- Elegant solution
- Works well
- Review Price: £116.00
For years the accepted wisdom in the graphics market was that while nVidia led the way for 3D performance, ATi held all the trump-cards when it came to multimedia wizardry thanks in the main to its All-in-Wonder range.
However with ATi now producing superb 3D performance from its range of chips, I was hopeful that the MSi Personal Cinema FX5200 would mark a fight back for nVidia on ATi’s traditional turf.
This card features nVidia’s GeForceFX5200 chipset running at 250MHz with 128MB of 400MHz DDR memory. It offers DirectX 9 support but this is more of a check box rather than a genuinely useful feature as it is unlikely to be fast enough to handle newer games at high frame rates. On our graphics test bed at a resolution of 1,024 x 768 in 3DMark03 it could only reach a score of only 1488. In the Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby test with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled it managed a just-about-decent 31 frames per second.
The upside to the lack of raw grunt is that the card only requires passive cooling. With no fan it generates no noise, making it an attractive proposition for lounge-based PCs.
The outputs on the card comprise a VGA connector, an analogue RF Tuner and a connection for the break-out box containing both inputs and outputs for S-Video, composite and stereo audio. The connector and the break-out box both exhibited quality construction. MSi has also improved the S-Video output which suffered from poor quality in previous version of the Personal Cinema.
A remote control is included in the box which integrates with the PC using a supplied USB dongle. Unfortunately no batteries come in the box for the remote and there are also no cables for attaching the break out-box to a TV – omissions which seem somewhat heavy-handed on the cost-cutting. At first glance the remote looks the same as the one that comes with the ATi cards but in fact the layout, button shape and labelling have all been improved. Moving the mouse using the integrated pad though is still tricky.
The handset integrates well with the software included with the card. Rather than design its own, nVidia uses InterVideo WinDVR 2.0 software for TV viewing. However the latest release is up to version 3. The software enables video capture at a variety of resolutions and bit-rates in MPEG1 or 2. It offers three default settings labled Good, Better or Best quality while a customisable setting enables you to capture at full DVD quality.
At this setting, using a 2.2GHz Celeron equipped Shuttle PC we obtained smooth frame rates and clear audio. This however was when we recorded a drama show. The fast movement of football proved too much for the encoder and resulted in dropped frames. We had to lower the quality to eliminate any jerkiness. This clearly highlights the advantage that ATi cards have with their hardware assisted MPEG2 encoding.
Timeshifting is also available enabling you to perform the classic TiVo trick of pausing live TV. I was however surprised and disappointed to find that on my test system it simply didn’t work. Pressing the pause button froze the on screen image but attempting to resume playback caused the screen to go black. This was on a machine that had no issues with Timeshifting using an ATi solution.
The software also boasts an integrated EPG. This is simply a link to an online EPG at www.tvtv.co.uk. This can integrate with WinDVR to enable TiVo-like one click recording but only if you register for the Plus version of the tvtv.co.uk software. This will set you back an extra €20 or £15 but will in theory enable you to set up recordings on your PC over the Internet.
The software bundle includes the excellent nvDVD software which offers an excellent interface, full support for Dolby Digital and provides the ability to capture images from DVDs. This is also fully controllable from the remote control. The install CD also includes Ulead DVD MovieFactory and VideoStudio enabling the dedicated to edit video and author DVDs either from footage recorded from TV or direct from a DV camcorder.
As a whole package the MSi should have a lot going for it, and considering its sub-£100 price I’d love to be able to recommend it. However I found that despite improvements on the hardware side, the software and the lack of hardware assisted encoding lets the Personal Cinema down, especially with the Timeshifting issues I faced. If it were my money, I’d still be relying on ATi to look after my multimedia needs.
The MSi Personal Cinema offers TV recording, a remote control and gaming in one neat package. With no fan noise to spoil the party and a low price it should be perfect. However the card fails to deliver in the usability stakes thanks to disappointing software and a lack of hardware assisted encoding.
Score in detail