All-in-wonder is wonderful for TV-land
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
ATI All-in-Wonder 128 video card
$329 (for 16 meg version)
?A PC is a PC is a PC?, as Gertrude Stein might have
said if she lived
in the 1990s. But as Rudyard Kipling didn?t say, ?A woman is only a
but with a good video card your PC will smoke!?
Even the low end CPUs in today?s crop of computers is
faster and more
powerful than last-year?s high-end machine. But for users who demand
performance, such as game players, anxious to maximize their frame per
second rate on popular 3D games, there are few ways to get more bang
the buck than to invest in a high-powered video card.
Toronto-based ATI has included 3D acceleration in
their video cards
for several years, but even though the company claims to sell more
cards than anyone else, frankly, their earlier Rage/Rage Pro/Rage
offerings haven?t been contenders by gamers.
With the newest incarnation, cards based on the
Rage-128 chipset, ATI is trying to change that-- promising top of the
2D performance, as well as 3D output to satisfy the needs of demanding
games. The company offers Rage-128 cards with a range of features and
but the top of the line All-in-Wonder 128 offers quite a bit more than
just a video card.
Like earlier incarnations of this series, it offers
of making your computer part of a home entertainment center, by
a wide range of TV input and output connections and features. There?s a
built-in TV tuner, so by connecting the card to a TV cable or antenna,
you can watch TV in a resizable window on your computer monitor. You
even put thumbnails of several dozen TV channels on screen at once, and
watch them all at the same time. (Not quite as cool as it sounds, since
the thumbnails update slowly, but still, a neat trick!)
You can capture a program?s closed-captioning into a
instant transcripts, or even set it to run in the background, and pop
when a program mentions a keyword. Or you can capture stills right off
the TV. Automatically combine both, capturing text and stills to create
an instant magazine. Hardware assistance built into the card results in
very good screen captures?and even lets the card function as a sort of
digital VCR, recording entire shows as digital MPEG-2 files. Even when
not recording, the last couple of minutes of a show are always
for ?instant replay?.
Video output does the opposite?letting you put the
contents of your
computer out to a video source?record it on a VCR, or show it on a
TV. To the cynical, this might seem like a way that you can play
games on your $2000 PC, just like with your $200 game system, but it
add a new dimension of fun to computer game playing, or let you use
PC to show your business?s PowerPoint presentation to a larger
Hardware-based DVD support offers high-quality movie playback (assuming
you have a DVD drive).
While the hardware works with the TV viewer that
Microsoft built into
Windows 98, ATI?s Media Player offers a nicer experience, giving a
interface for TV, DVD, CD playing, and video capture and playback.
it can be controlled with the keyboard as well as with the mouse.
The card loses points with the cutting-edge gaming
crowd, however. While
ATI?s Rage 128 was a hot chipset when it first appeared about a year
newer competing products such as 3dFx?s Voodoo 3 and especially
TNT 2 cards have since outclassed it. As a result, while it?s greatly
over ATI?s earlier efforts, the Rage-128 remains an also-ran in the
for top gaming performance?but may prove powerful enough for most
And if the All-in-Wonder?s video and TV options are
more important than
raw 3D performance, it?s well worth a look.