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ATI's Theater 550 PRO Video Processor

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 14 September 2004, 00:00

Tags: ATi Technologies (NYSE:AMD)

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ATI's Theater 550 PRO Video Processor

ATI have used the, now venerable in some sense, Rage Theater 220 video processor in various products for the past couple of years or so. The advent of an ever increasing number of home theater and PVR-based PC products has caused them to think about upping the bar in video quality, capabilities and performance, compared to their competitors. A new Theater processor was always on the cards, indeed I first heard about one back at the start of the year, and today marks its official announcement. Let's get the official PR out of the way.

Official Press Release

Turn any PC into a High End TV and Personal Video Recorder With ATI's Revolutionary Video Processor

THEATER(tm) 550 PRO delivers unmatched video quality on the PC

MARKHAM, ON - September 14, 2004 - Multimedia personal computers take a giant leap forward today, finally reaching the video quality levels associated with high-end $2000 consumer televisions. ATI Technologies Inc. (TSX: ATY, NASDAQ: ATYT) is proud to announce and ship the THEATER(tm) 550 PRO video processor that delivers superb TV reception and Personal Video Recording (PVR) functionality for PCs through products such as add-in PC cards, motherboard-down solutions and notebook computers.

THEATER 550 PRO continues the THEATER(tm) family tradition of industry-leading video reception achieved by ATI's consumer Digital TV division. THEATER 550 PRO integrates five discrete functions into one powerful chip to create a "PVR-on-a-chip" that revolutionizes video quality for PCs, allows for the creation of new small form factor computers and reduces production costs. Products featuring THEATER 550 PRO will be created by leading PC manufacturers including Gigabyte Technology Co. Ltd., Info-Tek Corp., Micro-Star International Co., Ltd, Sapphire Technology Limited, Tul Corporation.and YUAN High-Tech Development Co. Ltd.

"With the introduction of THEATER 550 PRO, ATI has leveraged its success in the consumer DTV markets to effectively change the landscape of the PC by enabling a new level of video experience," said Rick Bergman, Senior Vice President Marketing and General Manager, Desktop, ATI Technologies Inc. "THEATER 550 PRO sets a high bar for a new level of video quality standards that leads the way for PC manufacturers to create the Home Theater PC that surpasses most dedicated consumer electronic solutions in the market today. With solid Digital TV research and development combined with the innovative chip design of the THEATER 550 PRO, ATI is firmly set to lead the PC video revolution."

THEATER 550 PRO integrates:

* Next Generation 12-bit Video Decoder that features 3D Comb Filtering for NTSC and PAL and 5-line 2D Comb Filtering that delivers absolutely unrivaled video quality;
* Next Generation Hardware Video and Audio Encoder with new features such as Advanced Noise Reduction;
* PCI Express X1 and PCI interface on a single device to allow PC companies the ultimate flexibility in form factor designs;
* Digital IF Demodulation that improves video quality and reduces the overall solution cost by eliminating the need for expensive tuners; and,
* Worldwide multi-standard Audio Decoder.
Consumers will benefit from the THEATER 550 PRO in a variety of ways including Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition. When combined with computers based on Windows XP Media Center Edition, THEATER 550 PRO delivers a PC that rivals the best television sets and consumer PVRs.

"Microsoft is thrilled with the work ATI has done to develop and deliver exceptional video quality for Windows XP Media Center Edition PCs," said Kevin Unangst, director of Windows consumer marketing for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows division. "ATI's video processor complements Microsoft's innovative Windows XP Media Center Edition technology to provide customers with an unmatched entertainment experience."

THEATER 550 PRO also supports ATI's own award winning MULTIMEDIA CENTER(tm), Cyberlink's PowerCinema and Intervideo's WinDVRTM and Home Theater. ATI will continue to support other third party applications based on customer requirements.

Notebook original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Acer and original design manufacturers (ODM) including Compal Electronics Inc., Quanta Corporation, and Wistron Corp will also feature THEATER 550 PRO in their upcoming products. The THEATER 550 PRO also revolutionizes how TV on the PC is delivered by offering unique design features that were simply not previously possible. When building a home theater or mobile notebook PVR PC, THEATER 550 PRO offers many benefits:
* Low power consumption coupled with no need for heatsink or fan for cooling results in no noise; and,
* Small PC form factor integration is possible with THEATER 550 PRO as it takes less space than competitive solutions.
The THEATER 550 PRO is currently sampling and is ramping to production. Products featuring THEATER 550 PRO will be available from ATI and other manufacturers later this year.

