Issue #592- Feb 27 2001 Business in Vancouver

Pictures and sound have improved-- GearGuide column

by Alan Zisman

Canadian ATI Technologies has long offered a series of All-in-Wonder video cards that bridge that gap between TV and computers. Along with the standard range of computer video features, they add TV in and out, making it possible to watch TV on your computer screen, capture video clips, and more.

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 objections. Priced at CDN$149, it?s a red plastic gizmo about the size and shape of a TV remote 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 captioning. You can set Hot Words in the captions, so that when the desired words appear, the TV opens up, and you can save the captioning as a text file for your word processor. With an Internet connection, you can get Gemstar's Guide 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 TV.

(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 power-surge protector and data port. Not yet available in Canada; La-Z-Boy says they're 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 on finish.

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 the speakers that you're listening to. Understandable, most notebooks have pretty tiny, minimalist speakers, and the speakers thrown in for free in most desktop computer packages are worth what you've paid for them.

Vancouver company, Songistix ( aims to let your computer sound better. In fact, the four models in their Monsoon product 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 out the low-end sounds. Prices range from about $150 for the MM-500 model to $450 for the five-speaker MM-2000. A puck contains volume and mute controls 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 game playing, with one caveat. The planar design of the satellites is very directional; as a result, speaker placement is important. They are really designed for a single listener, sitting at a computer. They just wouldn't work as well 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.

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