ATI X600 Pro All-in-Wonder
Tour-de-force or tour-de-farce?
At the heart of the X600's multimedia talents lies the Theater 200 chip, which combines analog video decoding with stereo audio processing. It has some neat anti-aliasing routines, automatic gain control and a pair of 12-bit analog-to-digital converters. You also get high quality horizontal and vertical video scaling, adaptive 2D comb filtering and support for PAL, SECAM and NTSC broadcast standards. Macrovision detection is also in place, though whether you view this as a plus or a minus depends on which side of the industry you reside.
One very obvious change to the card is the very dramatic shrinking of the TV tuner module. This is down to the fact that ATI is using a digital TV tuner, though that's in the sense that it uses digital circuitry rather than being able to receive digital signals. It's still only picks up analog broadcasts.
The bundled software may vary so I'll not cover that here. What is certain to come with the card is ATI's Multimedia Center software suite, currently at version 9.08. Multimedia Center is very much the cockpit from where you steer your All-In-Wonder journey and offers single-point control to a bewildering array of functions and features, including TV channel selection and scanning; pausing, recording and scheduled recording of live TV broadcasts; tuning, pausing, recording and scheduled recording of live FM radio broadcasts and much more.
The user interface, which was seen as fresh and funky when it first appeared, is now looking decidedly dated. It's also not the most responsive of interfaces with a very slight but perceptible lag at times between hitting a button and something actually happening.
More impressive are features such as ThruView, which assigns a variable level of transparency to your windowed of full-screen TV broadcast and then allows you to work through it, for example by clicking icons or selecting text lying behind it.
Another useful feature is EazyShare, which enables an All-In-Wonder equipped PC to send TV to any other "Built By ATI" Radeon graphics card installed on any other machine on your pre-defined network. These satellite machines can also be given permission to change the TV channel and perform a variety of other TV-related tasks such as PVR, pausing live TV and more.
Perhaps one of the most useful software additions, certainly for Home Theatre PC use, is EazyLook. This is simply a skinable user interface designed to make it easier to access the All-In-Wonder's many functions using the lower resolution found on most TV screens. Three coloured skins are supplied as standard. It's also designed to integrate seamlessly with ATI's Remote Wonder controller. The X600 we were sent incidentally came equipped with the Remote Wonder II, a USB 2.0 remote multi-function control which has had a chequered past in terms of software compatibility, though which has seen recent improvements thanks to the creation of third-party plug-ins. If you buy one of these cards, it may or may not include the remote depending on the bundle.