"Customers demand the best visual quality for their consumer electronic devices and industry leader ATI has produced THEATER 550 PRO to meet that request," said Calvin Wu, CEO of MSI Computer Corp., a subsidiary of Micro-Star International Co., Ltd. "Together, MSI and ATI can create a new class of high quality digital video consumer electronics."

"Our PowerColor products will take on a whole new view with the addition of THEATER 550 PRO," said Ted Chen, CEO, Tul Corporation. "ATI's amazing new video processor will allow Tul to provide more innovative solutions for consumers."

The THEATER 550 PRO integrates a flexible worldwide front-end analog 12-bit video decoder with a high-quality digital audio/video MPEG encoder to meet the needs of the fast emerging multimedia consumer PC market. THEATER 550 PRO delivers excellent quality at low video display bit-rates -- most noticeable in scene changes where other solutions will show 'blockiness' for a second or so after a scene change. THEATER 550 PRO features noise reduction for crisp clear image quality and adjustable noise reduction that intelligently detects noise and algorithmically removes it from video. The result is more efficient video compression. In addition, THEATER 550 PRO offers excellent audio quality for stereo separation and attention to even the faintest sound details in the video.

About ATI Technologies

ATI Technologies Inc. is a world leader in the design and manufacture of innovative 3D graphics and digital media silicon solutions. An industry pioneer since 1985, ATI is the world's foremost visual processor unit (VPU) provider and is dedicated to deliver leading-edge performance solutions for the full range of PC and Mac desktop and notebook platforms, workstation, set-top and digital television, game console and handheld markets. With 2003 revenues in excess of US $1.3 billion, ATI has more than 2,700 employees in the Americas, Europe and Asia. ATI common shares trade on NASDAQ (ATYT) and the Toronto Stock Exchange (ATY).


Basically, it takes the best features from the 220, adds to them, increases performance and image fidelity (by quite some margin it seems) and adds support for a PCI Express 1X interface.

With ATI very bullish about the number of devices and PC systems that the 550 will make an appearance in, it seems that once production ramps up and AIBs and SIs get their hands on 550 chips, you'll start to see it cropping up everywhere, from the usual Theater-equipped VIVO graphics cards from ATI's AIBs, right down to integration on mainboards, those mainboards being used in compact Windows XP Media Center PCs, add-in PCI and PCI Express boards and notebooks.

What the PR doesn't mention is that the 550 is a near 100% complete MPEG-2 video encoder, with CPU usage when dealing with MPEG-2 video streams down to around 5%.

After talking to ATI's AIBs, it seems that the vast majority of them will have some 550-based product to market as soon as November. ASUS look favourite to be the first out of the blocks with a 550-equipped mainboard. That's a significant first step for a dedicated video processor on a mainboard, with most mainboards that sport IGPs having no real capability for video input, and none of them have the claimed quality of the 550 ASIC.

The very first product to sport Theater 550 will be ATI's next-generation TV Wonder, scheduled to arrive in the previously mentioned November time-frame.

As well as ATI's usual AIB and mainboard partners that'll create products with 550, system integrators seem keen to get their hands on basic 550-based add-in boards, especially using PCI Express 1X, to get high-quality video processing capabilities into cost-effective and high-end PC systems and notebooks. Theater 550 may just be the ASIC that drives the first round of widespread PCI Express 1X add-in board demand.

ATI confirmed to us that there'll only be two 550 variants, the TV tuner supporting PAL or NTSC. There'll be no SECAM version this time around. Component placement on the two versions will be slightly different to incorporate different saw filters and the antenna connector placements required for each standard. At the last minute, they also confirmed that add-in boards based on Theater 550 have been validated for half-height, low-profile ATX operation, something that'll appeal to the HTPC crowd.

Lastly, while the above European PR doesn't mention it all, Theater 550 does of course support the full gamut of HDTV signals. With Sky announcing that it'll broadcast its first round of HDTV channels in 2006 (maybe as early as 2005), Theater 550 is well-equipped to work with those in the future. Of course, with HDTV being broadcast on five continents already, it was a given, even if the European PR declines to mention it.

We now await the first 550-equipped products. If it's as good as ATI claim, it will give PCs better output quality and performance than even the best televisions. The PVR and HTPC markets most likely can't wait.