On the audio side of things we have coaxial S/PDIF input and output connectors and for the first time in living memory there are no audio mini jacks. Instead the analogue connections are five RCA audio jacks which should please anyone who wants to feed their audio to a Hi-Fi receiver.
The third audio option is really unusual. The DAE-3 chip is positioned at the foot of the motherboard next to an expansion slot that has been cobbled together from a PCI Express x1 slot and a x4 slot that is designed to accept a 5.1 channel 100W per channel amplifier card that is part of the MSI package and which gives the Media Live Diva 5.1 its full name. The amplifier looks similar to a passively cooled graphics card and comes with both full height and half height brackets, which is ideal if you’re using an HTPC chassis that sits under your TV or in a Hi-Fi rack. The amplifier supports five regular unpowered Hi-Fi speakers that you connect with the usual cables although the thickness of the cables is limited by the relatively small size of the ten grub screws and holders. On the plus side MSI has simplified the task of attaching cables by accommodating the holders in an adapter block so you can attach the cables and then plug in the block without fiddling around at the back of your new HTPC.
MSI lists a second variant of the Diva which is the 7.1 model although we cannot find it on sale. The 7.1 pre-amp replaces the 5.1 power amplifier with a pair of low profile pre-amplifier cards that feed a 7.1 signal to your receiver which ensures the signal is high in quality.
With the 5.1 system it is quite uncanny hearing your speakers burst into life when they are only attached to a PC and it means that you can do away with a bunch of cabling between your HTPC and amplifier. Alternatively you can take a bold step and do away with your Hi-Fi in its entirety as the Media Live Diva can play all of your media (apart from vinyl) using just the one box.
Although we have been mightily impressed by the thought and innovation that has gone into the Media Live Diva we’re not completely won over. For starters there is the price. This is an expensive motherboard and it will cost at least £600 to build it into an HTPC once you factor in the cost of a Blu-ray drive, Windows Vista and a decent case from the likes of Antec.
The second thing is that we wish MSI had been able to use the 790G chipset with Socket AM3 as it uses even less power than 780G and runs cooler as a result. The problem here is that the Diva is an unusual motherboard so the development time has been lengthened with the result that MSI appears to be behind the times.
Then there’s the timing of the thing as most of us would probably wait to see how Windows 7 turns out before we dive in and build a Windows Vista PC. Fans of Linux are welcome to air their views on this point.
The MSI Media Live Diva 5.1 is the most innovative and imaginative Home Theatre PC (HTPC) motherboard we have ever seen and despite its high price it deserves serious consideration.