ATI updates All-in-Wonder card with X800 chip

Markham (ON) - ATI today announced a new version of its All-in-Wonder (AiW) TV tuner. The new AiW X800 XL card is based on the current X800 chip generation and delivers the graphics performance of an X800 XL graphics card while bringing back support for Microsoft's Windows Media Center Edition operating system, ATI said.

14 months after the launch of the X800 chip, ATI is ready to sell its traditional AiW product equipped with the graphics engine. The PCI Express-based AiW X800 XL integrates a 400 MHz core (R430) and 256 MByte of 490 MHz GDDR3 memory. Besides the hardware upgrade, that is promised to bring a graphics performance similar to an X800 XL card, ATI made a substantial change of strategy marketing its AiW cards. From now on, the company said, Microsoft's Windows Media Center Edition 2005 (MCE 2005) is directly supported and European customers will play a more important role in what features the product offers.

MCE 2005 support was dropped in the prior generation and was brought back again because of an increase in demand. "It took quite some work on the engineering level, but we definitely saw a need to offer this feature," a spokesperson said. For European buyers, the new AiW does not only offer analog TV reception, but also support Digital Video Broadcasting for Terrestrial (DVB-T) television transmissions and FM tuning along with a added SCART interface. ATI still has not dropped the dongle-style connector for the card, but said the connector is now easier to use and enables input of VGA plus or DVI-I monitor input.

The AiW X800 XL costs $400 and is positioned at the traditional higher end mainstream price point. Users who do not want to spend quite as much have another choice with the new AiW 2006, a TV tuner card that carries the Radeon 9600 chip and 256 MByte memory for $200. According to ATI, it is "not a card for hunting frame rates", but offers enough horsepower for 3D gaming at home. As the X800 version, the 2006 model supports MCE 2005 and includes a newly designed remote control.

According to ATI both cards do not carry any digital rights management (DRM) features, such as the broadcast flag. This however may change as soon as market scenarios or the legal landscape shift. It is very likely that the AiW X800 XL and the AiW 2006 are ATI's last DRM-free TV tuner cards since content and hardware manufacturers are in the midst of prepping content protection specifications and the next AiW generation will not make its debut before the summer of the next year. This fact may be a compelling reason to buy one of these cards, but ATI is also telling us that H.264, a new HD video compression standard, will not be supported until the arrival of the R520 graphics chip.

According to a spokesperson, the R520, which is in its final stages of development, delivers the "computational power" to decode H.264 at 25 Mbit per second. While H.264 content is still not widely available, ATI expects quick adoption of R520 chips among video enthusiasts later this year and during 2006: "CPU's decoding at 25 to 40 Mbit per second are still three to five years away," a spokesperson said.

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