ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL: All I Want?

Universal multimedia combos make up an independent category of graphics cards that fall under so many different and often contradicting requirements that designing such a device is a daunting task even for an enormously experienced company ATI Technologies is. We are going to check out ATI’s new attempt to create a graphic card that would make an engine and wheels of a home multimedia center. It is All-In-Wonder X1800 XL!

by Alexey Stepin
11/21/2005 | 08:31 PM

ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL: A Peak of Multimedia Hardware Evolution

Some time back when we were reviewing ATI Technologies’ multimedia cards based on RADEON 9600 PRO and XT graphics processors we spotted quite a few drawbacks. Those devices didn’t support the DVI-I interface and had a poor sound quality, for example. Monitors had to be attached to them via a special adapter without which the graphics card was virtually useless. The RADEON 9800-based model didn’t support dual-monitor configurations.

 

As time went by, obsolete GPUs were replaced with new and better chips and multimedia cards from ATI Technologies were steadily getting rid of the problems the earlier models had had. The All-In-Wonder X800 XT could work with two monitors at once, was equipped with a semiconductor RF tuner and a greatly improved remote control system (Remote Wonder II). However, that card was released for the AGP slot, although the new PCI Express interface was rapidly gaining in popularity.

The All-In-Wonder X600 PRO became ATI’s first multimedia card with a PCI Express interface. The card was rather slow in 3D, but had the same multimedia and communicational capabilities as the AIW X800 XT could offer. Later on, and not so long ago, two new models appeared in the AIW family which differed in the number of pixel pipelines and the amount of graphics memory. They were All-In-Wonder X800 GT and All-In-Wonder X800 XL. Based on the RADEON X8 architecture, these graphics cards didn’t support many modern technologies like HDR, Shader Model 3.0 and others, and could not accelerate decoding of H.264 video. Their performance was also rather low for users who wanted high speed in today’s 3D games besides the multimedia functionality. ATI’s All-In-Wonder series did not stretch to the high-end market sector as it were.

It was clear at the announcement of the new-generation GPUs from the RADEON X1000 series that they would eventually be used in All-In-Wonder cards. Since the high-end sector had been empty, ATI Technologies started from it and first introduced its All-In-Wonder X1800 XL to the public. This multimedia card was conceived by the developer as an amalgam of all innovative technologies ATI had in store.

In our previous reviews of All-In-Wonder products we listed some requirements a multimedia combo card should comply with. The user of such a card can expect to have:

A high-end product is also expected to support HDTV, digital TV broadcasts (DVB-T), hardware decoding of HD content in WMV HD, H.264 and other formats, and to have high enough 3D performance to ensure a comfortable speed in today’s games in high resolutions and with enabled FSAA and anisotropic filtering.

From the technical point of view, the All-In-Wonder X1800 XL complies with the requirements from the list above since it is based around a new-generation R520 GPU which supports all existing graphical technologies. The multimedia section of the card was also developed to be up to the latest advances in this area. We will examine it at real work after we have given you a more detailed description of the product.

Package and Accessories

We received test samples of the new graphics cards from ATI Technologies in plain cardboard boxes. Since the All-In-Wonder X1800 XL (hereafter referred to as AIW X1800 XL) is a universal multimedia combo card, we were not at all surprised to see the large heap of cables and adapters enclosed with it. We found the following accessories:

Of course, this is not the full list of accessories that you will find included with the final retail version of the product – there will surely be additional software and a detailed user’s manual. But anyway we got everything necessary to normally use our All-In-Winder RADEON X1800 XL.

By the way, the senior model in the AIW series is going to be the only one to come with software from Adobe, namely Premiere Elements and Photoshop Elements. These programs are powerful tools for processing videos and images and cost $149 when purchased separately of the All-In-Wonder X1800 XL. We guess ATI did right as they included advanced software from a renowned developer of image- and video-processing software. Users of the All-In-Wonder X1800 XL won’t have to pay more to get the software necessary to use all the functions offered by the card they have bought.

