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Review: ATI Radeon 9800 Pro All-In-Wonder

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 1 August 2003, 00:00 5.0

Tags: AMD (NYSE:AMD), ATi Technologies (NYSE:AMD)

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Introduction


Since I can remember, ATI have had an All-In-Wonder product. I first remember seeing them back when I was hacking around on Rage Pro's, so there was certainly an old 6c based All-In-Wonder, adding superlative functions to a mid-range 3D accelerator.

For the uninitiated, at its core, the All-In-Wonder brings VIVO capabilities to a regular ATI card. However, with defined VIVO versions of products like the original Radeon DDR, VIVO is only half of the story.

Without going too far into the past, recent All-In-Wonder's are technical tour de forces. With regular 3D capabilities that we are used to, combined with Rage Theater chips for VIVO capabilities and a custom Philips TV tuner, All-In-Wonder's add TV capabilities, and more, to a general VIVO package.

Combine that with some of the functions provided by the GPU used in recent Radeon's, including on-GPU MPEG encoding assistance and VideoSoap (more on that later), you can imagine the potential uses of such a product. Before we move on to the board itself, let's talk about the discrete components a bit more.

GPU

We know all about the R350 GPU that powers a 9800 Pro solution, and the version in an All-In-Wonder is no different. Featuring the standard 128MB of memory and identical core and memory clocks, take a look at a Radeon 9800 Pro review for details on the GPU.

As far as AIW specific features go, the GPU makes use of the same features that the 9700 Pro (R300) version did, namely VideoSoap, utilising the shader unit on the GPU to apply realtime effects on the video stream to clean it up, and partial MPEG encoding. While it's not a full offload on to the GPU (that I can tell), it still allows a drop in CPU utilisation when recording video to your hard drive. Mainly used in ATI's own VCR file format, there's still GPU offload when recording MPEG video too.

Rage Theater 200

According to ATI, the Theatre 200 is "an advanced, single chip analog video decoder and stereo audio processor targeted at devices requiring high quality video and audio capture, such as PC TVs, Set-Top Boxes, analog PVRs (Personal Video Recorders), LCD TVs and other multimedia platforms". Passed through a low powered marketroid filter, we've got a chip that can do the following:

• Decode video from a wide range of sources, including broadcast video, DVD and S-VHS
• Accepts and outputs S-Video, Composite and HD Composite (HDTV) signals
• Decode all PAL, NTSC and SECAM discrete video formats
• Decode from multiple inputs including Y:Pr:Pb component input and a combination of compostite and S-Video sources
• Supplies dual 12-bit analogue to digital processors for decoding analogue video input
• Cleanup of noisy video signals using AGC and Clamp methods • 2D Comb filter and horizontal and vertical video downscalers
• Macrovision detection and filtering

And that's just video wise, here's the audio hardware on the diminuitive silicon:

• Demux and split all broadcast television audio signals into discrete stereo
• 16-bit sampling at 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz and 96kHz
• Decodes second language audio transmissions
• Modulation of volume based on signal strength

So we've got a full video and audio processor that couldn't really do much more. I'd like digital TV decoding, but I'm sure that will appear in future products as digital TV takes off. I think it's the only consumer hardware that decodes from Y:Pr:Pb source too. Component video decoding is a nice feature for hardware in this range, it's nice to see it deployed, in full, here.

Philips TV Tuner

From what I can gather, the tuner is a custom model, built specially for ATI by Philips. Obviously it feeds the Theatre 200 with all the compatible signals it can decode, and in the case of UK customers, does full PAL-I tuning, on all available channels, without any problems. International target markets are all covered, the AIW's tuner can do cable and antenna feeds without issue.

RemoteWonder

RemoteWonder is a seperate package that ATI sell, for controlling Windows, their tuner hardware and much more. In the case of the All-In-Wonder, it fully supports the tuner hardware via Multimedia Centre (more on that later), controlling Windows, plugins for controlling popular applications, control of ATI DVD, the media player, and pretty much everything you can think of that you'd want to do with a PC remote. It's a discrete option for non All-In-Wonder cards, and even works, limited though it may be in function, with non ATI hardware. I had fun with RemoteWonder with an NVIDIA GeForce FX for example.

Software

The software bundle is as much a part of the All-In-Wonder experience as the hardware. It all centers around Multimedia Centre, the hub of all things AIW in the package. It's responsible for the capture interface, the TV tuner, the DVD player, the media player. RemoteWonder interfaces with MMC to let you control the hardware using the remote. For the most part, ATI make good use of Windows Media Encoder 9 to do the grunt work of video and audio capture with the All-In-Wonder, and MMC takes care of that interface to those technologies, hiding it from the user.

Basically that's it, a piece of fast 3D hardware with everything needed to turn your PC into a multimedia hub, PVR (personal video recoder), full featured DVD player and of course, a television. A wide remit for sure. Let's take a look at the hardware itself, before moving on to the software and how it all works.