Video card recommendations
August 24, 2012 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I have an older Gateway PC acting as my media center/file server. I have it hooked up to a 42" 720p Samsung Plasma TV via VGA from the on-board connection on the PC. As such, the resolution is not very good: 1024x768 and the picture doesn't really fit on the screen. Can you recommend a cheap video card (under $50) that will let me connect via HDMI and show things at a decent resolution without stretching or cropping the picture? No gaming, just playing video files.
posted by nitsuj to Computers & Internet (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is what you want...
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2012

Oh, wait, I take that back.. How old is the Gateway? Are we talking 'AGP' old, or does it support PCI express? If it's AGP, it might be a little more difficult to find HDMI out-of-the-box...
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 8:55 AM on August 24, 2012

It's not that old. It's dual-core running Windows 7 just fine. I'd bet it supports PCI Express.
posted by nitsuj at 8:58 AM on August 24, 2012

This is not exactly what you're asking but... I was kinda in the same boat with the older desktop. It was working but small resolution and overscanning. Instead of buying a new video card, you may want to consider a Roku player combined with a Plex server on your desktop. It's pretty easy to set up, cheap, and you won't have to worry about the graphics card, or the desktop dying (you can then stream from any other machine).

Sorry if this isn't the response you were looking for, but I figured it was relevant =c)
posted by pyro979 at 9:01 AM on August 24, 2012

So, your computer doesn't support the TVs native resolution? I've been able to connect a Vista laptop running an Intel igp to my 720p TV and get good VGA output, you just have to muck around in the graphics and multi monitor settings a bit. Have you tried that? What kind of IGP are you running?
posted by selfnoise at 9:11 AM on August 24, 2012

If your TV is only 720p then you're probably getting the max vertical resolution already. You could try 1368 x 768 instead.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2012

And I should clarify that I mean that no graphics card will give you better resolution on your TV than 768 because that's its physical limitation. Your PC now can probably display higher resolutions if you plugged into a full 1080p device.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:21 AM on August 24, 2012

Have you considered replacing the entire PC with a Raspberry Pi, CuBox, or any of the other miniature systems with HDMI output? The prices are comparable, if not better than, a decent video card.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 9:21 AM on August 24, 2012

I've tried mucking with the monitor/display settings, but it only gives me two resolution choices: 1024x768 and 800x600. Both are stretched/cropped.

I've tried updating the drivers (motherboard, display) but neither helped.
posted by nitsuj at 9:37 AM on August 24, 2012

Yeah, sorry, but again you're trying to get blood out of stone with that TV. If it's only 720p then it's at the limit.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:50 AM on August 24, 2012

You can check in the Device Manager to see if your graphics driver is working properly. It sounds like it is not, and Windows has reverted to its default driver which maxes out at 1024x768.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:52 AM on August 24, 2012

What is the model of the TV?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:53 AM on August 24, 2012

I'm fine with the resolution, I guess, but I'm not fine with the stretched picture.

Device Manager reports Generic PnP Monitor, working properly.

The TV is a Samsung; I don't have the exact model on me right now, but Samsung did not offer any drivers for it from their website.
posted by nitsuj at 9:56 AM on August 24, 2012

Well, I keep harping on the TV because it's not going to do any better than what you're getting, unless it has better specs.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:57 AM on August 24, 2012

I find that computer output to a TV via HDMI or VGA is extremely hit or miss.

Does your plasma happen to have DVI? I have an older plasma that is 1366x768 and the only successfull (ie 1:1 pixel mapping) is via a DVI connection.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:58 AM on August 24, 2012

I agree that it sounds like there's something amiss with your graphics driver. It should be able to do the resolution no problem.

Have you tried hooking the machine up to a computer monitor and seeing what resolutions are available?

Burhanistan, he's trying to get his video UP to the TV's native resolution, so the fact that it's 720p is not the issue here.

I can mess with this tonight with my own 720p TV. Did you tell us what your computer's IGP is?
posted by selfnoise at 10:00 AM on August 24, 2012

Oh hey, I found the model. It's this one.
posted by nitsuj at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2012

Have you tried hooking the machine up to a computer monitor and seeing what resolutions are available?

I have hooked it up to a regular monitor and it looked fine. I don't remember the resolution it was at, but it was definitely larger than 1024x768 with no stretching. This was also via VGA.

Which, after saying that, makes me think it is an issue with the TV perhaps.
posted by nitsuj at 10:02 AM on August 24, 2012

Your TV has DVI. Get the cheapest video card with DVI and you are done.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:02 AM on August 24, 2012

wong: are you sure? It says DVI audio input, but nothing about DVI specifically. And I don't remember seeing a DVI input.
posted by nitsuj at 10:05 AM on August 24, 2012

> Your TV has DVI.

Sorry, I'm only seeing that it has a VGA input. The DVI listed is not the same as a computer DVI.