All-In-Wonder X1800 XL: PCB Design

The graphics card looks rather peculiarly due to the deep violet color of the lacquer that covers the PCB:

ATI’s traditional color is red, but the company’s All-In-Wonder products now all use that violet color and thus differ externally from the rest of ATI’s graphics cards. Ruby, ATI’s symbol, is pictured on the cap of the cooling system – you should know this girl from our earlier reviews. The picture is made in dark colors to match the main color of the device.

Even without removing the cooler you can tell that the PCB of the AIW X1800 XL is designed in a unique way. This is expectable because besides an R520 GPU, this PCB should also carry components such as an FM tuner or a video decoder that transform an ordinary graphics card into a multipurpose multimedia center. Yet we should acknowledge that the right part of the PCBs from the AIW X1800 XL and the RADEON X1800 XT/XL is nearly identical. We mean the power circuit ATI had no need to redesign. All the components of the multimedia card are powered through a multi-phase controller Volterra VT1103. The load-bearing elements of the power circuit are cooled with a narrow aluminum heatsink which receives some airflow from the cooler. There are two red LEDs near the power connector, one of which goes alight when the cable is not attached. Like all new multimedia card models from ATI, the AIW X1800 XL uses a semiconductor RF tuner, so the size of the card could be kept as small as that of the RADEON X1800 XL – the device would be longer otherwise.

We took the cooler off to see the following:

You can see that the placement and type of the memory chips is different from the RADEON X1800 XL. Instead of the more advanced K4J55323QG series in 136-pin packaging, the card carries 144-pin K4J55323QF chips. The VC16 index in the marking indicates that they work at 2.0V voltage, have 1.6ns access time, and belong to a new lead-free series. The access time of 1.6 nanoseconds corresponds to 600 (1200) MHz frequency, but this card clocks its memory at a lower frequency of 500 (1000) MHz. The frequency reserve isn’t as big here as with the ordinary RADEON X1800 XL which has 1.4ns memory capable of working at 700 (1400) MHz. On the other hand, we don’t think there will be too many people who will try to overclock their AIW X1800 XT. It is not just a graphics card after all, but a multipurpose multimedia center and should be employed accordingly.

The graphics processor here is an ordinary sample of the R520 chip. The marking on the chip says it was made on the 37-th week, i.e. in early September, of the current year. Like on the RADEON X1800 XL, the GPU is clocked at 500MHz.

All-In-Wonder X1800 XL: Cooling System

The cooling system of the ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL has been borrowed from the RADEON X1800 XL. It consists of two independent parts, an aluminum case and a copper heatsink, which have no contact with each other.

The heatsink is intricately designed to be able to cool the not-so-very-cold R520 chip and yet not to exceed the dimensions of a single expansion slot. There is a protruding spot (62x62mm big and 1.5mm thick) on the copper plate against the GPU die. A layer of dark-gray thermal paste (probably Shin Etsu G751 or X23) acts as thermal interface between them. It’s difficult to apply such paste due to its thickness, but it has high thermal conductivity indeed.

Two U-shaped heat pipes are soldered to the reverse side of that plate. The pipes are then also soldered to the ribbed section that consists of over 80 thin copper plates. This design ensures a large enough heat dissipation area at rather small dimensions but requires effective airflow since the aerodynamic resistance of the heatsink that consists of very densely placed plates, is quite high. The heatsink is secured on the PCB with four screws and an X-shaped back-plate that prevents the card from bending or breaking and ensures tight and uniform contact between the heatsink’s sole and the GPU die.

The casing of the cooler is a thin aluminum frame with a cut for the heatsink in the center and some ribbing on the sides. The whole arrangement is covered with a flat aluminum cap with some picture (it is Ruby most of the time, but each graphics card maker can use a picture of own choosing). In the left and rounded part of the case, an ADDA blower (45mm, 4.2W) is set up to blow at the GPU heatsink. The case is padded with a layer of translucent plastic on the reverse side to protect the card from short circuits. Soft heat-conducting pads are installed in the cuts in the protective plastic layer opposite to the memory chips. The pads take the shape of the surface they are pressed to. The contact is so tight that we could read pressed-out markings of the memory chips on the pads after we removed the cooler. The case is fastened to the PCB with four screws.

