ATI HDTV Wonder Review

Posted on 22 June 2004 by

ExtremeTech has a lengthy review of ATI’s HDTV capture card, called HDTV Wonder. The review is quite detailed, and would be a good read for those wanting to get into the HDTV PVR. I’m not sure which frontend software will interface with this tuner card, but ExtremeTech was able to accomplish most PVR tasks using the software that came with the card.

Please read more for ExtremeTech’s conclusion…


Conclusion:

With the HDTV Wonder, ATI has hit the HDTV deck running, though not without a bit of stumbling. Image quality is very solid and there’s a good array of PVR and recording features. For $200, this represents a whole lot of HD goodness in one box. The issues still to be worked out fall into two broad categories: being able to tune in local over-the-air HD stations and software fixes ATI still needs to make. The first issue will largely depend on where you live, how many local stations are broadcasting OTA HDTV signals, and your proximity to transmission towers. From our brief initial experience, OTA HDTV content offerings are still kind of spotty during the day, even in a major market like San Francisco. Unfortunately, no amount of processing horsepower is going to make daytime television suck less. Prime time is another story, of course –the offerings get considerably better. Good prime-time series and sports programming are glorious to watch in HD and makes a world of difference in the overall experience.

Although we found a number of software-related issues that need to be addressed, the overall package is a solid offering. At this point, here’s our wish list for feature additions/improvements:

10 Things This Product Needs:
1. Two words: batch transcoding
2. A crib sheet for the Remote Wonder’s commands in the HDTV app
3. An HDTV EPG program that integrates elegantly with EazyLook.
4. A preview window in the Media Library application
5. A simple “i” button that will give content info (channel, program, EPG info, HD resolution, etc.) irrespective of app context. More than once, pushed the TV button when looking at recorded content to find out info about and was launched into the SDTV app.
6. The option to have HDTV app write out MPEG-2 program stream by default rather than having to transcode.
7. When Record is pushed and PSIP info is absent, a prompt to give the content a recognizable name to make later retrieval easier.
8. Thumbnail surfing feature for both TV apps
9. Automated batch transcoding during the wee small hours of the morning
10. A better UI for creation of DVDs from recorded HDTV and TV content

For now, you’ll need to be running with an ATI-based graphics card that uses the Radeon 9500 GPU or better. Future versions of the HDTV Wonder will work with other GPUs and ATI also is working on several All-in-Wonder packages that will include the new HDTV hardware. ATI declined to give an ETA as to when those products will ship. For HTPC enthusiasts, the HDTV Wonder will turn your rig into an HD-PVR that can share recorded HDTV content with all machines on your home network. And that’s the real power of a PC-based HD-PVR: the control you get over the HD content once you’ve captured it. The idea is not to turn around and file-share it on KaZaA, but to view it on any PC on your network or copy it onto a laptop to view on long trips.

As an HDTV PVR/viewing device, the HDTV Wonder does a very good job, filling in what had been a key gap in ATI’s video-focused products. It’s true that some have lamented that OTA HDTV is already headed toward obsolescence. To the contrary–the party is just getting started. Premium content will live where it always has: on cable and satellite providers’ networks. But to view network broadcasts of prime-time shows and sports events, OTA HDTV is a great way to get yourself started. Maybe there’ll even be a PC-based HDTV tuner that can get CableCard support built into it. We can dream, can’t we?

Product: ATI HDTV Wonder
Web Site: www.ati.com
Pros: Very good image quality, both live and in time-shifted mode; Recorded content looks very good as well; functions as both an SDTV and HDTV tuner; nice price
Cons: Some kinks to be worked out; Requires an ATI-based graphics card; OTA HDTV reception varies depending on location (not ATI’s fault)
Summary: Solid hardware and good software come together to create a good first-generation OTA HDTV offering. The $200 price includes both a remote and an antenna, not to mention ATI’s suite of multimedia applications. There are rough edges still to be sanded, but overall, HDTV Wonder is a great place to get your HD party started.
Price: $199 (incl. antenna and remote)
Score: 7/10