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January 26, 2003
Chyang Fun E-Note

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October 24, 2002
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October 9, 2002
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October 3, 2002
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August 17, 2002
Morex Cubid 2677R

August 9, 2002
G-Alantic 610i


RealMagic XCard Review
Posted on October 9, 2002

The XCard In Use

Once in use, the XCard's abilities become apparent. On a TV, the high quality 30 bit decoders give a well controlled colour output and true full screen. By comparison the EPIA appears slightly oversaturated, and can only fill 95% of the screen size. We compared the XCard outputs and XMedia with the latest version of PowerDVD and the standard EPIA outputs, using various different sources.

The XCard is the clear winner with DVD (MPEG 2) playback. Although very usable, EPIA DVD playback can occasionally suffer from occasional jerkiness on high bandwidth (fast moving) scenes. The XCard renders progressive-scan DVD output extremely well. I was particularly impressed with the clarity of menu screens - looking back at the EPIA output, it seems blurred and over-saturated by comparison.

VCD and SVCD (MPEG 1) playback is a closer call. PowerDVD contains powerful software-based filters to clean up the picture on lower-bandwidth content. As a result, VCD playback was subjectively better on the EPIA, with SVCD discs not far behind.

DivX (MPEG 4) playback is where the XCard is supposed to shine, and in practice it shone some of the time and at other points there was darkness. Using suitable software and codecs, the EPIA will of course play back any DivX content correctly - we installed DivX codecs 5.x and 4.02 and were able to play 99% of things straightaway. The XCard is less forgiving however, and will only play DivX content that conforms to stricter ISO standards. Currently this means no DivX 3 content at all and nothing encoded with the finer nuances of the DivX 5 codec. A reasonable percentage of older and newer content will not play unless Sigma rewrites their controlling software. Sigma realise that they will not be able to cover every possible variation on what was initially a very random 'standard', and have released a free ISO standard MPEG 4 Codec. What this won't do of course is reencode your existing content. You're better off playing them on your EPIA as before. We found that when it worked, the XCard played back DivX with ease - but again the software-based filters of PowerDVD levelled the playing field, and the lack of global DivX support proved tiresome.

The XCard also supports MP3 playback, both within DivX streams and seperately. VBR MP3 apparently isn't currently supported within DivX streams, though content with a VBR soundtrack seemed to play correctly - so perhaps Sigma have addressed this issue already.

Conclusion

We weren't able to test the sound quality of the XCard, but if it is anything like the DVD playback quality it will be very high. It is this area where the XCard most shines - even using a VGA monitor the picture is sharp and well balanced. The EPIA DVD picture quality paled by comparison, and even exhibited minor jerkiness. Using DivX and VCD/SVCD content the EPIA fared a lot better, with much greater DivX compatibility and a smoother video output using the powerful software filters of our playback software. The EPIA TV output was at all times still a little bit oversaturated and blurred, though of course on a VGA monitor it was balanced and razor-sharp.

The XCard will appeal most to EPIA users wishing to boost their DVD playback abilities, and to provide true full-screen video output. DivX incompatibilites were disappointing and at times frustrating. When using the card with a VGA monitor and the pass-through cable no switching of inputs or cables will be necessary. But with a TV, the lack of full DivX playback support and the missing 'add to playlist using remote' function means that the Windows desktop, and therefore both the EPIA and XCard TV outputs are needed. Most if not all of these problems can be addressed with future software releases - the excellent controlling hardware is already in place. And the remote control can always be replaced by a higher quality third-party model with built-in mouse and cursor key support, to get round that pesky playlist problem.

When choosing the XCard, the decision will probably boil down to price - unless you're a DVD and EPIA aficionado on a budget without a standalone player it's probably not an essential product, but it's certainly very nice to have. And we're keeping ours.

XCard kindly provided by KISS Technology - who incidentally make the coolest looking widescreen LCD on the planet...

Buy the XCard at the Mini-ITX Online Store -->

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