Simplifi Digital recently released their line of AV Expander Cards that will allow Media Center users to do basic input switching without worrying about the 2-second delay that is common with TV Tuners and Media Center. Media Center requires TV Tuners that do hardware MPEG-2 encoding, which introduces a 2-second delay. This is a deal breaker if you want to connect something like a video game console or other analog devices.
AV Expander Cards fix all problems associated with Media Center and display of legacy devices such as game consoles, VCRs, and camcorders. Simplifi Digital was nice enough to send me a unit to review, and I’ve been playing around with connecting several devices over the past few days. Among my test devices are a Playstation 2, Xbox v1, VCR, and analog camcorder. Simplifi Digital has two versions of the AV Expander, the AVEX-4W and AVEX-2B. The AVEX-4W allows for up to four devices to be hooked up all at the same time, and the AVEX-2B allows for two devices. Two free PCI slots will be needed to use the four inputs, as a daughter board (AV header) is used.
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Setup and installation is quite simple, and I was very impressed with the included instruction manual. Unlike other expansion cards that you buy now-a-days, Simplifi Digital has included a great instruction manual that explains everything in very simple English. While I’m making a big deal about the manual, don’t think for a second that this card is difficult to install and setup. I had the card installed and devices hooked up in under five minutes, then I was ready to launch Media Center and try it out.
Program and Settings
Open Media Center and under More Programs there was a new entry “SimplifiDigital AV Expander”. The AV Expander program was nicely laid out and simple to use and understand. It includes pre-named inputs such as S-Video, VCR 1-4, Game Console 1-4, Composite Video 1-4, and Camera 1-4 which I selected to match the devices connected. Quality or Speed can be selected to optimize the interlaced to progressive conversion, Speed is used for fast moving video (Ex. game consoles) and Speed can be used for something like a security camera. Dialog Alert was an unexpected feature to me, if checked it will alert you when Media Center wants to display a dialog (Guide download, CD finished burning, etc). Setup was simple and quick overall.
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I tested video quality on several displays including a 27” Toshiba SDTV, 37” Westinghouse LCD HDTV, and a 19” PC Monitor. I found the best video quality experience on the SDTV, which fit my expectations. Both on the PC Monitor and HDTV the output was jaggy when playing console games. In my option it was still very watchable/playable, and didn’t cause too much of a distraction. Using on a SDTV was preferred though, with the video nearly identical to the output from the console hooked directly up to the SDTV. Running a VCR through the AV Expander was no problem, and the VHS video looked as good as it can be for being a VHS tape. The same holds true for an analog camcorder. The only problem in terms of video quality was the jaggies when playing a console game.
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Something I would like to see is the ability to manual change the input naming. Instead of “Game Console, I would rather type in “Xbox” or “Playstation”. Other than that, I didn’t run into too much that I would change.
I would like to see an AV Expander Card that supports Component Input. The 32-bit PCI bus can’t handle uncompressed HD video through component, and I know if Simplifi Digital would be able to develop at card that could do accept component input while keeping costs down. I think this is defiantly something Simplifi Digital should look into, but there are technical impactions in developing such a card.
The AV Expander Card from Simplifi Digital works great and does exactly what they advertise. In my opinion, every Media Center PC should include one of Simplifi Digital’s AV Expander cards. Input switching has been one of the most requested features for Windows XP Media Center Editions for years, and this product delivers! If I was an OEM/System Build, I would include the AV Expander Card as a standard feature on every PC shipped. Please see AV Expander Card Homepage for ordering details. The AVEX-4W 4-input AV Expander retails for $99.99. View my full AV Expander Image Gallery.
It just works!
2-4 Inputs (1 S-Video, 1-3 Composite)
Allows for input switching, a commonly requested feature
So-so quality for console gaming
Only supports analog devices (S-Video/Composite)
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