The All-In-Wonder X800 XL is the latest multifunction card from ATI Technologies, featuring the Radeon X800 XL GPU, 256MB of DDR memory, TV and FM radio tuners, DVR software, and a slew of A/V ports for connecting to external multimedia components. If you want to upgrade your PC's graphics card while adding a TV tuner, the $399 All-In-Wonder will also handle most current 3D games with aplomb and give you the ability to watch, pause, and record live TV. If you're looking for the best possible TV image quality, you'll need to go with a dedicated TV tuner card, sych as the ATI TV Wonder Elite, but with the X800 XL's excellent 3D performance, the All-In-Wonder is a good choice if you're looking for a one-card solution.
The All-In-Wonder X800 XL is a PCI Express card designed to work on PCs running Windows XP Home, XP Professional, and XP Media Center Edition 2005. But if you're thinking of installing the card in a Media Center system you've built from scratch, getting it to work with the MCE front end can require some sleuthing. ATI's online support site has a list of the drivers and decoders you'll need to properly use the card within the Media Center interface. Installing all the included software, including the ATI Multimedia Center front end, should cover all your needs. ATI Multimedia Center isn't as slick as Windows Media Center, but it provides the same TV recording functions.
Unlike most TV tuner cards--PCI cards that work with your existing graphics solution--you'll have to remove your current graphics card and drivers before installing the All-In-Wonder X800 XL. You'll need an x16 PCI Express slot; the card won't fit in an AGP slot. The card comes with an installation disc containing ATI's Catalyst drivers and MultiMedia Center software, plus a handful of multimedia authoring and editing programs, including Matchware Mediator 8, Muvee AutoProducer, Serious Magic Visual Communicator Web, and Pinnacle Studio 9. A nice addition is Gemstar Guide Plus+, an online EPG with current TV listings, a search engine, and one-touch recording capabilities.
Onboard connections include coaxial TV and FM radio ports, one DVI video input, and a proprietary I/O port that connects to an included external connection block. The kit also comes with ATI's Remote Wonder Plus wireless remote control, an S-Video cable, an FM antenna, and a composite-video cable. DVI and VGA outputs, as well as stereo audio, S-Video, and composite-video inputs and outputs are all available directly on the card or through the connection block.
Once installed, we fired up ATI's Multimedia Center application to see how the card rendered our cable TV signal. Although picture quality was decent, we experienced noise, faint shadowing, and graininess on many channels. Scrolling text was fuzzy on most news channels. Channel changes, whether by remote or mouse, were quite fast for a TV tuner card, but there was an annoying staticlike sound with each change. On the plus side, recorded programs were virtually identical to the original signal in terms of image quality. Performance on our direct signal tests was much better. DVD play was smooth and stutter-free using the S-Video connection, and audio and video were synchronized.
If you want the cleanest picture, get the ATI TV Wonder Elite. It uses ATI's Theater 550 Pro video chip and, because it doesn't do 3D graphics, costs a lot less than an All-In-Wonder card. Unlike All-In-Wonder cards, it requires only a regular PCI slot; it works in tandem with your PC's existing graphics card.
Scanning for available FM radio stations is an agonizingly slow process with the ATI control center, and each time we tried to tune in to a known frequency, the scan restarted. The tuner could not lock on to a single station when hooked up to an internal antenna, but once we extended the antenna outdoors, it managed to find a few local stations. Unless your PC has access to an external antenna hookup, or you're lucky enough to have a window office, FM reception will be disappointing.