This cooling system proved its efficiency in our tests of the ATI RADEON X1800 XL. It is mostly quiet, but the intelligent control system may increase the speed of the fan and, accordingly, its noise to protect the GPU from heating over when there’s a high load on the card.

All-In-Wonder X1800 XL: RF Section, Audio Section, Video Decoder

Exposing the RF section was as simple as undoing a single screw and levering both screens up with a flat screwdriver out of their clamps.


Front view


Back view

Under the top screen we found a lot of miniature inductance coils, a tiny quartz resonator and the heart of the RF section which is a wideband semiconductor tuner Microtune MT2121 that supports a 48MHz to 1GHz range and consumes just a little over 300 milliamperes. Earlier, for example on the All-In-Wonder X600 PRO, they used the MT2050 chip that featured the same level of noise (9dB), supported a wider range of operating temperatures, but had a narrower frequency range. But is it really necessary for a computer TV-tuner to be able to work under ambient temperatures from -40° to +150° centigrade? The Microtune MT2121 can also receive signal in the digital DVB-T format, although only the European version of the AIW X1800 XT supports this feature (it has an additional digital demodulator NXT 6000 that outputs an MPEG-2 stream; the CPU load should be very low at that because it is the GPU that decodes the stream).

Two SAW filters from Micrologic, M3951M and M9370M, are located below the RF unit. The filters are set at 45.75MHz and 41.25MHz, respectively. These intermediate frequencies are standard for the NTSC format the American version of the AIW X1800 XT supports. The European version uses EPCOS K3953M and K9456M filters set at 33.90 and 38.90MHz which correspond to the PAL format. Lower still, there is a demodulator chip, Philips TDA9887, which supports all existing analog TV broadcast standards and does double duty as an FM demodulator.

Another important part of the system is comprised of three chips that can be found right behind the DVI-I connector: the Philips TDA7040 chip allows listening to FM radio stations in stereo; the Fairchild Semiconductor CD4052 chip is responsible for commutation; and the Philips UDA1380 chip combines a stereo ADC with a sample rate up to 55kHz and a stereo DAC with a sample rate from 8 to 100kHz. So, the latter chip is responsible for the audio section of the AIW X1800 XL multimedia card, but unfortunately it does not support DVD-Audio format. Judging by the parameters of the UDA1380, the quality of the audio section of the card is rather high, but doesn’t quite match the quality of high-end audio equipment.

An ATI Theater 200 chip, the nervous center of the multimedia section of the AIW X1800 XL, is installed on the reverse side of the PCB. Its main purpose is to convert analog video signal into digital form and the chip does it by means of its two 12-bit video-ADCs which, coupled with special 2D comb and smoothing filters, ensure a very high conversion quality. Besides digitization, the processor performs hardware image scaling and decodes the audio track. The Theater 200 is a universal chip, supporting BTSC, Dual FM, EIA-J and NICAM formats. For some unclear reason, they didn’t implement sound transfer through the internal bus, so you’ll have to attach the audio output of the AIW X1800 XL to the line input of your audio card to hear the sound. Sound can also be outputted digitally onto an external DAC/decoder, but the 24-bit mode is not supported at that, although the sample rate can be as high as 96kHz.

Since the included TV encoder doesn’t support video playback in RGB format, the European version of All-In-Wonder X1800 XL features an additional VIA VT1623 chip responsible for SCART RGB support. The chip includes four 10-bit video-DACs, which ensures quality signal conversion.

All-In-Wonder X1800 XL: Inputs and Outputs

The I/O capabilities of the AIW X1800 XL are quite wide-reaching and we want to give you a thorough description of them because without the splitters and I/O units the reviewed multimedia card is only a graphics card with an integrated TV-tuner.

