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ATI All-In-Wonder Radeo/DV Wonder Video Cards

Powerful New Video Cards Expand PC's Possibilities

ATI All-In-Wonder Radeo/DV Wonder Video Cards

by Jim Bray

ATI's new All-in-Wonder Radeon video card may be the best example yet of convergence.

The term "convergence" usually refers to the marrying of computers with audio/video and other consumer electronics gadgets, forming one big happy technological family. As showcased by ATI's new All-in-Wonder Radeon video card, it means you can now use your PC for almost anything home theater-related.

The heart of the $249 card, which is available in PCI or 4x/2x AGP versions, is ATI's Radeon chipset. This is currently the company's flagship technology, and it's supposedly designed to give the ultimate in 3D performance. This makes the card a great tool for gamers.

The sample I got contained 32 Megabytes of video RAM and its game-playing performance was as advertised. I could run games like Quake III Arena at 1280x1024 resolution and it worked very well, with no jerkiness at all. It did get jerky and hesitant at resolutions even higher than that, but since even 1280 x 1024 offers excellent fine detail it didn't bother me a whit.

Besides, great 3D and game performance is only the beginning of what the All-in-Wonder Radeon offers. It also comes with a built in TV tuner, DVD playback, just about all the A/V inputs and outputs you're likely to ever need and, as the piece de resistance, it's even a Personal Video Recorder (PVR).

This last feature really makes the card a tour de force, because it gives you all the neat TV recording features offered by set top boxes from TiVO and Replay TV. This means you can pause live TV broadcasts, create instant replays, and record broadcasts for later viewing (they record right onto your PC's hard drive). Not only that, but ATI throws in Guide Plus, an on screen TV listing service that lets you organize and plan your television watching and/or recording. Perhaps best of all, the service doesn't tie you into a monthly fee.

The stereo TV tuner brings in 125 off air or cable channels (it isn't satellite capable unless you leave the tuner on channel 3 or 4 and watch the dish that way). You can watch TV in a window or full screen; the Window setting is especially handy, because it lets you monitor TV broadcasts while working on something else.

The picture quality depends on the source material, of course, and the quality of your monitor.

You can also zoom and pan TV pictures, and use "hot words" to make the TV window pop up when a particular program or topic comes on. This can be a great tool for journalists, investors, students or sports fans looking for particular information. I like the way it works in the background, too, only popping into view when it finds the information for which you're looking.

The DVD player also works full screen or in a window, and it's the best player I've found so far for watching DVD's with Windows 2000. You get all the major DVD player features, including variable aspect ratio (widescreen or "standard").

You can also output the All-in-Wonder's signal to your TV and/or home theater audio system. This works best when they're in the same room, of course, unless you get some really long patch cords!

There's even more! You can capture MPEG-2 video (the same standard as used in DVD's and satellite TV) at a resolution of 720x480 and the full 30 frames per second used by TV - and you can grab still images or download footage from VCR's or camcorders.

Using the bundled ULead editing software you can create and edit your own home videos.

It works very well.

DV Wonder

If that isn't enough for you, ATI has also launched its DV Wonder, a $49 PCI interface card that lets you download footage from your DV (digital video) camcorder and, with the included software, edit it on your PC.

DV Wonder comes with three FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports and a connecting cable. FireWire inputs are generally as scarce as hen's teeth in the PC world, though the Mac has had it for a while, so ATI's introduction of this new interface card means there's even less reason to think about a Mac.

FireWire connectivity can also be used to take advantage of new generations of external hard drives, scanners and the like.

So much for planned obsolescence!

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006