After buying and installing a small form factor HTPC for my TV a little over a year ago (see this post for the new setup, or all my HTPC project posts), I decided it was time to get a non-integrated video card. The reasons for this were as follows:
- Streaming video off Netflix in HD caused the CPU fan to spin up annoyingly.
- Audio was only in 2 analog channel stereo
- A single HDMI cable would reduce the number of system cables from 2 Audio and VGA to one, HDMI only.
- Switching between sources would in theory be easier since my receiver would choose which HDMI source was output. The TV input could stay the same between my blu-ray and computer.
Research: In order to not replace one fan with another, I decided to go with a passively cooled card. After some “research,” which consisted of asking Reddit which one to buy, I decided on the HIS Radeon HD 6450 from Amazon. Importantly, it comes with a low-profile bracket which was great for my little Acer X1420G-U5832 small form factor computer. The computer is small enough that I had my doubts as to whether or not it would fit, but it eventually did, although I had to break off a tab with wire cutters to get it to fit.
Results: After everything was working correctly, I was pleased with the results. The video looks great, the audio sounds good, and I no longer have to deal with the jet engine CPU fan noise if I try to watch a HD episode of Breaking Bad. The computer case is cut excellently for using cooling this kind of card. As seen to the right, there is a vent directly over the PCIe x 16 slot over the video card’s heat sink. Heat should be dissipated nicely.
The one thing that I’m slightly dissatisfied with, is that my receiver appears to only use the “virtual” channels in the back of my surround sound setup. I’m not sure if this is because my source isn’t in 5.1 or the video card doesn’t send it in that format, of if there’s some setting that’s not set correctly in the receiver. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure this out eventually. Other than that, I’ve accomplished all the reasons for this purchase.
Installation Issues: There were a few issues that had to be worked through before this HDMI upgrade could be a success. First of all, the low profile bracket didn’t quite fit; there was a piece of metal sticking up preventing me from putting the cover back on. I simply cut this off with wire cutters.
I’d recommend when setting this up, that you keep the VGA connector hooked up for a while so you can connect another monitor if necessary. I did this while troubleshooting, but eventually found that the HDMI cable wasn’t connected securely! It worked on my TV after this, so don’t forget the obvious stuff. You’ll also have to select HDMI out for the audio on your Windows setting to get the audio piped correctly. Also, when ordering, don’t forget to get a HDMI cable (what I use from Amazon)! I’d used my extra on my Roku player (check out this cool little shelf I made for it), so ended up stealing it from my Blu-ray player for now.
Once this was done, the audio worked correctly, and the video showed up on screen, but appeared shrunken. After thinking I might have to put the VGA cable back or just tolerate it, I found a setting in the Radeon control panel called “underscan.” It seems strange, but mine was set to less than 100% by default. After it was bumped up to 100%, the image looked perfect. I’m a little fuzzy as to why you would need to have this setting set to less than 100% by default, but if a shrunken screen happens to you, it may not be the resolution, but the “underscan” setting. It seems to be related to “overscan” (Wikipedia article) so maybe that’s a setting on some systems.
As a final note, after looking around for a manual for my Sony DG720 receiver, quite a few of the databases have an incredible amount of ads and are generally not useful. The first useful database I found was manualslib.com. Here’s the DG720 manual if you’re intersted.