When the most expensive TV tuner cards can be found online for a reasonable $99 to $120, the need for a budget card may not be obvious. The $59 ATI TV Wonder 200 attempts to find a niche at the low end of the market, but with stripped-down specs and inferior hardware, all but the most casual users looking to add TV viewing and recording capabilities to their PC won't mind spending a little more to trade up.
The ATI TV Wonder 200 is a half-height PCI card that should fit into even small PC cases with ease. Connectivity is limited to a single coaxial input, plus an external connection block with composite, RCA audio, and S-Video connections. The card doesn't feature any sound-processing ability, forcing you to run a 1/8-inch audio cable (supplied) from an audio-out port on the ATI TV Wonder 200 to the line-in port on your PC or sound card.
The latest version of ATI's software, Catalyst Media Center, is cleanly designed and easy to navigate. While you can watch and record TV and access music and videos through it, there is no tab for photos, which keeps it from being a full substitute for Microsoft's Media Center Edition (MCE) OS. It does include a nice transcoding app that converts video files for use on, for example, a video iPod or the Sony PSP.
We were able to get a signal without a problem in Catalyst Media Center, but every time we clicked the Live TV button, there was a delay of several seconds--much longer than we're used to with MCE. Unfortunately, using the Windows interface isn't an option: MCE does not support the ATI TV Wonder 200. There are other programs, however, with which you can use the card, but they're hit-or-miss. We were able to use ArcSoft Total Media, a Media Center clone that does a great job mimicking the simple interface of MCE and adds some nice additional functionality, such as basic photo editing. But when we tried Beyond TV 4.0, which is listed as a supported program, we couldn't get it to recognize the card.
Through both Catalyst Media Center and ArcSoft Total Media, image quality was fuzzy at best, with obvious artifacting and softness. The card does not use ATI's new Theater 650 Pro chip, relying instead on older (and cheaper) parts. While the video quality is comparable to watching a Webcast, it's noticeably degraded when you attempt to watch a live or recorded signal on a bigger display, such as a plasma or LCD TV. ATI's own TV Wonder Elite offers much better image quality and is widely available for $99, while the Diamond XtremeTV PVR 660--available for as little as $75 online--is a good choice if you want the ease of an external USB tuner.
The ATI TV Wonder 200 doesn't include a remote control; instead there's an offer for a free remote by mail. To take advantage of this offer, you must to go to a page on ATI's Web site and enter the product's serial number. Note that the serial number is physically on the card, so jot down the number before installation. With the offer, you can get an ATI Remote Wonder and receiver for free, plus shipping charges--$12.90 for standard three-to-five-day shipping. The normal retail cost of the remote is $39, so while it's not exactly free, it is deeply discounted.