So, the AIW X1800 XL has four connectors in total: CATV, FM, ATI IO, and a regular DVI-I. The two former connectors are intended for a TV cable and an FM antenna, respectively. Our reviewed sample of the card is meant for Europe, so the connectors are round, as usual for that region. The American version of the card (for the U.S. and Canada) has smaller and threaded connectors. The DVI-I connector doesn’t need any descriptions, except that a special DVI-I → YPbPr converter is attached to it in the European version of the AIW X1800 XL:

There are a few DIP switches on the converter that set up the operation mode (up to 1080i) as well as the aspect ratio (3:4 or 16:9) of the YPbPr output. The converter doesn’t actually convert the signal, but only reports the positions of the switches to the graphics card’s driver through the DDC channel, and the driver switches the RAMDAC into the necessary mode. This implementation of HDTV support is somewhat imperfect as it occupies a free DVI connector, so you cannot attach an LCD panel with a digital interface to the card. This converter used to be included with some RADEONs selling in the U.S.A. and Canada, but now it has moved to Europe, while the American version of the AIW X1800 XL has a special I/O unit for connecting to HDTV devices, the DVI connector remaining free at that.

The multifunctional ATI IO connector is meant for a special splitter you can attach various video sources or display devices to, via appropriate modules. The functionality depends on the version of the card. The European version of the splitter has D-Sub, SCART, 8-pin mini-DIN and a mini-jack connector. The American version has one D-Sub and two mini-DINs (8- and 10-pin):

There is a lot of equipment in Europe with a SCART input, so ATI was quite right in equipping the European version of the AIW X1800 XL with an appropriate output. Besides ordinary Composite and S-Video modes (the latter was not described in the original SCART specification), the connector allows to attach devices with an RGB input which ensures nearly the same quality as an YPbPr connection. If your device doesn’t have a SCART input, you can buy an appropriate adapter in any radio shop. A short wire goes out of the SCART connector and ends in a green-colored feed-through connector that is to be attached to the audio card’s output. Its design allows to use both a TV-set and a PC speaker system at once.

The next, violet-colored 8-pin mini-DIN connector is meant for a video-in unit that looks like a domino piece:

The juts in the top of the unit and the holes in its bottom allow you to join it up with other units in a single whole to avoid a mess of entangled cables (there’s only one such unit in the European version of the All-In-Wonder X1800 XL, but the American one includes as many as three and it would be most appropriate to join them together). The unit can connect to S-Video and Composite video sources and to audio sources through RCA connectors – the sound is digitized by the card itself. The cable the unit connects to the card with is well screened and quite flexible.

The last, but not least of the I/O features of the All-In-Wonder X1800 XL is the FM antenna. It is a T-shaped two-wire cable with a connector for the card on one end. The other end of the cable splits in two separate wires that end in plastic caps. The American version of the card has holes in the caps so that the antenna could be fastened on a wall by nails or pins, but the caps in the European version do not have any holes – you are supposed to fasten the antenna with scotch tape, probably. Well, to tell you the truth, the antenna is not very sensitive, and you’d better use the radio reception services provided by many cable TV firms.

Remote Wonder Plus: One Step Forward, One Step Backward or Error Correction?

The All-In-Wonder X1800 XL is equipped with a new remote control system, Remote Wonder Plus. It is not a third revision of the system and is even inferior to the Remote Wonder II in some aspects, at least in our eyes:

The new control is smaller and more ergonomic in terms of the layout and shape of the buttons. It has got shorter and thinner than the previous version, but lost the AUX buttons that used to choose the plug-in that would receive the commands even if the controlled application was not in the OS’s focus. So, the functionality of the Remote Wonder Plus is somewhat worse than that of the Remote Wonder II here, but this is in fact the only drawback of the new remote control which is well compensated for with a number of positive features.

