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Finally, something to put in that X1 slot

If you have upgraded your motherboard in the past year, chances are you have a couple PCI-E X1 slots being neglected. Through no fault of your own of course; PCI-E peripherals have been few and far between. At least the ones that you can install yourself - many onboard peripherals run on the PCI-E bus.

PowerColor has finally released something we can install into those lonely PCI-E slots - the Theatre 550 Pro PCI-E.

This product is identical to the PCI based Theatre 550 pro - same hardware, same accessories, same software. The only thing that is different is the bus used. However, since a TV Tuner doesn't require any more bandwidth than PCI can provide, performance should be pretty much identical.

So with the excitement of actually being able to use our PCI-E X1 slots out of the way, let's have a look at 550 Theatre Pro itself, as a cable TV tuner with hardware MPEG-2 encoding.

The Right Way to do TV

If you have shopped for a TV tuner in an effort to build your own PVR, or just add TV capability to your PC, you might have come across some products as low as $30. What makes these cards any different from the $99 Theater 550 Pro from PowerColor? Hardware MPEG-2 encoding. If you are going to be watching a reasonable amount of TV on any PC, this is the one feature you need to have. In fact, Microsoft requires it for a tuner to be qualified for use with Windows Media Center Edition. Not only will your CPU be freed up from having to encode video on the fly, MPEG compression quality varies, so video quality can be affected.

The Theater 550 Pro chip is an all-in-one solution from ATI, and is relatively new. It does the TV and FM tuning, as well and MPEG2 encoding. Other products may use tuners and MPEG2 chips from various manufacturers, mixing and matching as they see fit. Quality can be just as good, if not better, but price is usually affected. For instance, we will be comparing the Theatre 550 Pro to the grandfather of hardware MPEG2 tuners for standard definition HTPCs: the Hauppauge WinTV PVR250. The PVR250 uses seperate MPEG2 encoding and TV tuning chips, but both are provided by Conexant.

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