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Image Quality

Just because the Theatre 550 Pro costs half that of the PVR250, that doesn't necessarily mean it will provide a lower quality picture. And although there are cheaper products than the Theatre 550 Pro, that doesn't mean the simple tuner/encoder/decoder chip will provide the best quality possible either.

Most of the quality testing was done subjectively, since it's somewhat difficult to show differences in SDTV quality, when the quality is very low to begin with. However, I have been using the 550 Pro now, for about 2 weeks. Before that, I have been using the PVR250. After 2 weeks with the 550, I switched back.  My TV is a Sony Vega 27". The video source is from an ATI X700 Pro with S-Video out. Software used was Snapstream BeyondTV 4, with the MPEG2 encoding set to 7000 kbps.

The verdict?

The Theatre 550 Pro PCI-E was noticably worse than the PVR250 in terms of picture clarity. Directly compared, you will definitely notice that pictures look more 'grainy' than the PVR250, and less sharp - even though SDTV over-air is grainy and dull to begin with.

To exhibit this, I'll show two screenshots of a hockey game from each tuner:

Hauppauge WinTV PVR250

PowerColor Theater 550 Pro PCI-E

As you can see, not only is the 'ticker' grainy to begin with, but there seems to be some distortion throughout the picture as well (look above the "Bud Light" logo on the ice). This is a worst-case scenario to be sure - I personally can't stand to watch hockey on an HTPC - but it shows that there is a somewhat significant quality difference between the two cards.

On a standard TV however, this difference is hardly noticable. In fact, you would have to compare the two directly, as I have, over a period of weeks. But if you want the best possible image quality on a standard definition TV tuner, the Theatre 550 Pro falls short.

CPU Usage

During MPEG2 recording, I checked out the CPU usage graph in Windows Task Manager:

This one can be called a tie.

Next Page: (Conclusion)