ATI and NVIDIA may be battling hard in the high-end desktop graphics arena, but there is a vast disparity when we move to the all-in-one multimedia/TV cards. Here ATI rules with an iron hand, and their All-in-Wonder brand is the gold standard in desktop PC A/V cards. NVIDIA has attempted to steal some market share, but after a promising debut, their Personal Cinema line has stalled, and the latest news is that GeForce FX 5700 cards are now available in Personal Cinema versions.
ATI adds in quite a bit more performance with their multimedia options, as the All-in-Wonder Radeon 9800 Pro and X600 Pro model attest, and these are still faster than the GeForce FX 5700 Personal Cinema NVIDIA offers at the high-end. Now ATI has really extended the gap of late, and today we are taking a look at the powerhouse ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT 256-MB card.
The All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT may have a ton of onboard multimedia features, but at its base, we are still talking about a powerful Radeon X800 XT 256-MB card. This translates into top-end gaming performance, as the card is powered by a full 16-pipeline Radeon X800 XT core running at 500 MHz, along with 256-MB of GDDR3 clocked at 500 MHz (1 GHz effective). The All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT is clocked at default levels, and there is no effective difference between the performance specifications when compared to a standard Radeon X800 XT 256-MB board.
This represents serious graphics hardware, with the only higher-end ATI video cards being the Radeon X800 XT Platinum, Radeon X850 XT, and Radeon X850 XT Platinum, which are really just slightly higher-clocked revisions of the same basic architecture. Suffice it to say that the All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT 256-MB is not far removed from the top rung on the desktop video card ladder and is one of the fastest GPUs money can buy.
The Radeon X800 and X850-based cards also feature ATI's High Definition (HD) Gaming. This includes SmartShader HD (16 parallel pixel pipelines and 6 programmable vertex shader pipelines to allow an improvement in gaming realism), VideoShader HD (uses the shader processing engine to allow user programmable video effects, video enhancements, and encoding/decoding of video), SmoothVision HD (improved AA and AF performance), and Hyper Z HD (enhanced buffer and memory compression to increase bandwidth and performance).
The ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT looks very similar to a standard Radeon X800 XT card, although some of the hardware has been pushed forward a bit to accommodate the multimedia extras. The gold accents look sweet, although the heatsink-fan is fairly standard by comparison. The AiW Radeon X800 XT is a single-slot AGP model, and requires one external Molex power connector. The card uses the popular Theater 200 media chip, rather than the updated Theater 550 Pro, but ATI has incorporated some other features by using some newer and smaller multimedia technologies. The card's backplate includes connections for both VGA and DVI outputs, as well as a new all-in-one I/O connection.
The All-in-Wonder Radeon X800 XT 256-MB definitely has some aesthetic differences from the previous AiW models like the Radeon 9800 Pro. First off, there is no sign of the usual silver TV tuner box or the cable TV interface on the backplate. Instead ATI has made use of a single interface for all cable TV, FM tuner, and A/V inputs/outputs, and uses an I/O dongle to service the above four connections. This is similar to current VIVO solutions, where soft-wire connectors originate from a single output, but here, the base is metal and actually screws onto the back of the card for added support. The four interfaces (cable TV, FM tuner, A/V input, A/V output) on the dongle are color-coded or labeled, and are backwards compatible with older All-in-Wonder equipment.
Potentially the biggest change in the new All-in-Wonder models is the ability to transfer audio data across the system bus, without any need for an external connection to the audio card. Installation is incredibly simple due to this, and ATI has eliminated a huge headache by taking the various soundcards, cables and inputs out of the equation. Now you simply plug in the card and attach the supplied TV and A/V input cables, then you can watch or tape TV shows, or input video and audio from an external source. In fact, the only time you really need to use the soundcard is when outputting audio to an external source.
In terms of installation and usage, this format does work well, but its main focus seems to be allowing backplate real estate for both VGA and DVI outputs, and it's tough to blame ATI for eliminating compatibility issues. This architecture has already been implemented on the All-in-Wonder Radeon X600 Pro, and while the AiW Radeon 9800 Pro was a tough act to follow, this is still a lot better than the bizarre, proprietary "all in one" dongle cord ATI used with the All-in-Wonder Radeon 9600XT. Now that ATI has embraced the FM tuner feature in the AiW line, the dongle approach is the best design concession, given the limited real estate and ever-growing list of connectors.
The retail bundle has also gone through a few revisions and improvements, and on the hardware side, we find a wide array of dongles, cables and other extras. Along with the AiW Radeon X800 XT card, there is the Remote Wonder II (and its USB receiver base and a pack of batteries), a cable-A/V dongle, an input connection block, an output connection block, a component/HDTV output block, and a cable/FM tuner antenna. ATI also includes a power cable for the card itself, along with composite and S-Video extension cables. There is both a full user manual and a quick setup guide, along with a software suite including the Catalyst driver & software CD, Mediator 7, Pinnacle Studio 9 (ATI version), and Visual Communicator (video presentation software).