In our first article we took a look at some of the upcoming reviews for the storage sector and today we take a quick glance at some interesting multimedia products. We will close out our series with a long list of motherboards and memory items. Our visits with various manufacturers yielded some interesting information as most expect the arrival of Vista to be a boon for memory and multimedia centric products. We completely understand the giddiness of the memory manufacturers as Vista will need at least 1GB of memory to operate decently, and 2GB will be recommended. We will go over this DRAM requirement and additional memory technologies in our next series but today's emphasis is on multimedia products.

Most of the multimedia product suppliers are gearing up for next year with new product designs and functionality improvements. They expect to see a heightened awareness or interest of the average personal computer user in using the PC for media centric applications. In essence, with most versions of Vista including native Windows Media Center capabilities that have been greatly improved over MCE 2005, suppliers are hoping for the PC to finally become a mainstream digital content appliance in the living room.

While we think this is still a ways off or might morph into something different, the mere fact that you will no longer need to purchase a separate operating system for Media Center functionality should help move the PC platform in this direction, and with CableCARD support arriving in Vista we think the market for HTPC systems and equipment will enjoy steady growth over the coming months. As this market grows we expect to see a convergence in the technologies utilized in your typical set top box and the PC that will result in a true media center hub for the home. We will delve into this more in our upcoming HTPC articles but for now lets take a look at some interesting products we have in the labs today with an eye towards products planned for early next year.

Multimedia Products:

Diamond Multimedia


Diamond Multimedia has been around for over two decades now and specializes in video graphics, computer audio, and communication devices for both the home and business office user.


The Diamond XtremeTV PVR660 USB 2.0 is a portable Personal Video Recorder (PVR) TV tuner with an MPEG-2 hardware encoder. The unit also features an FM radio tuner. The PVR660 comes bundled with USB, S-Video, RCA, and FM antenna cables along with a credit card size remote control unit. Diamond Multimedia also includes an excellent software package that features ArcSoft's TotalMedia that does a very good job of impersonating Windows MCE 2005, at least to a certain degree. This is a benefit for those who have Windows 2000 or XP as their base operating system. We tried the unit with MCE 2005 as well and it worked flawlessly. The software package also includes Orb and muvee.

In similar fashion to Windows MCE 2005, ArcSoft TotalMedia is a single program that provides TV, video recording, photo editing, and media conversion tasks within a simple user interface. You can watch and record TV shows, edit photos or video, listen to music, rip CDs to MP3 files, and export or import your files to various portable devices. Using the TitanTV electronic program guide is as easy as entering your zip code and selecting your service provider.

The unit is enclosed in a compact portable housing and features a USB 2.0 interface. The front panel features the RCA audio, S-Video, and composite-video inputs along with an illuminated power switch. The back panel features inputs for a coaxial cable and FM radio connections. The unit has two USB 2.0 ports with one for connecting the unit to your PC and the other for the remote control interface. A DC power input is included for those using the PVR660 with a non-powered USB 2.0 port. The unit is Auto Compatible with NTSC, PAL, and SECAM TV Systems which means you can pretty much travel the world with it.

We found the unit offered very good performance during testing, but the picture quality was not as good as our AMD/ATI TV Wonder 550 or Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150. However, the differences were not as recognizable on screens less than 30" in size and considering it is using an analog interface, the artifacts and motion blur that we encountered at times was expected and present to some degree on virtually all PCI based analog tuner cards. The huge bonus factor for this unit is the fact that is portable, contains an excellent software package, and is auto compatible with all the major TV broadcast standards. The current price for this package is around $119 and until the CableCARD products become mainstream we highly recommend this unit for those who need portability or an extra TV tuner in the house.

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  • Trisped - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    Can/did you test the Oxygen HD CMI8788 audio processor's ability to decode 5.1+ digital sound and output it to analog speakers.

    I ask because the creative labs forums are full of 360 users who complain that they don't get clean playback on their X-Fi cards. I have an Audigy2, which isn't any better. A replacement would be nice...
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    We are currently finishing the decoding tests. This will include output to both digital and analog speakers directly from the card and through a A/V receiver. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    By my understanding, Vista does away with hardware DirectSound acceleration (or at least, hardware DirectSound3D). This means that any games or other programs that use EAX done via DirectSound3D will no longer have surround sound under Windows. Only apps that use OpenAL will be useful.