The Remote Wonder II control was often and justly criticized for its very small buttons, especially the numeric and navigational, as well as for the position of the playback control buttons. Although Play, Stop, Pause, Rewind and Forward are probably the most frequently used, they were at the very bottom of the control. ATI’s designers corrected that problem in the new control and moved the main buttons to the middle where it is much easier to access them.

The navigational field is once again round, with an OK button in its center, while the rather rarely used numeric buttons are at the bottom now. As for the cursor-controlling device, it has remained almost intact. Like in the Remote Wonder II, it is a rubber hemisphere with a groove for your thumb in the center. The new version of that pointing device is less sensitive and can now be fixed when pressed down. It depends on your particular tastes if it is going to be convenient to you. Some people might better like the supersensitive “pointer” of the Remote Wonder II which would react even when you just blow at it strongly enough, but others would be satisfied with the stiffer controller of the Remote Wonder Plus which is going to pardon your controlling errors.

The new remote control has become more economical and now requires only two AAA batteries (the Remote Wonder I and II used to require four and three such batteries, respectively). The range of the control is the same as that of the Remote Wonder II, i.e. stable operation is possible within a range of up to 18 meters to the receiver. The carrier frequency has remained the same (433MHz), too. We tested the system in our lab and it responded normally to commands from a distance of 9-10 meters (we couldn’t check longer ranges due to the size of our lab). We couldn’t learn the battery life time, but we guess it is over a year at least. The case of the control is made of colored plastic, and not painted gray as in the previous version, so there will never be worn-out spots on it.

One of the reasons the Remote Wonder Plus can be considered a step backwards is the receiver. It has become much alike to the receiver from the first version of the Remote Wonder – a small box with a wire that acts as an antenna on one side and with a USB cable on the other side. What’s more, the LED indicator that used to report the receiver’s activity is now missing. Contrary to that, the receiver from the Remote Wonder II is a massive plastic disc with a projection that conceals the antenna. It can be placed on the PC case or on any other flat surface and you can always see if the receiver is working as the LED indicator is seen through the translucent top of the disc. Moreover, that receiver can theoretically control infrared transmitters and extend the Remote Wonder II system on home appliances that are controlled in the infrared range. The receiver of the Remote Wonder Plus can do none of that. You don’t even get a sticker to fasten it on the rear panel of the system case. In most cases the receiver will probably just lie on the floor. The piece of wire that acts as an antenna looks shoddy and reminds one of cheap FM receivers that don’t have a telescopic antenna.

So, the Remote Wonder Plus has improved in some aspects since the previous version of the remote control system, but has regressed in some others. Yet we think its advantages outnumber its drawbacks. The new remote control is not supplied separately, but is enclosed with All-In-Wonder X800 GT, X800 XL and X1800 XL multimedia cards.

The next section of the review is about software that transforms the AIW X1800 XT into a complete entertainment center.

ATI Multimedia Center

The software part of any video adapter that tends to be called a multimedia combine is very often even more important than its hardware features. The software of contemporary multimedia graphics adapters is actually none other but their “soul”, so that no matter how advanced the combine is from the hardware prospective, without appropriate software bundle it is just a simple 3D graphics card, nothing else. The “soul” of the All-In-Wonder family lies in the software package called ATI Multimedia Center, or simply MMC boasting the following major peculiarities:

Of course, this is not the complete list of the MMC functions, because it includes not only the software for viewing and recording of TV programs or video played from external sources, but also different players: DVD, CD, VCD, FilePlayer. Besides it also offers the user a pretty powerful video library called MMC Library, which serves as an excellent means for arranging and storing your media-files collection.

I would like to stress that the concept of ATI MMC remained unchanged for quite a while already, and in it is a little bit outdates for today, IMHO. For example, the DVD, CD, FilePlayer and VCD players could be combined into one universal player, like Windows media Player or Winamp, especially since it is quite easy to do these days. Another step towards higher level of integration could be combining this universal player with the media-library. However, for some unknown reason ATI Technologies doesn’t do it and continues to distinguish between the players depending on the type of the media they work with. At least, this is what we see in the today’s latest ATI multimedia Center version 9.10, which is bundled with ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL.

