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MSI-8918 Personal Cinema FX5200 Video Card Review

August 17, 2003



In the ATI All-In-Wonder 9700 PRO review we mentioned that ATI held the lead in the sector of video cards with additional multimedia features. The guys in Santa Clara have apparently realized that and finally counterattacked. The pioneer was expectedly Micro-Star International which seems to be the only manufacturer of video cards on NVIDIA's chips that readily offers additional features such as a remote control with the MSI FX5600-VTDR128 (MS-8912). The only thing left to do is to add a tuner and replace the FX5600 with the FX5200 to get...

So, meet the today's hero MSI-8918 Personal Cinema FX5200.

I must say that the Taiwanese engineers took the way different from the Canadian one: instead of a top model they used a low-end sample of summer 2003. Well, let's estimate what they have reached.

Accessory pack

The colorful glossy box that clearly pictures a remote control




contains the following stuff:




  • GeForce FX5200 based card
  • AV Breakout adapter for all I/O connectors
  • External IR sensor of the remote control
  • NVIDIA Remote Control System that consists of a remote control itself and a USB RF receiver
  • 2 CD with drivers and software
  • User manual in English
  • Shield with MSI's logo

I hope the accessory pack of production cards will include RCA and S-Video cables which have become compulsory for almost any,even noname, card equipped with a TV-out.

Design

MSI-8918 Personal Cinema FX5200







 
MSI-8918 Personal Cinema FX5200
In terms of performance this is an absolutely standard GeForce FX5200 based card including the passive cooling. Samsung's memory chips have the 5ns access time which corresponds to 200 (400) MHz, and they work at this frequency. The GPU runs at 250 MHz.



 

The tuner brought minor changes into the design compared to the reference FX5200 based card. Probably that was because of the microscopic size of the tuner itself. 




But this is exactly the case when size counts. Later we will see whether our skepticism has any grounds.

The Philips 7174 ADC controls audio and video decoding.




It should be noted that the tested sample does not officially support SECAM. According to the information provided by MSI, they will soon start producing a revision with the full support of our standard. But the cards similar to this one have already reached the store shelves, and we decided to test them in our conditions anyway. Below you can see what it has resulted in.

Testbed configuration

  • Athlon 2000XP processor
  • Gigabyte 7VAX ( KT400 chipset) mainboard
  • 512 MB PC3200 ot Samsung
  • Creative Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 sound card
  • IBM DTLA 305020 hard drive
  • Windows XP Professional SP1 (ENG) OS

Connection





MSI demonstrates a really creative approach in developing commutation - apart from the D-Sub and aerial-in the card has only one 40-pin(!) connector




for an external box named AV Breakout.




This unit has everything needed for RCA and S-Video commutation and a mini-jack connector for a sound card or any other type of equipment with such connectors. Besides, the box has a clip (the developers have finally listened to what we appealed to) and ribbed strips underneath. That solution deserves the highest score.

The manufacturer does not recommend installation of the software without the USB receiver connected,




which is a logical step.

Installation

The User Manual describes the installation procedure for the drivers and software and mentions that components can be chosen, but the program didn't allow that. Besides, the video card's driver and video capture WDM driver are combined in the distributive, that is why those who have a newer driver version installed will get the following message:



 

"InstallShield Wizard has successfully installed NVIDIA Setup. Press "Finish" to quit the program."

Then the computer reboots. That is why we had to remove v44.03 left after the previous video card and start anew with the version 43.51 that comes with our hero. Moreover, further update is possible only with the Update Driver function. If you don't like it you can look for the WDM driver v2.03 on the Net as NVIDIA doesn't have it on their site.

So, the second attempt.

Apart from the warning concerning the lack of certification 




the further installation went smoothly.

Finally, the system gets the following devices








and an icon of the NVIDIA Remote Control Panel in the tray. The program immediately notifies that the supported applications are not set -




nVDVD 2.0 and WinDVR 2.0.

I'm glad to see one of the best, in my opinion, DVD and file player - nVDVD 2.0 (we discussed the player in the reviews concerning TV-out arrangement in the GeForce 4 and GeForce FX) which needs no purchasing at NVIDIA's site.




In this case it was v2.47 (I haven't seen this version on their site). The patch successfully updates it up to the latest version 2.55.

The WinDVR 2.0



coming with the tuner was already described in the ECS EZ-TV review.

I should also mention Ulead Systems programs supplied with the card which actually turn the Personal Cinema FX5200 into "an internal device for a home multimedia center".