    Creative cards based on EMU10k chipsets will offer users a number of options, what with the kxProject's OpenAL drivers for these cards. However, those drivers aren't compatible with the X-Fi, which has a different chip. I'm curious as to whether many of the X-Fi's features will be obsoleted by Windows Vista.

    It could be that I'm drawing incorrect conclusions, so I'd be interested to hear from people more knowledgeable than I. But it seems like high-quality DACs will be the one important feature in Vista-ready sound cards, and that other fancy bits will become irrelevant.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    X-Fi will work fine in vista, more so than other soundcards. Creative engineers have found a way to intercept directsound3d so x-fi can process it on the soundcard so does not matter in Vista.

    This driver will be released sometime late next month. The X-Fi card will still be the top dog for games (good or bad to some people :P)
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    To add from post above, here is link to article.
    http://www.custompc.co.uk/custompc/news/98878/vist...">http://www.custompc.co.uk/custompc/news...ll-suppo...

    Here is a quote from the article....

    ..........
    However, our source at Creative Labs exclusively revealed to Custom PC that the company has developed a driver for its X-Fi range of sound cards that will allow for full hardware sound processing in all games, not only those that use OpenAL. The driver works by intercepting DirectSound 3D calls from the game code and converting them into OpenAL on the fly, before these calls reach the DirectX 10 API. By converting the calls to OpenAL, Creative circumvents the limitations of Windows Vista.

    Creative told us that the driver is expected to be completed by December, a month before Windows Vista is due to launch, and will support all Creative X-Fi sound cards. However, older Audigy and Sound Blaster sound cards will not be supported initially, which means that the only way to get high-quality positional audio in Windows Vista is to buy an X-Fi.
    ..........

    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    Just in case these points are not readily noticeable for some:

    1) This is going to create more load on the Creative sound cards, which COULD cause more CPU utilization. Now, I don't know why anyone else would buy an X-Fi, but if I bought one, I would be buying it to offload as much processing as possible onto the Audio card, vs the CPU. Pretty much defeats the purpose of buying an add-in Audio card(for $200-$300 usd, and for gaming).

    2)Creative, like all the rest of the gaming industry, is PROBABLY going to use this as an excuse to raise prices on their X-Fi line, and "force" users into buying one. If I'm incorrect, then why hold off on the drivers for the older products ?

    Since MS has been delinquent in sending me my copy of Vista Beta (yes, I'm an MSDN subscriber), I can only speculate here, but what about all the current Audio solutions on the market RIGHT_NOW ? Will this force the system into some form of Compatibility mode ? Older video cards causing the system to revert to using Directx 9L(D3D 9), I can understand, but as far as I'm aware, Direct Sound wasn't broken.

    This smells so much like MS, and OEMs trying to rape the end user to the ninth degree it's pitiful, and thats coming from a person who prefers Windows to *NIX (on the desktop) . . .
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Since MS has been delinquent in sending me my copy of Vista Beta (yes, I'm an MSDN subscriber), I can only speculate here, but what about all the current Audio solutions on the market RIGHT_NOW ? Will this force the system into some form of Compatibility mode ? Older video cards causing the system to revert to using Directx 9L(D3D 9), I can understand, but as far as I'm aware, Direct Sound wasn't broken.


    We are running audio tests on the RTM release at this time. I hope to have an article up in about three weeks with the results of several audio solutions. The timing is dependent upon a couple of final driver release dates that are around 12/15 now.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    That is good to hear Gary, and thanks for mentioning it. I hate to sound like an ass when making comments about up and coming technology, and in no way do I direct this at any of the other readers here, or the AT staff. I just get worked up, thinking *this* product or that is great, then something like this comes out, and throws a monkey wrench into the big picture.

    I'm sure, I'm not the only person here, that sees Creative s "solution", as a complete *hack*. Being brought up, from very young, believing that when you do something, you do it right ONCE, and not 50 times WRONG. Perhaps I should send my parents over to Creative s
    "Lab" ?
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    We are also looking at reviewing the new "low" cost X-FI cards under Vista once we have final drivers. Reply
  • Trisped - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    The odds of creating more work for the CPU by off loading work on the sound processor does not make sense to me. What might cause an increase in CPU usage would be if Creative finds ways to do things that cannot be done in current Vista settings. The reality is that is not going to happen.

    As for being forced to buy something, most people buy SoundBlaster because it has the most perks. As I see it, off loading sound work to the hardware is a perk.
    Reply

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