Staying with the hardware, one very obvious change to the card is the very dramatic shrinking of the TV tuner module. This is down to the fact that ATI is using a digital TV tuner, though that’s in the sense that it uses digital circuitry rather than being able to receive digital signals. It’s still only picks up analogue TV.
The bundled software may vary so I’ll not cover that in this review, but what is certain to come with the card is ATI’s Multimedia Centre software suite, currently at version 9.08. Multimedia Centre is very much the cockpit from where you steer your All-In-Wonder journey and offers single-point control to a bewildering array of functions and features including TV channel selection and scanning; pausing, recording and scheduled recording of live TV broadcasts; tuning, pausing, recording and scheduled recording of live FM radio broadcasts and much more.
The user interface, which was seen as fresh and funky when it first appeared, is now looking decidedly dated. It’s also not the most responsive of interfaces with a very slight but perceptible lag at times between hitting a button and something actually happening.
More impressive are features such as ThruView, which assigns a variable level of transparency to your windowed of full-screen TV broadcast and then allows you to work through it, for example by clicking icons or selecting text lying behind it.
Another useful feature is EAZYSHARE, which enables an All-In-Wonder equipped PC to send TV to any other “Built By ATI” RADEON™ graphics card installed on any other machine on your predefined network. These satellite machines can also be given permission to change the TV channel and perform a variety of other TV-related tasks such as PVR, pausing live TV and more.
Perhaps one of the most useful software additions, certainly for HTPC use, is EAZYLOOK. This is simply a skinable user interface designed to make it easier to access the All-In-Wonder’s many functions using the lower resolution found on most TV screens. Three coloured skins are supplied as standard. It’s also designed to integrate seamlessly with ATI’s Remote Wonder controller. The X600 we were sent incidentally came equipped with the Remote Wonder II, a USB 2.0 remote multifunction control which has had a chequered past in terms of software compatibility, though which has seen recent improvements thanks to the creation of third party plug-ins. If you buy one of these cards, it may or may not include the remote depending on the bundle.
For me, one of the most useful additions to the software is the ability to now capture to MPEG 4. Also, the multimedia player can now handle RealMedia, Microsoft Windows Media Video 9 and DivX content.
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These are just some of the many functions available from the current software suite. For more details I’d advise you to head on over to ATI’s site at www.ati.com and look through the features for the latest Multimedia Center incarnation.
Setting up the software generally goes one of two ways. It either goes off like a dream first time, or it takes a wrong turn and leaves you in a mess that’s far from easy to dig your way out of. Admittedly there are a lot of components to install with an All-In-Wonder card but smart software should come with smart installation, and when ATI’s installation goes wrong, it’s anything but smart.