The verdict is crystal clear. It beats the Encore Dxr2 board
easily. No contest at all.
At first I was a little sceptical on how
good the image quality could be, since the overlay was only running at 640x480 @ 60Hz, but
the card is incredible. The detail in the picture is immediately apparent and was MUCH
better than my Encore running at 1024x768. As with the Hollywood card, there was support
for 16:9 TV-optimised wide-screen DVDs.
16:9 TV-optimised wide-screen movies tend to look worse off when viewed
on a 4:3 aspect ratio TV, which is what most of us have at home. It is thus a welcome
feature to see all the lines in the 16:9 movies rendered properly on a 4:3 monitor
(squashing the 16:9 image slightly to maintain the correct aspect ratio)
In terms of video quality, it feels better than most software DVD
solutions. Unlike most software DVD players, however, the Dragon board does not hog up CPU
utilisation and you do not suffer from intermittent slowdown when the CPU chokes on the
MPEG-2 decompression algorithm. The hardware solution also allows subtitles to be
displayed properly using alpha-blending algorithms. The only VGA cards that support
alpha-blending are the newer ATI Rage cards.
Perhaps the biggest plus of using a hardware DVD solution is
the ability to extract out a Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1 sound signal from DVDs. Some software
DVD cards claim to offer this facility but I have not seen any that can do it yet. In this
respect, the Dragon really delivers the goods.
When I hooked up the older Hollywood card
to my Desktop Theater 5.1 speaker system from Cambridge Soundworks in my review then,
there were some annoying clicking sounds when the speakers were not supposed to be doing
anything. Thankfully, this bug has since been fixed. The DT5.1 and the Dragon setup worked
In addition to AC3 SPDIF output, you can also select the card to output
a stereo signal, either as an analog output or digital PCM stereo signal (which would
allow you to hook it up to a Dolby Pro Logic receiver/amplifier). Dolby Pro Logic is an
older surround sound format, and offers only a mono bandwidth limited surround channel but
it is enough to provide a fairly immersive environment to envelop the viewer. I tested
both options and they both function as they should.