ATI today unveiled its latest generation multimedia wonder chip - the Theater 550 Pro. ATI has always been known for excellent video features and with the Theater 550 Pro, no doubt hopes to stay ahead of the pack. By ‘pack’ we do of course mean nVidia.
ATI's current line up of multimedia cards, including the forthcoming All-in-Wonder X800, are based on the Rage Theater 200. The Theater 550 Pro, which ATI is dubbing a ‘PVR on a chip’ offers a number of benefits. One of the most significant is that it’s a single chip solution, meaning that audio and video will remain fully synchronised, which can be a problem with two chips encoders. The chip won’t need a heatsink and fan, and so means that boards based on the chip will be smaller, enabling them to fit into small form-factor systems - great for home theatre PCs.
The new chip will be PCI Express and will off load a lot of work from the processor, with CPU usage down to around five per cent for MPEG2 and MPEG4 encoding. ATI European Product Manager Nils Hostbrink focussed very much on the improved picture quality, with noise reduction employed to clean up compressed images.
In a new development, Hostbrink revealed that the ATI will for use the encoding part of its chip available to third-party applications. Previously MPEG2 encoding was only available to ATI’s own Multimedia Center software, but now alternatives such as ShowShifter could be employed. ATI has even announced a deal with InterVideo. The Theater 550 might well now turn up in machines running Microsoft’s Media Center operating system.
ATI states that we will see the chip in a range of formats. There will be stand alone TV Wonder boards and the card will also make its way into future versions of the All-in-Wonder line.
ATI also predicts that the chip will be integrated into motherboards, and also into multimedia focused notebooks.
At the launch last Friday, Nils Hostbrink, European Product Manager expained that the PAL and NTSC versions of the chip were sampling now but the SECAM TV system, used in France and Russia amongst other places, was not supported at this time. He did however, state that it will be added in a future revision.
The first board is going to be a stand alone PCI Express TV Wonder board, available from November. Pricing has no been announced at this time.