They are Ulead DVD MovieFactory 2SE




for creation of VCD, SVCD or DVD

and Ulead VideoStudio 6SE




for video capture and editing.

All the versions (except the nVDVD) are not latest. This problem was brought up yet in the ECS Tuner review.

In the WinDVR settings (see the details for this program in the ECS EZ-TV review) we selected SECAM_D




and Russia




The channels were found but we got neither image nor sound. Before the WDM drivers with the full SECAM support were released ATI recommended to select European countries in PAL and then switch to SECAM. I followed their advice, and in the Polish and German frequency grids the image got color in SECAM but no sound. When I switched to PAL the black-and-white image got sound. Finally I found the country where the tuner worked well. Surprisingly it was Romania.




When I reinstalled the drivers and software, rescanned channels in the Romanian frequency range and switched to SECAM_D the system finally demonstrated flawless operation. All that exhausting routine took several days.

But the sensitivity is pretty disappointing (probably because of the radio unit size). Two out of twelve channels were not detected at all even after fine tuning. And two more channels had artifacts,




with the decimetric range suffering most of all. It's interesting that the channel that I usually use as reference wasn't that good (MuzTV).

Besides, you can notice the following artifacts (they are well seen on a full-screen image) probably because of insufficient screening.




Add repeating brightness jumps. This is considered to be typical of the Philips 713x chips but the EZ-TV had no such jumps.

In all other respects the quality is decent.














 

The sound quality is very good - the tuner from ECS looks inferior. The MSI-8918 doesn't have an FM receiver, whether our television is ever going to support stereo sound is unknown but we should account for capturing signals from different, higher-quality sources.

Capture

The Xoro-301 DVD player and "Interstate 60" disc were used as a source, zone 5, PAL.

Composite connection












S-Video connection













 

The sharpness naturally worsens a bit in case of the composite connection, but in general, the capturing quality is pretty good.

NVIDIA Remote Control

What a surprise! Well, it was a wise decision to take a really good solution from X10 Wireless Technology as a base (see the details in the All-In-Wonder 9700 PRO review). On the other hand, I wonder why didn't MSI use the remote control which comes with other models of its video cards.

A few changes are brought only into functions of some buttons and color. My dreams to install plugins and make the RC work my way didn't come true.

NVIDIA tied up the remote control to their own software. I couldn't install ATI's drivers, and the plugins make no good without them. Besides, the NVIDIA Remote Control Panel is tuned up exceptionally for the nVDVD and WinDVR 2.0.




The support is provided for the Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer (!). Note that the WinDVR supplied is adapted for the remote control because a usual distributive has a different number of files and doesn't work therefore.

As a result, such a powerful and flexible device uses just a small share of its capabilities. I can only pin hopes to the enthusiasts' support but it requires time so that such cards get into their hands.

Conclusion

Highs

  • Pretty good image quality
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Deinterlacing support
  • Convenient commutation with the AV Breakout
  • Timeshifting (which is a standard feature of the WinDVR)
  • Good capture quality from external sources both in case of S-Video and composite connections
  • The RC works on radio frequency which doesn't depend on the line-of-sight coverage and works at the distance up to 9 meters
  • nVDVD 2.0 supplied doesn't need registration
  • The GeForce FX5200 chip of the latest generation with DX9 support (but you'd better look through the respective reviews to find out its real performance)

Lows

  • Tuner's sensibility is not that good
  • SECAM is not officially supported in this revision:-)
  • No MPEG4 support (in case of the software supplied)
  • Complicated software installation
  • No cables (AV Breakout — it's convenient but you can't connect it directly to TV or video cameras, that is why I hope production cards will have them supplied).
  • The RC works only with NVIDIA's software (I think it's the weightiest disadvantage)
  • Software versions are not the latest (except nVDVD 2.0)
  • You will lose all multimedia features if you upgrade the video card (but this problem is typical of all devices of this class)

In spite of all its downsides, this solution looks interesting at least because it has no direct competitors. ATI's All-In-Wonder line has no remote controls and is based on the older chips within the same price range.

On the other hand, you can get a GeForce FX 5200 based card and a good tuner with the FM support and a remote control (only with the IR channel instead of the radio one) for recommended $160.

So, if you are not indifferent to NVIDIA's products, have a soft spot in your heart for all-in-one devices, appreciate beautiful boxes and do not put fps into the first place the MSI-8918 Personal Cinema FX5200 can be a good buy for your. 

I would recommend to wait for the cards with the full SECAM support, though it is quite possible that the changes will touch upon only drivers and software. 

Aleksei Samsonov AKA AŽS (als@ixbt.com)
 

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