Buying graphics cards for your media centre PC has always been a bit of a challenge. Finding a card that is small enough to fit in a slim case, that's quiet enough to not disturb your film watching, has the outputs you require, and that gives you the performance you need is quite a tall order. However, with its Bravo 9500, Asus thinks it has produced the perfect media centre graphics card. Join us as we find out if it deserves a rapturous round of applause or a slow hand clap of disdain.
As you may have guessed from its name, the Bravo 9500 is based on nVidia's GeForce 9500 GT, so this isn't going to be a powerhouse of a gaming card. Instead, the processing power of this card is primarily meant to provide enough grunt to effectively offload video processing from your CPU in those programs that support it. Not to say that it won't play any games, but the latest graphically intensive games will be limited to low resolutions and low in-game detail settings.
The first ‘media PC ready' box that the Bravo 9500 ticks, then, is its height. At 70mm tall, it is classed as ‘half-height', though it isn't strictly half the height of a standard graphics card. Nevertheless, it's short enough to fit in low-profile PC cases that are commonly used for media centres. As standard it ships with a full-height retention bracket with a VGA connection above the DVI and HDMI connections, but in the box is a double-width/half-height bracket so you can still have all three video outputs in a low profile case.
Another of the features Asus is mooting as a key media centre consideration is the included remote and accompanying light sensor. Starting with the remote, this isn't meant as an alternative to the official Windows Media Center remote but rather as a standalone unit to work in conjunction with the included Asus software. Said software is an alternative media centre that gives you quick access to music, pictures, and videos as well as a media conversion tool. Its interface is much like that seen on the Asus O! Play HDP-R1 media player, in so much as its very basic.
Files are found and played by browsing through drives and folders rather than through a slick thumbnail driven library interface, like that of Windows Media Center. Also, the media conversion option just opens an included copy of Roxio's MediaShow Espresso media conversion tool while the video playback is done in Windows Media Player (though you can at least change this to your choice of media player software).
Such simplicity was acceptable in a cheap standalone unit like the Asus O! Play HDP-R1 but for software that's running on a fully fledged PC and is meant as an alternative to Windows Media Center, it is just mind boggling. Why on earth Asus would spend time producing its own software rather than just creating a plug-in for Windows Media Center, we do not know. Likewise, it could have worked with Roxio to get its software slickly integrated as well.