Now for the main event; how was
the picture quality on the Powercolor Theatre 550 Pro? In a word, excellent. When using
'best' quality video capture through an S-video cable from a Satellite
TV decoder, we were unable to tell the difference between the original and
the copy at a glance. We saw no artifacting or other telltale signs
of video compression.
Looks like the Theatre 550 Pro chip's comb filtering features pay off. Better
yet, on our midrange Athlon XP 3000+ test system with 512MB
of memory and an older Maxtor 20GB 7200RPM hard drive, we saw no
sign of dropped frames, even at best quality. Colours were bright and edges
were crisp also.
Of course, video
quality dropped as we lowered the capture quality, but the results were still
more than watchable. Audio and video appeared to be perfectly in sync on
all our tests.
When we used the 'live TV' applet of PowerCinema to
view a TV signal passed through a coaxial cable from the
satellite decoder, video quality decreased noticeably. This is to be expected
though, as the PVR recording function of the PowerCinema software is switched
on by default as soon as you begin viewing the TV
signal. The actual signal is delayed a couple of seconds and you watch
the recorded version.
We could see no way of turning this
feature off. Picture quality was still good, excellent on static
images. Slight blurring and artifacting was noted on fast moving sections
of the display. Frame rates remained apparently perfect, except for a
split second when the 'record' feature was enabled. Impressively, our test
system managed to run a Microsoft AntiSpyware test in the background while
running the PVR application in the foreground without dropping a single
frame. We only realized what was going on because the hard drive was
churning so much!
The audio and video remained in sync while using the PVR applet, even when we
fast-forwarded and reversed through the footage. We were unable to make
the Theatre 550 Pro card lose track. Seems that the 550 Pro chip's ability
to process video and audio at once is paying dividends.
Overall, we were quite satisfied with the Powercolor Theatre 550 Pro's
image quality and lack of dropped frames, and we liked how it managed to stay
perfectly in sync.