ATI Multimedia Center: Closer Look

ATI Multimedia Center consists of the following components:

The first thing you will se when the installation of the MMC is complete will e the LaunchPad for quick launch of the applications included into the package. By default it looks like a narrow bar with vertical buttons on the right-hand side of the desktop. You can actually modify its looks the way you like: you can move it to any other side of the screen, hide it until the mouse pointer reaches the designated area or turn into a compact menu:

The LaunchPad settings include multi-display support, allow selecting the device for receiving TV broadcast, adjusting EAZYLOOK, associating media-files with the corresponding players, transmit video through local network, and setting your favorite skins for all the programs included into the MMC. The LaunchPad from ATI is very convenient to use and very functional, although its design doesn’t go very well with the entire Windows XP design concept.

I don’t think I need to dwell on the DVD, FilePlayer, VCD and CD players, since they haven’t really changed and you can read more about them in one of our previous reviews of an ATI All-In-Wonder solution called GeCube All-In-Wonder 9600XT Multimedia Combine Review . They interface and functionality remained unchanged.


DVD Player


FilePlayer


VCD Player


CD Player

Today these players look somewhat archaic, I should say, even if you set the “Modern” skin for them. VCD player has every chance to remain unused at all, because this format has already sunk into oblivion these days. The general feature typical of all the players included into ATI MMC is the absence of the opportunity to disable Splash Screen, which can be considered a minor drawback from our point of view.

FM Radio application used for listening to and recording radio programs broadcasting within the FM frequency range also remained unchanged:


FM Radio

The tool still allows presetting only 5 stations and records the programs in only one format: MP3, stereo at 224Kbit/sec. ATI FM Radio also has an alarm clock function and allows scheduled recording. That seems to be about it, however, most users will hardly need anything additional here.

As for the reception quality, it proved to be very high, even with the default antenna bundled with the product. In fact, there is nothing really surprising about it, because the area where our lab is located is rich in all sorts of radio stations broadcasting within the FM frequency range (88-108MHz). We had no problems with real-time and pre-scheduled recording.

ATI TV Player: Now with DVB-T Support

ATI TV Player also remained almost the same compared with the older versions:

Since the European version of the All-In-Wonder X1800 XL supports digital TV in DVB-T standard, this feature has also been implemented in the software:

When you launch the application for the first time, it offers you to scan the entire frequency range and find all the available TV channels. When you click the Advanced Settings button you can see that there are two devices on the list: Radeon AIW Digital and RADEON X1800 Series 1, where the first device is a digital tuner. You can select the region for each of these devices and set the Exhaustive scanning mode for the analogue tuner as well as the broadcast type: cable or antenna. “Additive” option should only be used if you are performing repeated scanning of the frequency and would like to save the info about all previously found channels.

If the Exhaustive mode is not activated, the entire scanning operation will take about 1.5 minutes, however, the card may miss a few channels in this case. By enabling the Exhaustive mode you allow up to 10-15 minutes for channels scanning, however, your patience will be rewarded with a much more complete list. Unfortunately, you cannot add channels to the list manually by just entering the frequency. In fact, this option could be very useful, if the cable TV provider doesn’t use standard frequency range.

Unfortunately, this time we didn’t manage to test the performance of the digital DVB-T tuner, because there was no corresponding antenna in the kit, and the cable TV provider we work with in our lab offers the corresponding service only for additional charge, and we simply didn’t have enough time to sign up for this service by the time ATI All-In-Wonder arrived into our lab. We tried to catch the test DVB-T signal from Levira Company transmitted from the TV tower about 18-22 kilometers away from our lab, but the signal was too weak, so we couldn’t get it without the antenna. Nevertheless, we managed to measure the CPU utilization during digital TV channels scanning: it didn’t exceed 10-12%.

