ATI All-In-Wonder X800 XL Review

ATI All-In-Wonder X800 XL
“ATI gives you just about everything you need to give your PC a real media punch.”
Pros
  • A fairly complete multimedia solution; comes with a large software package
Cons
  • Uses an older decoder chip; no HDTV tuner; software GUI looks out-dated

Summary

ATI’s new All-In-Wonder (AIW) X800 XL picks up where the company’s X600 AIW card left off, which means a faster core processor, more multimedia capabilities and a heftier price. Surprisingly, the AIW X800 XL isn’t the company’s most expensive All-In-Wonder product though. Nestled in between the AIW X800 XT and the X600 PRO on the ATI product line, the AIW X800 XL offers impressive performance while still maintaining a somewhat modest price. But what is the main difference between the AIW X800 XL and the AIW 800 XT, and have multimedia capabilities really been improved over the previous year’s offerings?

Update 11/2/05: It has been brought to our attention that there are OEM versions of this card floating around that have an AGP interface. If you live in Canada, you can pick one of these up at Future Shop.

Features and Design

There are a few subtle differences between the AIW X800 XL and the AIW X800 XT. First of all, the X800 XT has a faster memory clock of 500MHz versus the XL’s 490MHz. The GPU engine clock speed on the XT is also faster at 500MHz versus 400MHz on the X800 XL, pumping out 8 Gpixels compared to 6.4 Gpixels, and having a geometry fill rate of 750 MTriangles compared to 600 MTriangles. This means better gaming performance only and should have no affect on the multimedia capabilities outside of gaming. ATI has taken the same R410 core that is found on their X800 XL gaming card and moved it onto the AIW X800 XL product. The AIW X800 XL comes with a separate component video input cable, where the XT version comes with an output block with built-in component video connections along with S-Video output. The bottom line here is that the AIW X800 XT will appeal to hardcore gamers that have a little extra money to spend

The real highlights of this card though are found on the multimedia side. With the AIW X800 XL you can watch 125 channels of analog cable TV, listen to stereo FM radio broadcasts, capture and edit your home videos using the video/audio inputs and the included software, record television shows using the Gemstar GUIDE Plus+ software, and output HD content.

The AIW X800 XL comes with a few new tricks up its sleeves. First of all, say good bye to the old Philips TV tuner. ATI has opted to use a newer, smaller tuner chip from Microtune named the MT2050 which is hidden beneath a gold cover. The Microtuner card consumes less power and generates less heat. ATI also throws in their Remote Wonder remote control. If you get the XT version of this card, then you get the larger Remote Wonder II remote control which gives you more features including RF technology.

ATI gives you just about everything you need to give your PC a real media punch. That is unless you are a HDTV enthusiast; for that you will need to purchase a separate HDTV tuner card. In the box you get an antenna cable for the integrated FM radio tuner, an input connection block used for S-video, composite, and RCA stereo audio inputs, an output connection block which supports S-Video and RCA audio connections, and HDTV connection cable, composite video cable and the S-video cable. AS for the software, ATI includes Pinnacle Studio 9 (ATI Edition), Matchware Mediator 8, muvee Autoproducer, Guide Plus+ and Visual Communicator web.

We found the price of the AIW X800 XL to be all over the map, priced at some merchants for $299 while others are selling it for upwards of $400 dollars. For $400 dollars at some merchants you can get the faster X800 XT card which includes the component video/HDTV connection block. So make sure that you shop around to get the best deal. As of the time of this review, the AIW X800 XL is only available in a PCI-Express version. So if your system has an AGP slot, you will need to look at the XT version of this card. The AIW X800 XL is also not MAC compatible.

ATI All-In-Wonder X800 XL
Picture Courtesy of ATI Technologies

Performance

Designtechnica Test System

Windows XP Professional; Intel LGA 775 3GHz CPU; 1GB Crucial Ballisitx DDR2 533MHz RAM; ATI X800 XL video card; Western Digital 7200RPM SATA 80GB hard drive

Setup and Use

Installing the AIW X800 XL can be a daunting task, so make sure to set aside a hour of your time and pay close attention to the instructions. The manual is not without errors.  It shows you connecting a HDTV to the connection block which features the component video connections. The problem is that ATI does not include a connection block with component video outputs; instead they give you a HDTV adapter cable which is completely separate; so make sure you catch that. We like that ATI decided to put the DVI output directly on the card instead of using a dongle like they did on their older 9600XT All-In-Wonder card. This makes connecting a monitor much easier and takes the stress off of the small connector.

If you plan on outputting the AIW X800 XL to a television make sure that you read the instructions. The AIW X800 XL does not come with an integrated HDTV tuner despite having component video outputs. You will want to purchase ATI’s HDTV tuner card separately for that. And although ATI has you believe the AIW X800 XL supports dual tuner capabilities, it doesn’t directly out of the box. But if you pair up another ATI TV tuner card, then the software that comes with the AIW X800 XL will give you dual tuner playback. We also need to make one thing perfectly clear – the AIW X800 XL integrated TV tuner will only work with your analog cable connection. So if you have satellite or digital cable and expect this product to work, it won’t.

