As the PC has grown older over the years, it has not only gotten faster and cheaper, but it has also evolved into more uses. Early on the PC was used mainly for home office work, but as PCs became more powerful an increasing number of users relied on their PCs for gaming and desktop publishing. By the mid 90’s the internet was growing in popularity and many consumers felt they needed a PC for that.
Nowadays, home theater PCs are all the rage. Consumers not only want a box that can perform the traditional PC functions, but can also act as a consumer electronics device. These media PCs are used for listening to MP3s, watching videos/DVDs, and watching and recording television programming. Slowly but surely, the PC has moved from the study/den, into the living room as the centerpiece of many consumers home theater system, while college students in dorm rooms have tossed their TV altogether in favor of a media PC to save space.
THEATER 550 PRO cards from TUL (top), Sapphire (middle), ATI (bottom)
The TUL and Sapphire THEATER 550 PRO cards
This is where ATI’s ALL-IN-WONDER line comes in. Like a swiss army knife, ALL-IN-WONDER cards are known for their versatility. You can game with them, watch and record TV, make your vid caps and home movies, and with newer ALL-IN-WONDER cards, listen to or record your favorite radio programs.
But the one key downside to ALL-IN-WONDER is the 6-9 month product cycle ATI currently maintains. Quite frankly, ATI’s desktop unit refreshes their product line roughly every 6-9 months; these newer cards deliver more performance and sometimes more features. With new, more powerful cards constantly coming out, the latest ALL-IN-WONDER becomes obsolete rather quickly. Technically, RADEON X850 XT and RADEON X850 XT PE both deliver more performance than the ALL-IN-WONDER X800 XT. ATI was also sluggish to replace the ALL-IN-WONDER 9800 PRO.
For enthusiasts who want to remain on the cutting edge of technology, this simply takes too long.
This is where dedicated TV tuner cards come in. Not only can you keep up with the latest graphics developments on the desktop, you can also migrate a dedicated TV tuner card to another PC if you wish. You can literally go through multiple graphics or motherboard upgrades while relying on the same TV tuner card. ATI’s nearly six-year-old TV WONDER card can be used in today’s latest PCI Express motherboards.
But upgrade flexibility isn’t the only aspect dedicated TV tuners have going for them, starting with the TV WONDER ELITE (and other THEATER 550 PRO cards), high-end dedicated tuner cards now boast higher video quality as well. In fact, ATI touts the TV WONDER ELITE as capable of delivering “theater quality video”. Sounds like a killer combo right?
Today we’re taking a look at the first three THEATER 550 PRO cards to hit the market, ATI’s TV WONDER ELITE, the PowerColor THEATER 550 PRO, and Sapphire’s THEATRIX THEATER 550 PRO.