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MSI Media Live Diva review

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Summary

Our Score:

8

The MSI Media Live Diva 5.1 uses the AMD Maui design to deliver a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) motherboard unlike anything we have ever seen before.

Most HTPC motherboards rely on the features in the chipset to deliver a video signal over VGA, DVI and HDMI while the audio comes through the usual mini jacks plus optical or coaxial S/PDIF. We have reviewed motherboards that use the current crop of IGP chipsets - AMD 780/790, Intel G45 and Nvidia 9300/9400 - and they all handle 1080P video decoding very competently without any need for an add-in graphics card.

The Intel offering is the weakest of the trio but you can happily use an AMD or Nvidia chipset to watch Blu-ray or H.264 movies without any significant load on your processor. This means that you can specify a low powered CPU that requires minimal cooling, which keeps the PC both cool and quiet, without worrying whether it is up to the job of playing HD movies.

If you build a PC around an integrated motherboard and connect it to your HDTV using HDMI you will get a perfect picture but the audio may let the side down. It is possible that you will be happy to use the speakers in your TV but the more discerning aficionado would prefer a proper surround sound system in which case an S/PDIF feed to your Hi-Fi amplifier or receiver is the best bet.

Some manufacturers have addressed the audio side of things such as Asus with the M4A78-HTPC/RC which is a variation of the Asus M4A78T-E with the addition of stereo RCA audio.

The point is that most HTPC motherboards bear a striking resemblance to the motherboard you'll find inside almost any integrated PC but the MSI Media Live Diva is a completely different proposition. It is built around the M780G chipset which is the mobile version of 780G and it supports most AMD Socket AM2+ processors with DDR2 memory. There is a PCI Express 2.0 graphics slot so you have the option of adding a graphics card but realistically this is an irrelevance for anyone buying the MSI as the integrated HD 3200 graphics will be sufficient.

On board there is a Realtek ALC888 audio chip, which is completely conventional, but there is also a second audio chip and that is most unusual. The chip is a D2Audio DAE-3 that is more typically used to add home theatre features to HDTVs so we're talking about a serious piece of silicon.

We'll come back to the DAE-3 chip in a moment but first we're going to take a look at the I/O panel which is unlike anything you have ever seen.

A tiny amount of space is taken up by four USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit LAN and a Firewire port while the rest of the space is given over to video and audio connectors. The video connectors consist of VGA, HDMI and Component which is fairly unusual. We vaguely recall seeing Component on a motherboard or two in the past but it is certainly quite rare. Unfortunately MSI doesn't include an HDMI-to-DVI adapter which is a shame as that would cover every significant option under the sun.

Peter

June 10, 2009, 6:25 am

That is so cool! Well done MSI.





That 5 channel amp card could be a very neat way to do a quality stereo(bi-amped) active 2.1 system.

davef

June 10, 2009, 1:12 pm

As one of my lecturers once remarked on a fellow student's coursework: "Is this just the abstract?"





How does this thing perform sonically, as I guess it's the product's unique selling point. What's it like with cheap speakers, good speakers? Does it get anywhere near the performance level of an entry-level separates system or even one of those DVD all-in-one jobbies? Any interference from all those PC electronics?...

chrism

June 10, 2009, 1:48 pm

Since the Amp is the major selling point of this motherboard (similar spec'd boards without the Amp features are under £100) would it be possible for you to do a proper review comparing the board sonically with some of the AV amps you have reviewed?





The chipset for this board has been around for ages now and benchmarks are of little importance to anyone interested in this board.





The key features you should have looked at is how well it does Blu-Ray playback in TMT2/3 and PowerDVD and is the Amp up to the job of substituting the cheaper end of the AV Amp market - Onkyo, Yamaha, Sony amps under £350





Instead the review is basically an opinion of the specification sheet! With no mention of how the thing sounds.





I was looking forward to reading the review and am left feeling very disappointed and non the wiser about the product.

Keithe6e

June 10, 2009, 2:26 pm

@Unfortunately MSI doesn't include an HDMI-to-DVI adapter which is a shame as that would cover every significant option under the sun.





Apart from Scart :), but maybe they could have also included a Component to Scart adapter too,.. I've still not updated my CRT TV, but was thinking of building another Media PC you see.

Kanu

June 10, 2009, 4:00 pm

Ditto to Chrism's comments. Despite the interesting product at hand, this was dissapointing rehash of spec sheet/press release and not a review at all.

Robert Elliot

June 10, 2009, 6:02 pm

I've noticed this a lot with reviews of HTPC equipment, particularly in PC magazines like PC Pro - the item gets reviewed as if they were "just" PCs. This item should be reviewed as you would review a) an amp and b) a blu-ray or DVD player - i.e. it should be reviewed with respect to the audio and video quality it produces.





