Product Type: Connect3d graphic cards
Newest Review: ... users to assign various functions to remote keys. The remote wonder is also not a standard infrared remote, it's a rf (radio frequen... more
ATI All-In-Wonder 9800Pro 128Mb TV Tuner/Video Card
Connect3D All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro
Member Name: CogitoErgoSum
Connect3D All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro
Advantages: TV Tuner, good software bundle
Disadvantages: Not many....
One reason ATI has been so successful is that it continues to improve the All-In-Wonder line. The last generation, the All-In-Wonder 9700 Pro, ensured that video capture capabilities did not come at the expense of 3D performance. Since then, ATI has released the 9800 Pro and it offers up even greater 3D graphics power.
First, let's check out the card itself.
The DVI connector is easy to identify, and the coaxial jack is where you run your cable or antenna connection. The purple connector is for video input and the black connector is for output. ATI includes a DVI-to-VGA adapter in the package, so you have the option of using either a CRT or LCD . Dual display capabilities are limited to a VGA/DVI monitor and a TV output of some sort. This is bothersome to me, because I am a fan of dual monitors, but can easily be corrected with another video card.
The All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro has the same R350 VPU and high-speed DDR memory as the Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB, clocked at the same speeds as the Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB. This means that from a 3D graphics standpoint, the All-In-Wonder card is every bit as capable as a 128MB Radeon 9800 Pro. ATI started this trend with the All-In-Wonder 9700 Pro. Now their flagship VPU is once again available as an All-In-Wonder model.
A brief side note to remind you of the high points of the R350: It's a DirectX 9 compliant part with a 256-bit memory interface that gives it a lot of memory bandwidth - 21.8GB/s. The chip's F-buffer gives it the ability to run shader programs of unlimited length, fixing one of the few problems with its predecessor, the R300.
The R350 VPU handles the 3D graphics, but when it comes to video decoding the Theater 200 chip is the star of the show. With dual 12-bit analog-to-digital converters and adaptive comb filters, the chip is equipped to deal with composite, S-Video and component video. On the audio side of things, it is capable of decoding and digitizing stereo audio and "supports the major audio television broadcast standards used throughout the world" according to ATI. The Theater 200 enables the All-In-Wonder card to understand pretty much any video and/or audio standard you can throw at it, be it a broadcast signal or output from a VCR or DVD player. Sweet, huh.
The input is made simple via an input block and a set of cables that ATI includes in the retail package. The block includes component, SVideo, and stereo audio. There are actually two output cables and you choose between them, depending upon your output device. The black cable includes composite and S-Video out connectors, and the red cable has the three RCA jacks necessary for component output. The extra RCA jack on each cable is a coaxial S/PDIF connector which outputs digital audio for a surround sound receiver. Finally, the 1/8" audio plug on each cable goes to the line input on a sound card to feed it analog audio.
The final major component of the package is the Remote Wonder and its accompanying USB receiver. There are several things that make this piece a lot more special than the one that came with your TV. The remote not only controls key functions of ATI's software, it will also act as a replacement for your mouse. ATI has also made an API available by which other developers can write plug-ins for the Remote Wonder, allowing it to control third-party applications. The Remote Wonder software also allows users to assign various functions to remote keys.
The remote wonder is also not a standard infrared remote, it's a rf (radio frequency) remote. This means you do not need line of sight with the reciever for the remote to function. What does this do for you? This allows you to put the reciever, and thus the computer, in an out of sight place and still control it using the remote. This could be especially nice for people with a mother/wife/significant other that does not want a pc in their living room. From my experience, the remote's range is not unlimited, but it will work through several walls.
The package also includes good documentation, in the form of a small fold-out that documents the installation and shows how the cables plug into the card. An Installation and Setup User's Guide offers additional detail into the installation process.
Now, let's take a look at the software that comes in the package...
Third Party Software
Matchware's Mediator 7
The Brochure in the box describes Meditor 7 as "the user-friendly, award-winning multimedia-authoring tool that allows you to easily drag and drop your way to interactive presentations." The program will save your presentations in HTML, Flash or its own Mediator format
I spent a little time playing with Mediator, but I never really got into it. The program has no tutorial or tour function that I could find, and the learning curve was steep enough that I lost interest before I figured out much of anything about the program.
Pinnacle Studio 8
If Mediator 7 was a waste of my time....Pinnacle Studio 8 most definitely was not. This program covers every aspect of video editing, from video capture to splicing together clips and adding transitions and titling, to outputting the finished product onto DVD.
It is very intuitive and easy to understand, and a brief but comprehensive product tour shows you exactly what you need to start using the software.
I like Studio 8 for simple video projects, and it is very good for the simple stuff. I prefer some more powerful software for big stuff though....
Morrowind: The Elder Scrolls III
The last piece of third-party software inclusion is Morrowind: The Elder Scrolls III. This games is absolutely addicting. I actually owned it before I bought the card, but it is always nice to see a fun game included in a package.
ATI's software included is called MultiMedia Center 8.5 (from this point forward to be know as MMC). It is a very powerful tool to help you get the most out of your new tv tuner. I probably wouldn't be exaggerating to say that this software is the secret to this card's success. Let's look at some of its features
File Player is a multi-purpose application that will play a variety of media formats(MPEG, AVI, ASF, ATI's Digital VCR format, WAV, MIDI and MP3 audio). Notable features include the ability to zoom in on a portion of the screen (up to 8X) and pan around, an option to capture stills during video playback, and a scheduler to have files play back at a certain time. The scheduler is convenient if you want to wake up to your favorite video clip instead of the normal beep beep beep of the alarm clock. I find that "Good Morning Vietnam" snaps me awake pretty quick.
