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MSI Media Live Diva
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.