I've mucked about with HTPCs a lot, and never been able to get an image out of them that looks (to my eye) as good as can be had from a DVD player or a Sky dodgybox. And if you can get audio quality comparable to a decent amp / A/V receiver out of that card, how come most A/V receivers are the size of a small tank (and about as attractive)?

Leo Waldock

June 10, 2009, 7:29 pm

It is clear that the MSI is aimed at the HDTV market so I couldn't get too exercised about the lack of SCART support, particularly as it is clear that this is a global product so it has Component but not that funny European SCART.


As for the Audio, well where do I begin? My expectations of HTPC audio is rock bottom because the simple approach is to use the speakers in the TV. The alternative is to run a digital audio connection to your Hi-Fi-amplifier/receiver.


The MSI Diva offers a third choice which is to switch the focus away from your Hi-Fi towards the HTPC and use it as the amplifier instead. It is nigh-on impossible for me to make any meaningful comments about the audio quality as there are so many permutations of movie/audio format, input sources and speaker set-up but I liked it and was impressed. Oh yes, and I didn't get into the subject of TV tuners either.


There are times when 1,000 words seems too long for a motherboard but on this occasion the Diva easily merited 2,000 or more.


With the audio there was a childish sense of wonder seeing speaker cables running directly from a PC case but mainly I was impressed by the simplicity of the set-up. Once I got past that the audio quality was certainly up to the job of watching movies and listening to music. No question about it. But would you ChrisM really buy a Blu-ray drive and software or do you watch movies in your PS3?


As for running benchmarks on the MSI, well I did it 'cos that's what we do with motherboards but you'll note that I used a low power CPU, did not overclock and made no attempt to play Crysis.


I didn't have the time to run Windows 7 on the Diva and that is a source of regret as there is no way I'd build a new Vista PC in mid-2009 but there are only so many hours in the day.


If you're about to build an HTPC or want to upgrade your existing box the Diva may well be the best decision you'll make all year but you'd be missing a trick if you merely swap out the old to be replaced by the new.

Keithe6e

June 10, 2009, 9:28 pm

@I couldn't get too exercised about the lack of SCART support





Well, I was hoping to upgrade my HTPC before my TV, there are Component To Scart Adapters that might help, but from what I can gather this board will only do HD component and not SD. :( So from a global perspective this means anyone who wishes to use this to make a HTPC will need to upgrade the TV first, why on earth they can't enable SD resolutions is beyond me.

chrism

June 11, 2009, 3:15 pm

RE: Leo Waldock said on 10th June 2009


"But would you ChrisM really buy a Blu-ray drive and software or do you watch movies in your PS3?"





I've had a Blu-Ray/HD-DVD drive in my HTPC working with TMT2 for over a year ....I don't own a PS3.





While audio quality is subjective and I'm sure everyone accepts this, What I would have liked to have seen is an AV amp connected up to the PC via optical compared against the built in amp directly powering the speakers, for this you could have used a couple of different 5.1 movie soundtracks and with keeping the same speakers you would have a fair comparison.





It would have also been cool to know if the 'high-def' Blu ray soundtracks sound much better through the amp than the plain DTS or Dolby Digital tracks as the onboard video cannot pass out LCPM or Bitstream High def audio.





All my criticism is meant to be constructive and I hope it is taken as such, The quality/depth of the reviews on the site seem to vary wildly in quality of content - for example the Camera reviews are excellent and go in to loads of detail yet reviews like this one seem to lack a basic understanding of who the product is aimed at and what makes it special.



davef

June 11, 2009, 5:06 pm

silentpcreview have a bit more of an in-depth review. Still limited info. on the audio though:





http://www.silentpcreview.com/...

mobies

June 13, 2009, 1:28 am

The major thing effecting the quality of the audio amplifier is the quality and the power supply, PC power supplies are affected by the noise of all the other components that they are connected to. I can see from the pictures that this amplifier card has a 4 pin power socket. Can you tell us how clean or silent he sound it when it not activly playing something? Does the amp pickup the hiss and noise for the power supply? If it has some kind of filter built into the card then this issue might be overcome.


Also is the operating system volume control the only volume control for this amp?



Sicofante

September 22, 2009, 7:46 pm

These motherboards are dying in huge numbers. MSI doesn't seem to replace them. I bought mine at ALTERNATE (Spain) and my board died recently, six months after working properly, for the same others are dying (some of the mobo's components just burned out). MSI and ALTERNATE won't take any responsibilidy. I'm passing on buying MSI motherboards (ALTERNATE is always a bad place to buy here in Spain, but I had no choice: they're the only ones selling it here.)





Sparkle has recently introduced a PCIe card with an amplifier based on the same D2audio technology. Since you can put that on any motherboard, I highly recommend to stay away from MSI's offer.

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