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ATI All-In-Wonder 9600 XT ATI TV Wonder USB 2.0: We look at ATI's latest TV offering that has all of the TV Wonder's features in a nifty USB 2.0 package.
Date: September 1, 2004
Manufacturer:
Written By:
Price:  

Installation

Installation is extremely easy and straightforward. The first step is to install the driver CD and start the installation process. Once prompted, you'll plug in the power to the TV Wonder USB 2.0, then plug the USB cable from the device to an available USB 2.0 port.

Let the software installation complete and reboot. A reminder... you are required to have a USB 2.0 connection to use the TV Wonder USB 2.0.

That's the message you'll get if you use a USB 1.1 connection.

Once you're back up and running, you can fire up the Multimedia Center software and begin watching TV. Before doing so, you'll need to choose an input method...

Coax
Composite
S-Video

With the exception of the composite connection, we'll be sticking with Monster Cable wires for testing. You pay a little more, but based on experience, we find these cables are of the best quality. Only reason we're not using Monster Cable composite cables is due to budget reasons. However, this will give us a chance to test the Theater 200's filtering.

Image Quality

Image quality was on par with that found on the All-In-Wonder cards, which is very good. Of course, the quality will vary depending on the inputs used. Using a Bell ExpressVU PVR, we recorded a television show and replayed it via coax, composite and S-Video to the TV Wonder USB 2.0.

Coax
Composite
S-Video

It's tough to illustrate in the screenshots, but S-Video is the best option, followed by composite and coax. Composite video quality was very good, thanks in part to the Theater 200, but if given a choice, try to use S-Video for the best image quality.

Final Words

For those of you armed with notebook computers, the ATI TV Wonder USB 2.0 is your ticket to quality TV viewing. The image quality was excellent, and the performance, thanks to the Theater 200 and USB 2.0 interface, was also very good.

The TV Wonder USB 2.0 is not limited to notebook users though, as those uncomfortable with dismantling their computers will also enjoy the device's ease of use. Surprisingly, I think even power users interested in TV viewing on their PCs should consider the TV Wonder USB 2.0, particularly those who are armed with an Intel LGA775 setup. There is no All-In-Wonder PCI Express card at the moment, so the PCIE 16X slot is useless for TV viewing. Most of the high end Alderwood motherboards are a little short on PCI slots, and if you're using a discreet sound card, SCSI card and/or another PCI device, you'll likely not have any PCI slots available. In this case, the TV Wonder USB 2.0 would be a fine solution.

Sound quality was quite good, but truth in the matter is, the sound will hinge on the quality of the sound card you use. We did not test channel surfing speed as we cannot surf the satellite channels on the TV Wonder, but switching between video inputs was quite smooth. At full screen 1280x1024, the TV Wonder USB 2.0 had absolutely no problem with lag. There were a couple of dropped frames during a two hour recording session, but the number was under 2%.

The TV Wonder USB 2.0 reviewed today carries a MSRP of $99 USD. A Pro version, which will include a Remote Wonder II will cost a bit more, but it is currently not available. There is no change in hardware in the Pro version though, save for the remote, so if you do have a Remote Wonder already, you can certainly use it with the device.

There are only a few minor issues we had with the TV Wonder USB 2.0. The 6V power adapter is going to eat up some power bar real estate. Given the power requirements of the device, I don't expect to see it USB bus powered anytime soon. CPU utilization is also little high, averaging about 19%, but it shouldn't be much of an issue as if you're doing something CPU intensive to begin with, you're probably not going to be watching TV at that time.

There are three video connection options available, but missing is component video. This is not an oversight on ATI's part, but rather an omission. Currently, due to digital copyright laws, the only unencrypted HDTV signals are found in over the air (OTA) broadcasts. The current technology found in the TV Wonder USB 2.0 is incapable of deciphering those signals, so if HDTV is important to you, you may want to checkout the ATI HDTV Wonder.

The story today is flexibility though. Certainly, quality PCI tuners are fully capable of doing quite well in comparison. The edge the TV Wonder USB 2.0 has is that it can work with any PC with a USB 2.0 slot... from notebooks to PCs. If you're uncomfortable opening up your PC, or you would rather reserve your free PCI slots for other uses, this is your ticket if you want some TV/PVR functionality. For notebook users wanting the same functionality, the choice is pretty clear.

Pros: Easy to use, excellent image quality with composite and S-Video. No noticeable video lag at full screen.

Cons: Large 6V power adapter, fairly high CPU utilization.

Bottom Line: What we've seen today is a very flexible TV tuner, that is both easy to use and offers excellent image quality. If you're a notebook user or an enthusiast with limited expansion port real estate, and you'd like some TV-In capabilities, the ATI TV Wonder USB 2.0 is worthy of your consideration.

If you have any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.

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