Not only has ATI enabled buffered audio (most notably with TV recording and viewing) to be transferred across the system bus, but the actual TV tuner hardware has been updated as well. Gone is the usual bulky TV tuner can usually found on All-in-Wonder cards (or virtually any PCI TV Tuner card), and ATI has found that it is no longer necessary to include large, oversized tuner hardware.
The All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT features a Microtune MT2030 silicon tuner, which offers the specifications and performance of a bulky tuner, but the chip itself has been shrunk down in size. Below is a picture of the MT2030, along with a postage stamp and coins to provide an adequate sizing comparison.
This not only saves on card real estate, but also allows for power savings compared to older hardware. Along with the input/output dongle, the new Microtune MT2030 tuner reduced the tuner footprint by 20% and helped make the All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT 256-MB card a reality. Had ATI used an existing AiW and tuner design, there may not have been enough PCB space for the heatsink-fan, TV tuner and other onboard amenities on such a high-performance video card.
The new multimedia input/output units can be summed up quite succinctly: they look like dominoes. While this is certainly true, there is a method to this seeming madness, as the new design allows the dongle bricks to be "stacked" one on top of the other, and the units actually lock into place nicely, and can be lifted or moved as one. Whether the new design looks better really comes down to personal taste, but other than aesthetics, not much has changed.
ATI has supplied the standard Input and Output dongle bricks (with S-video and composite connectors), and a component/HDTV output block. These are color-coded in their usual purple and black and the actual connector design is consistent and compatible with older All-in-Wonder cards. The main connectors attach to the I/O dongle at the back of the All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT, and there are secondary audio cables on the Output bricks. Installation is a snap, and the actual cable length has been extended compared to past All-in-Wonder models.
The Remote Wonder II helps transform your PC into a more of a TV-like environment, and allows remote access to most All-in-Wonder functions and Multimedia Center software, as well as functioning as a remote mouse when needed. In a conventional setup, the Remote Wonder II is a powerful tool for remote PC access or for notebook presentations, but when coupled with an All-in-Wonder graphics card, it opens up a world of possibilities. It can even control other IR devices, such as a TV or DVD player, and has a range of 60 feet.
In this review, we tested the ATI Multimedia Center 9.03 that came in the retail box, as well as updating to the very latest 9.08 revision for final evaluation. The multimedia playback is quite good, and overall the package is top-notch, especially compared to similar products. The only areas we found any noticeable differences in concerned the FM and TV Tuner portions of the All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT. Let's just say ATI has some things to work out on the FM tuner side and be done with it. We couldn't get the software to auto-tune properly, the bundled antenna was next-to useless, and there seemed to be no way to manually enter in FM stations and save them to favorites.
The TV Tuner side is a bit different, as it functions properly and the design is more streamlined than in previous All-in-Wonder implementations. This comes from the card design, and the decision to pass audio over the system bus, rather than through a physical soundcard input. This means that the All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT is essentially plug and play, and as soon as we connected the Cable TV, it was up and running. This is very different from older cards, where the setup was problematic with certain soundcard brands, and could result in no sound or a blast of volume when the TV software initialized.
With that said, sometimes ease of use carries with it some negatives, and in the case of the All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT, we did not find the TV channel switching to be as responsive as with past models. When changing channels, there is a slight delay where the audio needs to be buffered and catch up. This is far from noticeable in most cases, but we did have the All-in-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro alongside it in testing, so the delay was more apparent.
There are no synch problems when watching TV on the All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT, but there is a bit of echo delay if you have another TV on nearby, with the AiW card being a fraction of a second behind. In side-by-side comparisons, the All-in-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro seemed to provide a slightly sharper TV image in some cases, but whether this is due to the external dongle or the TV tuner is an open question. This is only noticeable on some channels, but the recorded video from TV and A/V input is excellent, and easily on par with the All-in-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro.