ATI TV Wonder Elite


posted 3/31/2005 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One Page Platforms: PC

Ever since ATI announced the new Theater 550 chipset, I was pretty excited at the possibilities new All-in-Wonder and stand alone TV cards utilizing the technology. Whenever someone asks me what TV card they should get for their HTPC system, I would never hesitate in saying the Hauppauge PVR-150 for single tuners and the PVR-500 for those looking for dual tuners. With the release of the TV Wonder Elite from ATI, the choice for single tuners is not just Hauppauge anymore.

ATI’s produced a plethora of TV cards and multimedia cards in their days but the only thing that I felt that held it back was the lack of true hardware MPEG-2 encoding to reduce the CPU load when recording TV. The Theater 550 chipset changes that and with the change should come greater picture quality and no frame skipping. The ATI TV Wonder Elite is the first card to come out that uses the new Theater 550 chipset. For those that don’t know about the Theater 550, here’s some information from our preview we did a few months ago.

The TV Wonder Elite features the new Theater 550 chip that has many HTPC users buzzing. HTPC users will be happy to see that it makes the jump to hardware MPEG encoding providing CPU usage relief and allowing you to ease up on how powerful a CPU you will want to purchase for your HTPC machine. I’ve been experiencing 6-10% CPU usage on recording with hardware based cards and I expect the same with the TV Wonder Elite.

A quick overview of the new Theater 550 chip : 12-bit Video decoder with hardware 3D Comb Filter, Hardware Noise Reduction, DVD quality MPEG-2 encoder, stereo audio support, and more. There will be support for both PCI and PCI Express. An option of including an FM tuner is also available and should be integrated in for MCE cards. I’m hoping to see these chips appear in the All-in-Wonder line giving you truly the best of both worlds in gaming and multimedia.

From the looks of the picture, the card now features a blue/black PCB with gold trimmings. The tuner’s size looks to have really decreased and changed from the silver finish to the gold as well. It also looks like there will be hope for a low profile version as the card itself looks pretty small. It’s definitely a lot less bulky than the TV Wonders that they currently have. Then again it is a stock photo and it can change when the final product is finally released. Two Coaxial connectors are located on the back and I assume one is for a radio antennae while the other is for a TV signal. Finally, it looks like there’s a connector for the common ATI breakout box with additional connectors.

Users of SageTV, BeyondTV, or Windows XP Media Center Edition will really want to check the card out for a multiple tuner setup. With software assisted encoding tuners, the CPU usage would hit pretty high on some systems when using more than one. With the TV Wonder Elite, you should be able to record multiple stations at the same time with multiple cards and not be worried that it might skip a beat from taxing the CPU and that the picture quality of each show should be great.

The TV Wonder Elite is certified by Imaging Science Research Labs Inc. From ATI’s website itself:

The Imaging Science Research Labs (ISF RL) certification and logo identify ATI’s Media Center Edition-ready products as best-in-class multimedia components, tested and verified to meet a superior level of technical performance, and the approval of the most discerning eye and ear.

Imaging Science Research Labs (ISF RL) has established industry standard video quality specifications for Windows® XP Media Center Edition in cooperation with Microsoft®. ISF’s certification signifies that ATI’s PC components and products designed for Microsoft® Windows® XP Media Center Edition have been rigorously tested to comply with the most exacting audio/visual quality standards, and are optimized for the highest quality multimedia performance. Together, ATI and ISF RL are working to ensure that ATI’s retail products intended for Windows® XP Media Center Edition meet or exceed all home entertainment-based quality criteria, including artifact-free video playback performance, superb color rendition, reliability, and low-noise operation.

If you’re worried that this product might not give you the quality you want in a MCE system, then this certification can ease some of it. It might not mean much to some people and it might to others so take this as you will.
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