The All-In-Wonder series have been a great success for ATI. Recently, they've been coupling some great TV-Tuning functionality with a modern VPU. This is a far cry from early All-In-Wonders (AIW) where the VPU was based on a handicapped version of their fastest card.
Another smart decision was releasing different variants of the AIW cards, each targeting a different market segment. The AIW VE was aimed at the budget market, where potential users may not have an AGP slot available. This AIW lacked a remote, and used a two year old VPU, but it was priced very low, and the multimedia aspect matched the top-end AIW 9700 Pro (now discontinued in favour of the faster 9800 Pro VPU). The AIW 9000 was another mainstream part, but supported DirectX 8.1 gaming. This card suffered something of "middle child syndrome" and didn't seem to get as much fanfare as the other AIW parts. The AIW 9800 Pro is ATI's current top dog, matching their quality multimedia features with their most modern VPU (until the XT came out).
Though the VPUs (and hence, the price) differed, what all three cards had in common was the TV-Tuner and the Theater 200 Video Processing Engine (VPE). Another thing they had in common, was the inability to output to dual CRT monitors. Considering that multimedia authors live and die with multi-displays, this was quite an omission in the AIW series. Today, we'll be looking at the AIW 9600 Pro, which has everything current AIWs have, and includes DirectX 9 support, Theater 200, FM-Radio (a new feature), and the previously MIA dual CRT display support.
You can grab ATI's , but I thought it would be good to outline a few important features.
TV-ON-DEMAND: Exactly as it sounds. With the AIW 9600 Pro, you can record your favorite programs, and pause live TV (playing it back whenever you want) directly on to your hard drive. The Gemstar GUIDE Plus+ is a software and web based application that works much like a TiVO's TV guide.
FM-ON-DEMAND: New to the AIW series is the AIW 9600 Pro's ability to listen to and record live radio. This works by attaching an antenna to the IO panel on the card. Unfortunently, this antenna isn't included, and you'll need to pick up your own.
THRUVIEW: Like other AIW cards, you can view TV through a translucent overlay on your desktop. This will allow you to work on your primary window, while still being able to watch TV. In theory, this sounds great, but I found it too distracting to use in a practical environment.
Remote Wonder: A fully wireless remote, that works by radio frequency, rather than infrared. That means the signal will pass through most walls found in homes, and at a range of about 30 feet. We reviewed it here, so check that review for our full thoughts.
EAZYLOOK: Also known as the "10 foot interface". An issue with past ATI TV-Tuning based setups was the interface was too small to read on an actual television set. Add the typically low resolution of TVs, and you can see the problems. EAZYLOOK uses a much friendlier and simplified menu, and the font size is much larger, making it easier to use.
MulTView: This is a feature that will enable dual TV tuner capabilities including Picture-in-Picture and independent channel surfing. Want to watch one channel, while recording another? You couldn't do it before, but now you can, so long as you have an additional ATI TV Wonder. Hopefully, this is something ATI can integrate into one card in the future.
DirectX 9: The AIW 9600 Pro offers full DX9 support.
The ATI All-In-Wonder 9600 Pro
Unlike earlier ATI products, the shipping boxes are squarer now, as opposed to being rectangular. This is probably a cost saving measure, but unpacking the box reveals the items better organized for shipping purposes. On the back of the box, the AIW 9600 Pro's features are clearly illustrated.
The layout of the AIW 9600 Pro is very clean, and like the standard 9600 Pro, no external power is needed to operate the card as the 9600 consumes less of it. The back IO panel contains all the connections needed to use the card. You have the TV-Tuner and antenna connections, and a video-in connection. There is also a connection for a dongle used for A/V input and output, which we'll detail on the next page.
The 9600 Pro's achitecture is based on a four-pixel pipeline, with one texture unit per pixel pipeline. This saves on the number of transistors on the VPU, thus saving on the cost. The consequence is a lower fillrate, but ATI makes up for this by increasing the core clock to 400MHz (almost double than the eight-pixel pipeline of the 9500 Pro).
The AIW 9600 uses the same heatsink as the ATI Radeon 8500 cards. The smaller heatsink and fan will produce less noise than the larger fan (though still quiet) found on the AIW 9800 Pro. The smaller fan was used, since the 9600 Pro uses less power, and thus less heat, as well as a 0.13-micron manufacturing process.
The ram modules are lined up identically on the top and bottom of the card. The chips ATI chose to use are . The number after GC (24) isn't listed on their site, but the memory is 128-bit, and on the AIW 9600 Pro, it is clocked at 325MHz. This is an improvement of 25MHz when compared to the 300MHz on the Radeon 9600 Pro, and marks the first time an AIW's spec exceeds the card it was based on.