Several months ago, I bought a Pinnacle HD TV PCI card for my desktop computer. The card comes with software to record video to your computer's hard drive, in effect, making it a miniature DVR. Your recording capacity is the size of your drive, and the drive itself can be swapped out with another new drive. Pretty good scheme.
Recommend this product?
Just one question I had how was I going to watch my HD recordings on my large-screen (26" diagonal) Westinghouse HDTV? The 2008 Summer Olympics were coming up at the time I was mulling this over. My first thought was to invest in a Blu-Ray burner and create discs that way, but that would require the investment of both a burner (to make the discs) and the player (to attach to the HDTV) those two components would easily run over 700 dollars.
So I figured I would try doing what lots of geeks are doing converting their desktop computers into media center PC's. I had an eMachines T5082 system that was only a year old, and figured it had enough horsepower to run as a media player. The only thing I needed was a card to send the signal from the PC to the TV. Enter the VisionTek HD 3450.
The VisionTek (ATI) Radeon HD 3450 got my attention primarily because it was one of the few cards I saw that had an HDMI output jack. HDMI, for those of you not in the know, is (as far as I know) the newest multimedia signal standard it stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. My upconverting DVD recorder has an HDMI output, and it works acceptably well for DVD movies. I figured I would install the VisionTek HD 3450, plug in the HDMI cable between it and the HDTV, and start seeing higher-resolution graphics. So I plunked down about $50 at a local computer retailer and installed it.
GET THE RIGHT KIND OF CARD
Be absolutely certain you get the right kind of slot when purchasing any video accelerator card like the HD 3450. There are three "flavors" of graphic cards which sport initials like AGP or PCI-E (PCI Express). I review the PCI Express edition of the HD 3450 in this review.
By the way, this card is Vista Certified, so you can use it on either an XP or Vista system.
PACKAGE CONTENTS AND INSTALLATION
The HD 3450 package includes the HD 3450 card, a CD with the display drivers, and a small (about four pages in about a 3" x 3" booklet) quick-start guide. That is all.
To install the HD 3450, you must first disable the display driver on your system. You do this through the Control Panel. The instructions say that you must also remove the old graphics card unless it's integrated (as is the case with my tower system). I had no problems doing this.
Next, you disconnect your monitor from the old VGA port, open your system cabinet, locate the graphics card expansion slot, and insert the HD 3450. This is a bit of a bulky card and it took more than a little bit of effort to seat it in the PCI Express slot, but I did manage to get it in.
Once the card is installed, you close the cabinet and attach the monitor to the VGA port on the HD 3450 card. Restart the system and (according to the instructions) when the Add New Hardware wizard begins, you're supposed to stop it. Since my system is running Windows Vista Home Edition, I did not have the option of stopping the installation, so the wizard start up.
Next, you place the installation CD in the CD drive and run the startup program. This takes about 10-15 minutes as the ATI software which includes the Catalyst Control Center installs. There were no problems with the software installation.
After installing the driver software, you reboot the system. The first time you reboot your computer will take a few seconds longer to realize your old graphics scheme has been disconnected, and that the monitor is attached to a new port. Again, I had no problems with this stage of the process.
My Vista home screen came up, and everything looked fine. Wonderful! Now it was time to try connecting the computer to my HDTV. So I plugged in the HDMI cable to the computer and waited. Nothing. No signal. I tried several other things. Nothing. I went to the Catalyst Control Center and checked the configuration. It showed a "1" monitor and a "2" monitor grayed out (that, I presume, was the HDTV). When I clicked on the monitor button for what should have been the HDTV, I was asked if I wanted to enable it. Naturally, I said yes. But again, nothing happened.
My HDTV has a VGA port so I tried connecting that directly to the HD 3450 card. That worked without any problems, but that's not what I wanted, of course. The HD 3450 promised HD output and that's what I expected.
I didn't have much success figuring out what the problem was. The flimsy quick-start guide didn't offer any help, and I didn't see anything in the Catalyst Control Center to assist me either.
So I decided to contact VisionTek's Technical Support.
It's a funny thing I'm noticing with electronics sales these days. An increasing number of manufacturers are putting some kind of sheet or notice in the box that reads to the effect of, "STOP! Do not return this product to the store. Contact technical support for assistance." It's a last-ditch effort, of course, to try to save the sale; I would think it would be more effective to make stuff that just works.
So I phoned VisionTek's toll-free support number which is only open Monday through Friday (the booklet does not give the hours, nor the time zone). Several times I sat on hold for five minutes or more, listening to nothing.
VisionTek also offers support by e-mail but with their lousy phone support, I wouldn't expect to hear from them. I did find a forum where users can exchange ideas and suggestions and discuss problems including a message from another user that had my same, exact problem but there wasn't much help there either.
Simply put, the VisionTek HD 3450 is a loser. I returned the card to the store two days after buying it and exchanged it for a Diamond HD 3450 card (same ATI Radeon graphics) which I got to work with considerably less hassle (although the Diamond card was $10 more).
I don't know if the problem was that I got a card that just happened to have a defective HDMI port or not, but the fact that VisionTek had virtually non-existent technical support didn't give me the confidence to try a second unit.
As a VGA-only graphics accelerator card, the VisionTek HD 3450 is fine, of course. But the company may need to do more work on its quality control. It certainly needs to do more work on its support for customers.
If you buy this HD card, save the receipt. You may just need it.
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