I would like to point out that DVB-T is currently picking up in many European countries including Estonia. However, digital broadcast doesn’t always work impeccably fine in the countries of the European Union. For example, we saw with our own eyes that the Gainward representative received clean DVB-T signal with a USB receiver during the Deutsche Messe in Hanover, however, in London (England) it was not an easy task to find a spot with clear DVB-T reception, even though they have been offering this service there for a couple of years now. One way or another, but the quality of DVB-T signal reception depends a lot on the location of the building with the receiver, the reflection of the signal by the building, the distance to the transmitter, and some other physical factors. So, far not all the users will be able to enjoy the DVB-T support offered by ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL.

As for the analogue reception quality, we discovered a number of problems during our test session. In particular, when we set the region to Estonia (in our European lab), the tuner refused to receive most of the channels at all. Only during exhaustive scanning we detected a few channels. The image quality, however, was terrifying and there was a lot of random noise. When we set the broadcast region to Denmark the problem vanished – the card detected 69 channels out of 70 included into the standard STV cable package. The CPU utilization in this case reached 40-6-%. The image quality got significantly better, although it was not absolutely ideal.

When we used the analogue tuner, the CPU utilization balanced between 44% and 60%.

It is quite possible that not the best image quality resulted from a not very powerful signal transmitted by our local CATV provider. It is also possible that the engineering sample of the ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL was not free from some software issues. We dare believe that the latter assumption is quite probable, because the TV reception sometimes would go completely bad, and then would improve back to an acceptable level, while the reference TV set would continue showing the same good image quality. We also encountered some problems with the sound tract of the card: TV Player couldn’t always detect the sound track mode correctly and would enable the “mono” mode even if there was evident “stereo”. In this case we would here very clear clicks, and only setting the sound mode to “stereo” manually could solve the problem. Since All-In-Wonder X1800 XL transfers the sound stream through the PCI bus, the sound quality has become much better compared with the previous AIW versions: the parasitic hissing sound generated by the external sound source disappeared (for details see our previous review called GeCube All-In-Wonder 9600XT Multimedia Combine Review ).

Despite the drawbacks we have just mentioned, ATI TV Player worked quite stably. We didn’t experience a single freezing, a single program crash or slow response to user’s actions, although we have to admit that switching between channels doesn’t occur instantly. Scheduled TV viewing worked just the way they promised it would, and so did the ThruView function. Video recording also worked fine, no matter what format we used: ATI VCR, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4.

EAZYLOOK and Windows XP Media Center Edition

EAZYLOOK Technology is none other but a media interface intended for ATI MMC management in case Remote Wonder remote control system is involved. In this case the user is supposed to be at a certain distance from the computer system, or the video signal is output to a TV set, projector or plasma/LCD panel, so one needs a simple menu with large visible items, which would be easy to understand and navigate from a distance.

EAZYLOOK interface works just as the manufacturer claims it should turning the PC into a multi-media center, which is as easy to play with as any other consumer electronics product. The system reacts fast enough to the user’s actions, although in some cases, you can still notice certain delays when you move through menu items or switch TV channels.

EAZYLOOK can be used only in systems with Windows XP Professional or Home Edition, because Windows XP Media Center Edition already has its own multimedia interface integrated. In the latter case, all you need to do is install ATI drivers. The only limitation in this situation will be the need to rescan the channels anew, once you switch from DVB-T to PAL or vice versa, because Windows XP MCE doesn’t allow the tuner to work in two different modes simultaneously.

MMC Library

MMC Library is intended for arranging the media files collection in a convenient and logical way within a single library. When the program is launched for the first time, you should scan all hard disk drives in your system to detect video, music and graphics files. After that your library is ready to go.

MMC Library allows sorting out files, keeping statistics, playing each file separately, planning the deletion of selected files, creating playlists, recording video in VCD, SVCD or DVD formats, and exporting video into MPEG-4 format. As we have already pointed out, the library cannot be used as a media player: each file type requires a corresponding MMC application, or any other application according to the associations the user has set.

