Pictures and sound have improved-- GearGuide column
by Alan Zisman
Canadian ATI Technologies has long offered a series of
video cards that bridge that gap between TV and computers. Along with
standard range of computer video features, they add TV in and out,
it possible to watch TV on your computer screen, capture video clips,
But they're expensive (about $400), require replacing
your current video
card, and can't be used with notebook computers.
The company's TV Wonder USB Edition overcomes those
at CDN$149, it?s a red plastic gizmo about the size and shape of a TV
control with a TV tuner built-in. Connect it to a TV cable (or a VCR or
camcorder's S-Video or Line-out connectors), and to your computer's USB
port (PC-only, sorry? USB Macs need not apply), and you've got TV.
The software allows you to watch TV in a resizable
window, or in a window
with the Internet Explorer web browser. You can channel surf through a
screen full of thumbnails of all your stations and view closed
You can set Hot Words in the captions, so that when the desired words
the TV opens up, and you can save the captioning as a text file for
word processor. With an Internet connection, you can get Gemstar's
Plus+ online TV programming guide.
You can also use the software to play Video CD and
Karaoke CD disks.
You can even use your computer as a digital VCR, assuming you've got a
lot of drive space to spare. Figure about 1 GB per hour of full screen
(Note: Only video cards that include video overlay
support can be used
with this product).
If TV on your PC doesn't do enough for the coach
potato in you, think
about the La-Z-Boy Explorer e-cliner. It includes built-in support for
Microsoft's WebTV and a foldout table with aSony wireless keyboard, so
you can send and receive e-mail and browse the Web on your TV from your
recliner. Alternatively, you can plug your notebook into its built-in
protector and data port. Not yet available in Canada; La-Z-Boy says
working on providing service with Shaw Cable, and they're hopeful that
it can be made available soon. US pricing is around US$1500, depending
Of course, your total experience also depends a lot on
the sound that
your computer is pumping out. And that's only going to be as good as
speakers that you're listening to. Understandable, most notebooks have
pretty tiny, minimalist speakers, and the speakers thrown in for free
most desktop computer packages are worth what you've paid for them.
Vancouver company, Songistix (www.monsoonpower.com)
aims to let your
computer sound better. In fact, the four models in their Monsoon
line will make it sound as good as it can. All feature high-style black
flat-panel planar satellite speakers along with a sub-woofer to push
the low-end sounds. Prices range from about $150 for the MM-500 model
$450 for the five-speaker MM-2000. A puck contains volume and mute
for easy access.
I got to spend some time living with a mid-range
MM-700 system (about
$225). Sound quality was simply superb, both for music listening and
playing, with one caveat. The planar design of the satellites is very
as a result, speaker placement is important. They are really designed
a single listener, sitting at a computer. They just wouldn't work as
while you're hunkering down in that La-Z-Boy Explorer.
Then again, the traditional comfort of the La-Z-Boy
would simply clash
with the Monsoon's futuristic styling.