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Reviewed: All-In-Wonder 9700 Pro
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: April 24th, 2003
Page: 2

To start off... the All-In-Wonder 9700 Pro is the first All-In-Wonder to feature the full gaming performance of its non-AiW counterpart, in theory. I ran the tests and this holds up in practice; every score was within 1-2 frames/second of the standard 9700 Pro. This is also keeping in mind the small upgrade I had to make to my system in order to test the AiW 9700 Pro; since it requires close-by access to the sound card's line input, I had to dump my venerable old Hercules GameTheater XP in favor of a new Audigy 2. In short, if you want the low-down on the AiW 9700 Pro's performance in games, go see the review on the standard 9700 Pro.

Like its predecessor before it, the All-In-Wonder 9700 Pro comes with the software to set automated recording, split files, ATi's Remote Wonder, and a nice software bundle. The bundle's changed a bit, however. For something to do, the bundled game is Morrowind. Video editing, instead of using ULead Studio as ATi had previously, has gone to Pinnacle Studio, which can be seen as something of a step up. Especially nice is scene detection, which works wonders when trying to clip the commercials out of a recorded TV show.

This halfway-gigantic image is a shot of the board. There are some similarities to the previous All In Wonder models, such as the DVI-I monitor out that requires an adapter for standard monitors, and the usual connections for ATi's breakout connections. ATi's gone back to the standard purple breakout box from the All-In-Wonder Radeon rather than the combined input/output breakout from the 8500DV, which was slightly disappointing, but it's still manageable. The reason for doing so is that the secondary video output now has three options to it; standard RCA output, SVHS output, and a separate component output for those with HDTV systems that want to run in even higher resolutions. 

The HDTV support, unfortunately, is one-way; the AiW 9700 Pro can use an HDTV as its secondary monitor, but no All-In-Wonder unit can yet decipher HDTV signals. ATi informs me they are working on it, but that such a solution has to be fine-tuned and that there is still no expected date or product that will carry HDTV input capability.

You'll notice that ATi's back to using a shielded TV-input tuner as well; as it turns out, this is lower heat and easier to manage than the 8500DV's tuner-on-a-chip solution. It's an upgraded tuner, the Theater 200, and comes with some new capabilities I'll get to later. The big change is its integrated stereo tuner, which makes the sound quality a bit better compared to previous All-In-Wonder models.

The other thing that hasn't changed, unfortunately, is the problems that All-In-Wonder devices have with Macrovision protection, especially from VHS sources. When I reviewed the 8500DV I mentioned that third parties have distributed patches for this in the past. They still work. However, please don't email me to ask for them or where to find them. Legally, I open myself up to problems if I tell you, and you're all smart enough to find them on your own.

With that out of the way...

The big upgrade for the All In Wonder line with the 9700 Pro model, besides its full power gaming performance, is VideoSoap. VideoSoap is a set of noise filters available inside the ATi capture software, currently available only when actually capturing video and not during TV-On-Demand mode (though that MAY be coming in an upcoming patch), designed to compensate for signal noise. Houston's a great place to test for this, since in my area there are some really messy and really clean channels based mostly on distance from the broadcasting tower. VideoSoap, to varying degrees, is great for capturing from a not-so-clean source.

However, since it's considered an "advanced" option, it's not been brought to its full potential. Since signal cleanliness varies wildly from channel to channel, it'd be nice to be able to have pre-set options for each channel. This is especially true for the known weak channels as opposed to those channels that suffer little to no interference and are actually harmed by VideoSoap options that are set too high.

For VHS, unless your tape is old or recorded off a bad channel, I also recommend leaving VideoSoap off or turning it to very low settings, since the quality of capture is normally decent to begin with. The bottom line is that VideoSoap is a feature that requires some fine tuning for every source, and quicker accessibility would make it a much more usable and higher-rated feature.

If you've got a PCI TV Wonder (has to be PCI unfortunately) the new 8.0 version of ATi's Multimedia Center also carries double-channel options; two channels at once, picture-in-picture, and watch-while-recording-other are all possible. It's a nice idea, for those who want to do it, but I wasn't able to try it out since my particular TV Wonder is the USB edition. 

For wierdness, there's ATi's "ThruView" option, which sets the TV output to the foreground of the monitor in a translucent state, allowing users to read text, play games, or whatever else they might want to do behind the TV or a recorded media file. Nice idea, but headache-causing, and I wouldn't try it for very long, especially if you're a user whose background images are busy or colorful. It works best with monotone backgrounds. There's also dual subtitling for DVDs (imagine watching 2 languages at once...), the usual TV-On-Demand (pausing/fast-forward option), and the playlisting features of the MultiMedia Center.

I also ran into one other interesting tidbit; ATi's own VCR codec seems slightly flakier than the standard Mpeg-2 these days. With identical (and high-end) settings, the VCR codec tended to drop frames here and there, not much but noticeable, while Mpeg-2 remained crisp at the same settings. The settings for my test were an ATA-133 80GB IBM DeskStar on Promise Raid controller for recording space, variable rate encoding, target 6MBit/Sec, maximum 8MBit/sec, de-interlacing, no VideoSoap, and default audio quality (224kbit/sec).

But is this important? Actually, no, because if you're capturing to watch for later, planning to clip commercials, or recording for posterity you're going to want Mpeg-2 for compatibility's sake. This will be more and more important as people start doing VHS-to-DVD conversions of their old home movies, recordings, and library of old tapes once proper DVD burners are commonplace. Plus, if you're recording large numbers of shows for later, the tendency's going to be for lower quality video for space concerns, and the VCR codec didn't drop frames as the quality went slightly lower.

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Added:  Thursday, April 24, 2003
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Score:
Page: 2/3

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