Installing the card is fairly easy. Just pull out your old card, install the new one, install some drivers and you’re up and running. A quick trip to the ATI site held the pleasant surprise of an updated version of the ATI Multimedia Center (MMC) software. The new software adds some nice functionality to the Remote Wonder as well as fixing some other little problems. The only beef here is that you need to be careful to install the software in the right order or you’ll have to start from scratch, which isn’t a lot of fun.
Once you have the card installed and running, it’s easy to hook the ATI into your media center. The card comes with two sets of cables (input and output) that you need to hook into your card. Once you have everything hooked in you simply load up the software, tell it what inputs to pull from, and you’re off and running. Overall, the installation took me about 50 minutes start to finish.
The card does support ATI’s Hydravision (multiple displays) but with all of the AIW goodness on the card there wasn’t room to put two VGA outputs. You can output to a monitor and to a TV using the included outputs but it’s not quite the same as being able to use two monitors.
The rest of the ATI software is pretty standard stuff and works very well with the card. You have applications to control the TV tuner, a DVD Player, MP3 player, and a TV recording application. Personally, I prefer the interface of Windows Media Player 9 but that’s just my druthers. Your mileage may vary and the ATI interface is certainly good enough for most people and is very intuitive. On boot-up, the ATI menu bar loads up on the right side
The TV software is particularly well done and once you get all of the settings in navigation is pretty easy. There is one limit to the TV tuner and it’s not on the ATI side. If you have a cable box, you may not be able to get all of the channels in through the tuner since some cable companies require the cable box to descramble some channels (HBO, Showtime, digital cable channels). The best way to test for this is to just plug your TV directly into the wall and see what channels you get. As with the DVD/VCD player, you can run the TV in the background as your wallpaper or even set it to a light transparency so it’s always running in the background. While it can be a little distracting, it’s actually a semi-useful function since you can kind of watch TV while you work on something else. I didn’t notice much of a performance hit while doing this and that’s a good thing.
As I mentioned earlier you can use the included software bundle to tape your favorite TV shows while you are out, you just have to remember to leave your PC on. The system uses TV Guide + and ATI gives you a free subscription (normally around $15 or so a month). The software is easy to use and finding your shows isn’t that hard to do once you get used to the search feature. It’s not as clean as the systems used by TIVO and ReplayTV but they get the job done. You can record to the proprietary ATI format, MPG, or AVI and the system does allow you to convert from one to another so if you want to pass around your copies of Buffy there isn’t a problem with CODEC’s.
Once again, the Remote Wonder shines,. ATI did a great job of building all of the critical functions into the remote. There is one note of caution though and that is that you really don’t want to have more than one of these in the house since there isn’t a mechanism for having multiple channels for the remotes. With the great range of the Remote Wonder it’s possible for someone on the other side of the house to control the volume, close applications, and what not without knowing what they are doing (which can really spoil a game of Battlefield 1942 for those on the receiving end).
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