiver box has various cable connections on three sides, and can be laid flat or set upright on one side. There is a green LED on the face, which lights up when the unit is powered.

Here you can see on the left the two coaxial inputs, one for digital TV, and the other for coaxial TV and FM radio. On the right are the composite video and stereo inputs, as well as the S-video input.

From this angle the USB and power connections can be seen.

On the inside, two Samsung TV Tuners can be seen on the left, the AMD theater 314 IC can be seen top center, next to 256MB of Samsung DDR. The chip with the green sticker is ATI’s Theater 650 pro chipset, with a PLX USB controller on the lower right.