Graphics Cards Guide

PowerColor Radeon X1600 HDMI review

First Looks: PowerColor Radeon X1600 HDMI

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Definitely HDMI

Definitely HDMI

For those who have even the remotest interest in using their PCs to watch HDTV in a home theatre PC setup (HTPC), they would have known about the scandalous lack of graphics cards that can actually output to the latest HDTVs. This is because HDTVs will only accept signals from a HDCP compliant source and contrary to the marketing claims from both ATI and NVIDIA, it has emerged that their 'HDCP ready' cards are really not. In fact, ATI has been slapped with a class action suit for misrepresenting this fact. However, the fiasco has served to highlight a glaring issue and the PowerColor Radeon X1600 HDMI is one of the first such examples to address this lack.

HDCP Ready at Last

Formally introduced at Computex 2006, PowerColor's truly HDCP ready graphics card is based on ATI's mid-range Radeon X1600 Pro chipset. We managed to get an engineering sample, the better to show you how the HDMI interface has been implemented. While it may not be the fastest mid-range solution, the Radeon X1600 Pro chipset is a decent choice equipped with ATI's Avivo technology to enhance HD video playback (H.264 decode acceleration). All eyes will however be on how the card integrates audio and video signals into one handy package, along with the mandatory HDCP support that allows it to interface properly with HDTVs through the HDMI interface.

Merging Audio and Video

The prototype that we saw comes with a HDMI connector, the standard analog VGA output and a S/PDIF input. The HDMI interface carries both audio and video signals and the HDCP encryption mumbo-jumbo is presumably handled internally by a new variant of the Silicon Image TMDS transmitter. You'll need a sound card with S/PDIF output and required to link the audio to the graphics card externally using a S/PDIF cable.

The resultant signal is pushed through HDMI to your television. Obviously, we think that the final version that gets introduced in retail will feature an internal connection between the sound and graphics cards instead of the rather clunky method through the S/PDIF presently. After all, not all sound cards have S/PDIF outputs so it may not be the best solution.

Designed for HTPC

The small and relatively quiet cooler is ideal for the HTPC setup, where noise is an important concern. This is complemented by the card's low profile that should fit perfectly in the small form factor casings favored by HTPC builders. A versatile chipset that is capable of playing the latest games at modest settings while possessing the hardware acceleration for HD content, the PowerColor Radeon X1600 HDMI should finally overcome the last barrier with its HDMI support, making it the surefire way for you to watch HD content the way it was meant to be - on a huge widescreen HDTV. With your trusty PC.

Our Thoughts

If you have been despairing of ever getting your PC to work with your new HDTV, part of the solution is at hand with the PowerColor Radeon X1600 HDMI. Of course you would still need a HDTV tuner card for over the air HD broadcasts. This new product has yet to launch officially though we expect prices to be competitive with current Radeon X1600 offerings. Based on what we have seen of the engineering sample, it has the required hardware components in place and it should work as advertised, which is a big step forward into the HD era on the PC.