But yeah, a newer graphics card with HDMI should be able to display 1365x768 (the native resolution of your TV).
posted by Burhanistan at 10:06 AM on August 24, 2012

Burhanistan, great! Now do you have a recommendation for a sub $50 video card that will do the job? ;)
posted by nitsuj at 10:07 AM on August 24, 2012

If all else fails, VLC media player can compensate for the stretched picture by setting a custom aspect ratio.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2012

Sorry, I don't feel comfortable about a specific card because I just don't know. But, what I would do is buy one in that price range from a local store with an easy return policy and just try it out.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:13 AM on August 24, 2012

My bad, I didn't see where it said 'DVI audio'.

Personally, I would go to a B&M store to buy a cheap card and see if it works. If it doesn't, return it and try again.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:32 AM on August 24, 2012

It can be hard to recommend a really low-end video card since most people just stick with integrated in that needs range these days. The two things I would do is verify which version of PCI Express you have (a lot of newer low-spec cards are 2.x forward only and you'll see the newegg reviews full of complaints about this) and also look for a card with low power/heat since your OEM power supply is likely not great and who knows about airflow.
posted by selfnoise at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2012

You could try PowerStrip to force your current video card to 720p (1280x720).
posted by zsazsa at 11:11 AM on August 24, 2012

I seriously doubt that the video card is the limitation. 1366x768 is easy for anything made in the last 20 years. If anything, connecting by HDMI is likely to cause even more headaches (overscan, etc).

It's likely that the TV is report its actual native resolution to the computer. 42" plasmas are generally 1024x768, although they use non-square pixels. See if there's any way to force it to output 1360x768. If the TV will take it, that's what you want to use.
posted by The Lamplighter at 11:14 AM on August 24, 2012

Just to repeat, 42" "720p" plasmas are NOT 1280x720, they are 1024x768.
posted by The Lamplighter at 11:15 AM on August 24, 2012

DVI-D and HDMI are the same connection, electrically. They have different connectors, and HDMI's capabilities are a superset of DVI's (e.g., audio, additional video encoding formats), but all you need to connect a DVI-D output from a video card to an HDMI input is a DVI-to-HDMI cable.

The "DVI audio" input on the TV is designed for connecting to a device which has a DVI-D output (which does not carry audio) and analog audio out. The idea is that you connect the stereo RCA to the "DVI audio" input, and the DVI-D output to HDMI input 1 using a DVI-to-HDMI cable. Then when you select that input, the TV plays video from the HDMI input and audio from the analog input.

It sounds like the OP is only running video through the TV in the first place, not audio, so any video card with a DVI-D output, plus a (very cheap) DVI-to-HDMI cable will do the trick.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 11:16 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

How would I force it to output to 1360x768?
posted by nitsuj at 11:49 AM on August 24, 2012

Get a DVI-to-HDMI cable (or adapter) first. You may not need a video card if you don't have any issue with whatever monitors that PC has been hooked up to in the past.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 2:48 PM on August 24, 2012

It's possible that the graphics card you have simply doesn't output a 720p resolution (the card is putting out 768 lines of resolution but the TV is cropping out 48 of them if I'm reading that right) or they've never updated the drivers to support that.

Something like this should work fine, you just need to double check that you've got PCI-E. Any other card based on the ATI/AMD Radeon 5450 should be perfect for what you need and will take some of the load off your CPU if your player supports hardware decoding for some codecs.
posted by VTX at 4:27 PM on August 24, 2012

Given that your TV isn't that old (2010), then you should have better luck going with the DVI/HDMI route. Way back (circa 2004-2005) I had all sorts of headaches finding the right tunings with the VGA connector on my TV because it is an analog signal (undesireable resolutions, overscan, etc.) Going digital with DVI and HDMI made my life so much easier, just plug and play. Of course your video card might still be an issue.

But I would definitely consider trying a DVI-to-HDMI converter/connector first, before buying a new video card, because DVI and HDMI are identical in terms of the data. It is just one pin arrangement on one end of the converter and a different pin arrangement on the other end.
posted by at 2:27 AM on August 25, 2012

Can we get the exact model of the Gateway PC you're using? It should be on the front panel, or on a sticker located on the side or back. I just want to make sure some of the suggestions will be compatible (eg. will want to make sure it'll support PCI-e for the cards suggested so far).
posted by samsara at 9:39 AM on August 25, 2012

I have a ATI Radeon HD 5450 in my Shuttle, it's thin, fanless (so silent), has a HDMI port and does 1080p just fine. It cost me £25 (approx $40).
posted by mr_silver at 11:27 AM on August 25, 2012

I didn't see any resolution to this so I thought I'd offer one more nugget.

I ended up actually buying a fanless card with HDMI for one of my PCs this week: it's this card.

So far I'm very pleased with it, and it does work with PCI Express 1.0, which can be a problem on 2.1 cards and above. It does have a very large heatsink on it, which was a plus for me, but it will swallow the neighboring PCI or PCI-E slot.
posted by selfnoise at 7:09 PM on September 7, 2012

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