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You can't have a HTPC without both a TV tuner card and a graphics card, unless you plan to settle for substandard quality in either area. However, some factors can make the process of choosing them difficult. If you have a small form factor HTPC case, there may not be enough room for two full sized cards. Worse, if both cards use the same slot, such as PCI-express, you may be forced to choose between one or the other. Fortunately there are solutions, such as the ATI All-in-Wonder HD, that combine both the video processor and the HDTV tuner into one device, making your build that much easier.
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Why an HDTV Tuner Graphics Card?
There are many reasons for choosing a combination HDTV Tuner and Graphics Card. A single card alleviates much of the hassle when searching for the right components, but that's not the only benefit by far. With a single card, you won't spend as much, you'll be using less power, and you'll experience fewer compatibility problems and conflicts when putting together your HTPC.
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The ATI All-in-Wonder HD
The selection of HDTV Tuner Graphics Cards is unfortunately very small, and until recently the only choices were generations old. Recently however, ATI released the All-in-Wonder HD, Based on the HD 3650 512MB Video Card and Theater 650 Pro Tuner card. The HD 3650, while certainly not a high end video card, is no slouch, and will be able to play most modern games at comfortable framerates. As with all HD 3000 series cards from ATI, the HD 3650 is Directx 10.1 compliant, so it's relatively future-proof when it comes to new games that include those features.
Sometimes when watching HD video, stuttering can occur because the CPU has to balance rendering video with several other tasks at the same time. An additional benefit that the HD 3650 brings is GPU-based video acceleration, which means that the CPU can offload the rendering of HD video to the graphics card, alleviating most stuttering issues.
The Theater 650 Tuner includes a few features that can improve the quality of HD television, such as noise reduction and edge detection, although the quality still won't match that of a cable box hooked up to a television. Even so, for people who just want to watch TV on their computer it will serve just fine.
This card features a multitude of outputs and a coaxial input. The available outputs include HDMI, DVI, S-Video or Component, and the coaxial input can connect to digital or analog cable, or use the included antenna to receive over-the-air transmissions.
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While there is a narrow selection of HDTV Tuner Graphics Cards available, cards like the ATI All-in-Wonder HD provide a great one-stop solution for graphics, video processing, and HDTV input. This type of card can be a great choice for new HTPC builds, or older hardware upgrades. While the tuner quality won't match that of a cable or satellite box hooked up to an HDTV, it will provide some of the best quality television available for your computer, and the HD 3650 video processor is able to output high-quality HD video to a separate television as well.