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Conclusion

Diamond XtremeTV PVR-550RC: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time
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Diamond generated a great deal of publicity for its big return to the tuner card market. But is their product really worth the marketing hype? The name may convince you it's a Theater 550 card, but it isn't. Big model numbers might impress you, but the hardware is similar to that used in the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150. Meanwhile, "better than TiVO" claims on the box refer to a BeyondTV review that predates Diamond's return to the market, while other package claims such as "no tuner delay" are rendered false by the included software!

In the XtremeTV PVR-550RC, great hardware is held back by restrictive software, which is intended for nothing more than simple TV viewing. The included program guide is a limited-time, free-trial subscription service. Changing from TV viewing to video input capture is entirely too cumbersome for frequent use. With full Windows MCE 2005 support, the card offers a solid foundation for your multimedia experience, but other products without software cost less.

Compared to similar products, the XtremeTV PVR-550RC lacks the IR Blaster set top box controller found in the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150, the stronger encoder chip of the ATI TV Wonder Elite, and a widely-available FM tuner.

Although restrictive, BeyondTV is more user-friendly than the version of PowerCinema bundled with the TV Wonder Elite, and PVR-550 video quality is only slightly weaker than the TV Wonder Elite. The remote also has better ergonomics than anything we've see from ATI.

The bottom line? As long as one doesn't mind paying for program guide subscriptions, we can at least give the XtremeTV PVR-550RC an honorary "recommended for couch potatoes" designation - but serious users will want to look elsewhere.

Pros:

  • Full hardware MPEG/MPEG2 compression
  • Good image quality
  • Ergonomic remote
  • Quality cables

Cons:

  • Subscription-based software
  • No easy method to change input sources
  • No FM tuner
  • Few bundled extras
  • No additional capture software
  • No video editing software
  • Unrealistic claims on retail box
  • Relatively expensive given limited package contents

Update 6/29/05

Jamie Diamond of Diamond Multimedia has clarified a few items from our review:

"The [550] name is simply coincidence. Diamond actually named theirs first, went to production, and in the meantime, the ATI 550 was unveiled at CES right before Diamond unveiled their product. From a performance standpoint, we feel very confident in the Conexent chip and therefore would not intentionally infer that they were ATI chips." We thought the CX23416 was a reasonable solution as well, but Diamond's confidence would have been more apparent had they not scrubbed the name from the decoder in the original product photo.

More importantly, the MSRP is now $129, and is followed by street prices below $120. Combined with their full-version update to the Beyond Media viewer - which adds caller ID and local weather to an enhanced media selector - and the PVR-550RC now represents a better value for TV viewing. Though the pros and cons listed above remain valid, this value enhancement may convince those who are considering alternatives to TiVO.

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