The existence of a seperate program to play Video CDs puzzles me. Other programs (WinDVD and PowerDVD) include the ability to play VCDs in their DVD playback software. There aren't many options here, but you can still capture stills, zoom and pan, and schedule like File Player.
The DVD player app has everything that a component DVD player should, and then some extras to make life a little sweeter. For example, you can set first and second choices for a preferred playback language, and if that language is available, it will be selected automatically. You also have the ability to set the playback aspect ratio on a disc-by-disc basis, saving your preferences for later viewings. Bookmarks (where the player remembers where you stopped on a disc, and picks up from there the next time it's inserted) are available, and the number of bookmarks and their expiration time in days is user-configurable. Like the other applications, still capture and program scheduling are available here, too.
TV and TV Listings
Though these are technically two different applications, they are so interdependent that I'll review them together. TV is, of course, the television viewer component of MMC, and it offers a lot of features you won't find on any regular television. The most obvious of these is the TV Listings screen, which is a program guide called GUIDE Plus+, licensed from Gemstar.
The window is very simple to use. There is a black box in the upper left corner that actually displays live TV when you're in the application. Below that are two large blocks for advertisements. This annoyed me, but then I remembered that the program guide data is a free download, and doesn't require a monthly service fee like TiVo. The rest of the screen is devoted to the program listings themselves. At the top is an area for the description of the highlighted program. Below that are buttons for every sort option you could think of, and a few more besides. In addition to the station/time grid shown, you can get an alphabetical listing of every program stored in the guide, as well as a listing of every actor and the shows in which they appear. Along with this the search features are very powerful. You can build searches consisting of any combination of the criteria shown, including exclusions.
To view a program that's currently airing, simply click it in the listings. If the program will be airing in the future, you can schedule it for recording by right-clicking it and choosing Record. If you want to view the description, just click the program to select it. Here, I run into my first annoyance with the TV Listings app, because selecting or even right-clicking on any program changes the live viewing window to that program. The change occurs even if the program isn't actually on yet; the viewing window simply displays a black screen with the words "Not Currently Showing." This behavior made little sense to me. Both my digital cable guide and the guide on my friend's TiVo let me read about other programs while continuing to watch the channel I last selected.
Although the TV Listings app has an excellent array of options for finding a program to record, it doesn't have the option of recording all instances of a particular program, or even scheduling a program to be recorded, say, every weeknight at 10:30PM. Of course, this software isn't designed to be a TiVo. If you want those functions, check out MythTV or just buy a TiVo.
The TV application has a couple of interesting features. The application actually supports all of the All-In-Wonder's inputs, so you can not only watch broadcast TV, you can also watch video from the composite or S-Video inputs. Assuming you are watching broadcast TV, one option that may interest you is the Channel Surf feature. Click a button on the control panel, and you get a window filled with screenshots of each channel overlaid with the channel and network label. Why you would use this when you have a full featured TV guide, I don't know...but it is cool.
There are two recording features available with the TV application. Both record audio and video, but they are distinguished by their intended purposes. First is the Personal Video Recorder function, which simply records either for a specified length of time or until the end of the current program. Programs can be recorded in a variety of formats, from MPEG to AVI to ATI's own VCR format. An option here is ATI's Video Soap, a sort of live video processor that is supposed to scrub the video to improve its quality. I tested this feature, and found no discernable change...so I don't use it.
The second recording option is called TV-ON-DEMAND. This recording function enables you to pause live TV and then pick up where you left off. You can rewind and fast forward through the recorded portion, which lets you skip commercials to "catch up" to live TV more quickly. TiVo users will be very familiar with this feature, but again, TiVo takes it a step further compared to the All-In-Wonder. TiVo is constantly recording live TV, up to a half hour back, so not only can you pause live TV to take care of other business, you can also rewind something you've just seen (such as that football call that you're just sure the ref screwed up) and watch it over and over again if you like. Because of TV-ON-DEMAND's on/off nature, this isn't really possible with the All-In-Wonder.
One final feature of the TV software is called mulTView. This lets you install a TV WONDER PCI card to add Picture In Picture or Picture outside Picture (two windows) capability.
There are some other cool features...that apply to all of the MMC suite.
THRUVIEW isn't a new feature in MMC 8.5, but it is a unique feature and deserves a mention. It gives you the option of displaying translucent live video over the desktop, either on the whole desktop or in the window.
Unlike THRUVIEW, EAZYLOOK is brand-new to the MMC 8.5.It's a full-screen interface for the TV, DVD and File Player applications that is designed to be controlled with the Remote Wonder, and is also designed to be viewable over a regular TV. The idea is that you can sit back on your couch and manipulate things with the Remote Wonder without having to use the keyboard and mouse.
The All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro is the latest step in the evolution of ATI's tv-tuner line, and it's a worthy successor to the All-In-Wonder 9700 Pro. The AIW 9800 Pro really is a one-stop video card solution, excelling at everything from 3D graphics to TV viewing to video capture. If you're in the market for a Radeon 9800 Pro and you're even slightly interested in digital video, give the AIW 9800 Pro a look. The only advice I'd offer is beware if dual monitor support is important to you, because this is one feature the Radeon 9800 Pro has over the All-In-Wonder card.
Summary: Great card. Well worth the money
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