HDAV Redux

Most AV receivers can take care of positional surround-sound speaker configurations by themselves, but if you’re using the S/PDIF connection, Asus’ HDAV Center software really comes into its own, allowing you to configure the crossover of each speaker.

The crossover determines which frequencies will be sent to the speaker, rather than the subwoofer. Smaller speakers can’t emit low and lower mid-range frequencies, so they require a higher crossover cut-off. Also included is ArcSoft’s excellent TotalMedia Theatre 2, which integrates with Vista’s Media Center to play Blu-ray movies.

While we didn’t miss the larger HDAV Deluxe’s video processor, the HDAV Slim’s PCI connector (rather than PCI-E 1x) caused some head scratching. PCI slots are an endangered species on tiny mini-ITX motherboards, and are rare even on micro-ATX boards. If you opt for an HDAV Slim, you may be forced to use a PCI-E TV tuner (few of which exist) or a USB TV tuner (which can suffer from patchy channel pick-up even with a relatively strong signal).

Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim Review Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim
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You should also bear in mind that the HDAV Slim is pointless unless you have a Blu-ray drive and a graphics card that’s capable of HD output via either HDMI or DVI – not all integrated GPUs can do this, so check before buying.

As an alternative to the HDAV Slim, you could buy TotalMedia Theatre and use a 192KHz-capable sound card to decode the HD audio. You could then output to either a PC surround-sound system, or an amplifier with a multi-channel input. However, the HDAV Slim is a far more elegant choice if you can accommodate it.

Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim Review Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim
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Conclusion

This compact incarnation of Asus’ home theatre sound card retains its most important selling point: the ability to output perfect, unadulterated HD audio, just as it’s recorded on the disc. You’ll only be able to harness this clean audio output if you have a set of speakers with a digital input, and it would be a shame to waste the HDAV on anything but a premium surround-sound set.

It’s also worth considering the restrictions imposed by installing the HDAV Slim – you’ll need a free PCI slot and a GPU capable of accelerating high bit-rate HD video. Still, we’re talking about a card that’s aimed at AV, home theatre purists, and for these people, the HDAV Slim is a great choice.

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