This library is quite convenient and easy to work with, however, its features and functions are no longer anything remarkable. Moreover, some important features are missing there, namely, the user cannot rate the played content and base the playlists on the ratings.

Performance during Video Playback

We couldn’t disregard the CPU utilization analysis during playback of various video formats. Therefore, we conducted a short test session with Windows Media Player 10 and a standard set of media:

In addition we also tested the video playback in H.264 format with the BBC Motion Gallery Reel movie in H.264 720p format.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to test any other graphics cards in the latter format besides ATI AIW X1800 XL, which demonstrated about 35% CPU utilization. As for the other formats, the new AIW model copes with them as efficiently as the regular RADEON X1800 XL.

This is the best result for WMV HD playback so far among all contemporary video adapters: even GeForce 7800 GTX doesn’t use the CPU resources as efficiently as the new ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL and other RADEON X1000 family members featuring a new-generation Avivo video processor.

During the DivX content playback, the newcomer doesn’t feel so at home any more, although in this case the CPU is not loaded by more than 18% even in complex dynamic scenes.

DVD playback is the simplest video playback task of all, because this format doesn’t eat up a lot of resources. But even here, ATI AIW X1800 XL showed its superior efficiency by taking over almost all the MPEG-2 decoding work. We assume that during digital TV reception in DVB-T format the CPU utilization will remain pretty much as low as now, because this format is based on MPEG-2 standard.

All in all, AIW X1800 XL copes with the video playback with an A+ mark, just as all other RADEON X1000 solutions. The question about hardware H.264 decoding remains open, however, because during the test movie playback on the RADEON X800 XL as well as on the engineering sample of S3 Chrome S27, the CPU utilization hardly went over 40-42%.

In fact, the current version of ATI CATALYST driver might have no hardware support of H.264 decoding. This support is most likely to appear in the new driver version. However, even without this support, you can play video in this format and you won’t need any super fast system for that. All you need is a PC with an AMD Athlon 64 3500+ or Intel Pentium 4 560 processor.

We decided to refrain from posting the whole bunch of gaming performance tests for ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL graphics card, because it works at the same frequencies as the regular ATI RADEON X1800 XL, and hence should perform identically in games (for details see our article called ATI RADEON X1800 XT and XL Performance: Crushing NVIDIA's 7800? ). AT the same time, we do understand, that this solution has no direct competitors: there is just a slower predecessor – All-In-Wonder X800 XL.

Conclusion

ATI’s All-In-Wonder product family has always been unique. This product offered the users high 3D gaming performance combined with the richest multimedia functionality. All-In-Wonder X1800 XL is no exception. Besides the superior performance in contemporary 3D games, this new multimedia combine offers remarkable video and TV viewing opportunities as well as exceptional feature for work with multimedia content.

A definite advantage of All-In-Wonder X1800 XL is its price: for only $429 the user gets a powerful graphics accelerator, the opportunity to watch TV on the PC, and the ability to turn his or her computer system into a true home entertainment center. Besides, you will also get about $200 worth of licensed Adobe software and a Guide Plus + package. In other words, the today’s All-In-Wonder X1800 XL with all the bonuses I have just listed will cost you only $30 more than a regular RADEON X1800 XL, which certainly makes the latter as well as its primary competitor – GeForce 7800 GT – considerably less attractive.

Among the innovations introduced in the ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL I would like to specifically stress the following:

However, there are a few disappointing drawbacks that should also be kept in mind:

The uniqueness of the ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL position is that is has no competitors in the market today. None of the graphics cards available today offers high gaming performance together with rich multimedia features. The multimedia solutions based around entry-level GeForce chips cannot compete with ATI All-In-Wonder X1800 XL in any way. At the same time, alternative solutions for each of the features we discussed today will cost much more and may conflict with one another within the same PC system. It is a totally different question if there is real market demand for solutions like All-In-Wonder X1800 XL and if this product will win the hearts of PC enthusiasts. Time will show…