Video cards expand options to link PCs with TVs

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Business in Vancouver,  Issue #654  May 6- 12, 2002,  High Tech Office column

A TV screen and a computer monitor appear to be pretty similar. Both feature big, bulky cathode-ray picture tubes, and on the surface would seem like they ought to be interchangeable. 

Twenty-five years ago, budget-minded Apple II, Atari or Tandy computer users could save the price of a monitor by hooking their first-generation PC up to an old TV. But not any more. Your computer screen is a much higher-resolution display than the rec-room TV.

 Your TV won't cut it for editing small text in your word processor. But you may want to display your PowerPoint presentation on a big TV in the boardroom. Or record it on to videotape to send to a client. Or do the opposite: Watch or record TV or video on your computer. 

Ontario-based ATI Technology ( is a world-class leader in computer video-cards. Its All-in-Wonder Radeon 8500 DV ($629) is its latest product. It puts a wide range of TV inputs and outputs on an add-in card that replaces the video-card that came with your desktop PC. 

Built around ATI's top-of-the-line Radeon 8500, its 64 MBs offer computer video performance that will satisfy all but the most rabid game-playing fanatic when plugged into either a standard monitor or a new-generation digital LCD panel. 

As well, it adds a standard TV cable input and tuner along with inputs and outputs for connection to VCRs, DVD-players, camcorders and more. The "DV" in its name stands for "digital video," made possible by the addition of a pair of Firewire ports, for connection to digital camcorders and other Firewire devices. 

The software lets you watch TV on your desktop with a host of extra features. You can view thumbnails of all your channels at once, capture stills or video clips, or send the close-captioning text to your word-processor. Set a timer to record a show onto your hard drive with up to DVD-quality. (That's assuming you've got a lot of free hard drive space. For the best quality you'll need eight MBs of space for each second. However, there are lots of less demanding, lower-quality options.) Or set it to scan the news, and start recording when your company's name is mentioned. Included GuidePlus software lets you select programs to watch or record from a sort of online TV Guide. 

To use these video features, however, you'll need Windows ME, 2000, or XP. Windows 95 and 98 users need not apply. (And some older systems may have problems unless the card's Firewire port is disabled.) 

Alternatively, you can connect to a large screen TV to display those presentations, or output them or your digital video productions for recording onto analog tape or, using the Firewire port, onto a digital camcorder. A copy of Ulead's VideoStudio 5 software is included to help you produce those video clips. (Also bundled is a copy of the popular HalfLife: Counterstrike game.) 

And like any self-respecting video gadget, there's a remote control. In this case, it's radio-powered for more range than the one that came with your TV. It even functions as a computer mouse. 

If the price seems too steep, check out the All-in-Wonder Radeon 7500. With a somewhat less-powerful video card and no Firewire ports, but otherwise similar video in and out capabilities, it's a more affordable $329. 

You can get high-end computer graphics performance for less (nVidia's GeForce cards are particularly well thought-of these days). 

For digital camcorder connections, you can add a separate Firewire card to desktop PCs for under $100. (ATI sells one under the name "DV Wonder," including the same VideoStudio software.) 

But if you want or need all of this together with a complete set of video input and output capabilities and well thought-out software package, and if you've got the budget for it all, the All-in-Wonder 8500DV is the one for you. 

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan