Well I have been messing around with this thing for about 24 hours now and I can clearly say without a doubt it has the best SD qaulity tuner on the market. This thing made what once looked like a crappy cable feed, look completely digital. I was using the 550 Pro before and had tried the new nvidia card along with hauppage pvr 250 normaly my girlfriend could not tell the difference between them but this time she asked on her own if I had finally broken down and brought a digital cable box. She could not believe the difference. For some of you that had decent cable feeds to begin with going from the 550 to the 650 chipset may not have made that big of a difference but for me it did wonders. Personally I plan on keeping this card because If someone told me all I had to do was pay 129 plus tax to get Digital Like SD Quality, I would have done it in a heart beat.
Before I begin with the bad news let me tell you about my situation. These are the conditions:
1. I live in an apartment on the third floor In Orlando Fl
2. There are other apartments around me that are taller.
3. All the major networks in my area are broadcasting in HDTV (13+ stations)
4. Because of my location and the distance from stations, initially I was unable to effectively pull in mor than 2-3 of them on the HDTV Wonder (not the 650 Pro)
5. I run both the antenna that Came with the HDTV Wonder, and the amplified Terk antenna that follows it's design. By combining them with a splitter/combiner and pointing them to different directions, I was able to get all channels in my area from my apartment (most stations are 20+ miles away)). The signal is being amplified by 13db antenna that does wonders for the signal
Now for the bad news. I had the same experience with the digital tuner that have plagued many around here and in other forums. Believe it or not I was actually hoping the card was defective, because if that was the case all we had to do was waite a few months and we could buy the new revisions. But after fiddling around with it, removing the splitters that I had, and disconnecting the second HDTV antenna, I finally got the card to work. I can now get most the the channels that I got before in each direction that I pointed the individual antennas to.
Why do I say this is bad news you wonder. Well for starters when they say
an amplified antenna is required. It is a must. The tuner used in this card does not seem to do well without the amplifier. For me, I could not tune a single station without it. Considering that the guy from Hot Hardware review sample came with an updated Tuner that could also tune in QAM, I believe that issue may have been known by ATI and they may already have a revision to fix it. The reason that I Consider this to be bad news, is because that this does not seem to be a driver build error and that the tuner itself has the issue. Considering they mandated an amplified antenna, they new about the issue and may have no intention on fixing it for a while. Note: the specs for the HDTV Wonder does not mandate the amplified antenna. So if you are waiting for a software fix for this issue, don't hold your breath. Return the card and wait for the next revision. Based on what I seem when this thing is working, it will be worth it. For the people that still want to try I have left some instructions below to try and remedy the situation. Note: This is not a guaranteed fix, this is simply what I had to do to get it working for me. Good luck...
People with MCE
1. First of all for those with MCE get the latest drivers on ATI's web site.
2. Do not install the New Catalyst Media Center with MCE. At least for me, it made my system completely unstable, causing some pretty bad crashes. This is only my Personal experience, since system components can differ greatly from one user to the next, your mileage may vary.
3. Do not believe the signal strength indicator within windows MCE. On my HDTV Wonder I have to have the strength bars in the green before I could tune in a station without stutter blackouts or tearing or pixilated images (Digital Snow), but with this card, certain stations would show up even though the signal strength indicator in MCE displayed only one bar in the red. In fact, I could only have three bars up and still get a clean uninterrupted signal (I believe that this a driver issue)
4. Disconnect any splitters/Combiners that you may have. It seems that this thing needs a strait shot to the antenna and needs an unhindered amplified signal. Routing of any sort seems to degrade the signal to beyond tuner capable detection.
5. Switching to Gold Plated Coaxal cables seemed to help a little bit with signal strength. Not anything that could be seen on the MCE signal strength detector, but it help reduce stuttering on the week stations significantly.
6. If you have a second tuner card in your system (including analog) remove and see if it makes a difference. It did for me. Some times it worked with the second tuner in there, most of the times it did not (could be a systems resources issue for me so you could probably ignore this hint.)
If I think of anything else, I will update this post.
Update 08/28 1:30 PM:
I have good news and them some more bad.
The good news:
First of all use of splitters can still be done, but you have to use multiple amplifiers to get it to work. Amplifying once before the signal is split to stengthen the original signal that is coming in from the antena and then again after the splitter for each TV wonder 650 you intend on using (diagram shown below). Reamplification for the HDTV Wonder was not neccesary due to the fact that it does not have the issue that the 650 pro does with HDTV signal. It however did improve signal strength a tad (less digital noise on from weaker, more distant stations), so I did it anyways. The other bit of good news is that you can disregard number six with regards to removing the second or third tuner. It seems to work just fine for me after removing all tuner related drivers and reinstalling them I now have both the HDTV Wonder and the 650 Wonder recieving signals.
Now for the updated bad news. Using multiple cards in the same system works OK when recording 2 HDTV Programs, but if you start out by recording SD programing on the 650 Pro and then try to watch HDTV material with the HDTV Wonder, MCE will not allow you to. All you get is a message advising you that the second tuner (HDTV Wonder) needs to be redetected in the TV setup area or mce will simply crash. Not good at all. It is essentialy rendering the second tuner useless even though it is not being used. I am not sure if this is an issue with media center itself or can be rectified by ati changing the way that MCE detects it's tuners via driver a driver release. If it's an MCE issue, this is probably the straw that will break the camels back for most of you because I don't see microsoft putting any more resources into this operating system considering the deadline they are battling for Vista.
For those interested, I have attatched a simple diagram of how my setup is currently laid out. Again I am not saying that this will work for you, but it does work for me. To each his own.