ATI has updated their startup GUI to mimic a sort of Windows Media Center Edition Look, only it’s horizontal instead of vertical. But that’s OK because it looks good and is easy to navigate. One issue is that once you click on an option, application kicks you out to an external program. It’s not a huge deal, but it would have made for a better user experience if everything was seamless. The Guide Plus+ software that comes with the AIW X800 XL works well, but it looks seriously outdated; we are talking Windows 3.1 days here if you catch our drift. The ATI media player also looks identical to previous versions of the All-In-Wonder line-up. Give it a facelift folks!

Video playback using our Comcast analog cable signal was good, but not nearly as good as the ATI TV Wonder Elite card we reviewed earlier this year. Why you say? Well sure the AIW X800 XL is a new product, and costs more, but it uses the older ATI Theater 200 video decoder instead of the Theater PRO 550 chip that the ATI TV Wonder Elite uses. Very poor move on ATI’s part. It sort of makes us feel like they are fooling the consumer into buying a cutting edge product when they aren’t. Sure the GPU is new, but only gamers can appreciate it, multimedia enthusiasts are left out in the cold. If you don’t care about gaming and have an older AIW product, hold onto it until the next-gen AIW line comes out; maybe then the decoder chip will be updated. The Remote Wonder remote control worked well and was fairly responsive. It uses IR technology so you need to make sure that you have clear line-of-sight to the IR receiver if you are going to use it.

The AIW X800 XL acts like a regular television in that you can browse up to 125 cable channels and set parental controls so that the youngsters aren’t watching inappropriate content. The AIW X800 XL also doubles as a TiVo replacement allowing you to record programs and play them back later on. You can control the quality of the recorded content to various levels of visual performance. If you have a powerful system with a large hard drive, you may want to set the recording quality to high, where areas if you have limited space, you might want a lower quality so it doesn’t use up your precious storage space. You can record shows in multiple file formats like MPEG-1, MPEG-2, AVI, Windows Media and ATI’s own VCR format. You can also record FM radio broadcasts for playback later.

As far as other included software goes, ATI bundles Pinnacle Studio 9, Muvee AutoProducer and Matchware Mediator 8 with the All-In-Wonder X800 XL package. All of these software programs carry a hefty price when purchased separately, so you save a considerable amount of money if you purchase the All-In-Wonder X800 XL and plan on using this software. Pinnacle Studio 9 alone is a relatively advanced program for video editing, and those with a knack for video capture should be more than happy with it. The Muvee Autoproducer and MatchWare Mediator 8 programs are designed more for those that want to make quick home videos, slide shows and photo albums.

Gaming Performance

Because the AIW X800 XL uses the same GPU found in the X800 XL gaming card, the performance is nearly identical. We were able to crank the graphics up to 1600×1200 resolutions with at least 2X AA turned on in most games. The card did fine in our Half Life 2 tests at a 1600×1200 resolution with 2X AA on, but really struggled with Doom 3. So you can expect the AIW X800 XL to output playable frame-rates with most of the older games at a high resolution. For most of the newer games like Battlefield 2, you will have to lower the resolution to 1280×1024 to get fast frame rates. The X800 XT still provides better gaming performance as does the Nvidia 7800GTX, so if gaming is your primary concern and you have some cash to burn, you can always buy a gaming card and then add the ATI HDTV Wonder and TV Wonder Elite separately. But really, the All-In-Wonder X800 XL excels as a good multimedia bundle. Click on the performance tab and link found above and below this review for benchmarks.

Conclusion

While the ATI All-In-Wonder X800 XL doesn’t provide anything that is truly revolutionary, it does take an evolutionary step forward – if a small one at that. We were very disappointed to see that this card is missing the famed Theater PRO 550 chip and that a HDTV tuner is missing as well. The real purpose of an All-In-Wonder card is to put everything into a single package. Video editing and an older TV tuner really shouldn’t be a reason to replace your older AIW card. Buy the ATI All-In-Wonder X800 XL for its gaming processor. And if you have money to burn, wait a short while the for the next-gen AIW cards to debut and you might be rewarded nicely.

If you are truly interested in the AIW X800 XL, make sure to compare prices first, you should be able to get the XT version which includes a faster GPU and HDTV cables for nearly the same price.

Pros:

–          A fairly complete multimedia solution

–          Powerful graphics core

–          Large software package is included

Cons:

–          Uses an older decoder chip

–          No HDTV tuner included

–          Only supports analog broadcasts (not compatible with satellite or digital cable)

–          Guide Plus+ looks and feels very outdated

–          The ATI Media player looks and feels outdated

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