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Sapphire All-In-Wonder RADEON 9800 PRO Video Card Review 

November 27, 2003






In the review of the ATI All-In-Wonder RADEON 9700 PRO card we mentioned that ATI occupies a leading position in the sector of graphics cards with multimedia features. But after that we tested several such cards from NVIDIA which also have unique features, for example, the Leadtek WinFast A180 TDH Cinema comes with an FM tuner. 

Let's see what ATI's latest top combo unit can offer us in the All-In-Wonder RADEON 9800 PRO based card from Sapphire. It's interesting that the card is named Beast instead of Atlantis which has already gained a certain reputation. Well, let's see what kind of beast it is :-) .

Accessory pack

Frankly speaking I was surprised seeing such a small box, especially compared to the package of the All-In-Wonder RADEON 9700 PRO.




It turned out that Sapphire solved the mystery of fancy bags which house much more things that they seem to be able to. Well, the box contains the following stuff:




  • Card
  • DVI to D-Sub adapter for analog monitors
  • Remote Control and USB radio-frequency receiver
  • 4 batteries for RC
  • Adapter for output ports (S-Video, RCA for composite signal, mini-jack for sound card's line-in and S/PDIF for external Dolby Digital decoder)
  • Adapter for input ports (S-Video, 3 RCA for video and two audio channels)
  • Y:Pr:Pb cable for component connection (such TV sets are quite popular these days)
  • S-Video - S-Video and RCA - RCA cables
  • 5 software CDs
  • Connection guide and RC guide like those bundled with the All-In-Wonder RADEON 9700 PRO

Apart from the installation CD the card's bundles with the following software: 

One of the CDs contains Redline utility described yet in the review of Sapphire's cards which reminds the Rage3D Tweak. By the way, the Redline requires registration.




I was pleased to see a video editing utility named Pinnacle Studio 8.4 SE








Bravo, Sapphire! 

Let's pretend that both CDs with the Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness were bundled exceptionally of the company's free will. (See details in the 3D Video section.)

The installation package is not that simple.

The Software Install menu




contains a considerable list of additional software.




There're players optimized for the video hardware support technology, FULLSTREAM

RealOne Player




DivX Player, special edition



and MUVEE autoProducer DVD Edition for creation of VCD, SVCD or DVD




which, by the way, integrates into the icon panel




The DivX Player comes only an a usual executable file, with FULLSTREAM disabled by default. You must copy it to the hard drive and run it there. Are they that careless or what?

ATI MultiMedia Center, ATI DVD-decoder and Unified Component Install are also supplied. 

Design

 

 

Sapphire All-In-Wonder RADEON 9800 PRO







 
Sapphire All-In-Wonder RADEON 9800 PRO
There's nothing unexpected. 

AGP x8/x4/x2 interface, 128 MB DDR SDRAM in 8 chips on both PCB sides. 

Samsung (BGA) 2.8ns memory chips (corresponds to 350 (700) MHz), memory clocked at 340 (680) MHz, GPU at 380 MHz. 256bit memory bus.





 
You can read more on performance of the this card in any reviews of RADEON 9800 PRO based solutions. I just want to say that the RADEON 9800 PRO is currently the most powerful 3D accelerator. Besides, I'm sure it overclocks.

Since the RADEON 9700 PRO and RADEON 9800 PRO based cards don't have critical differences the respective All-In-Wonder solutions don't differ either.

The same heatsinks, the same Philips FQ1261ME tuner.




The card can connect to a sound card's AUX-in (the connector is above the tuner's unit). In this case you must select Auxiliary as an audio-in




Unfortunately, the cable is not bundled.

Signal decoding is carried out by the THEATER 200 chip.




By the way, this is  the only 12-bit ADC installed on video cards and TV tuners. Its specs were already listed in the previous review.

Testbed

  • Athlon 2800XP CPU (Barton)
  • Gigabyte 7VAX (  KT400) mainboard
  • 1 GB RAM (Samsung 512 MB PC3200 + Kingmax 512 MB PC3200)
  • Creative Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 sound card
  • ECS EZ-TV (TVP3XP) TV&FM tuner
  • IBM DTLA 305020 hard drive
  • Windows XP Professional (SP1) ENG and Windows XP Professional (SP1) RUS

Connection





It's pretty simple to install the card as the connectors are conveniently arranged.




The component cable is red




I think ATI'd better make something like the AV Breakout (see MSI-8918 Personal Cinema FX5200) because it's not very convenient to have separate input connectors on a separate unit




and output ones on an ordinary adapter




However, the contact was reliable and stable.

Tuning

In the tests we used the latest WDM driver from the Catalyst 3.8 package, Catalyst 3.8 as a video driver and ATI MultiMedia Center 8.7.

After installation we got the following devices:




The MMC 8.7, as we mentioned last time, requires Unified Component Install and ATI DVD-decoder. I have nothing to add to it.

For normal operation under the Windows XP and DirectX 9.0b you should install a respective patch (we wrote about it in the review of the Compro VideoMate TV Gold Plus) or download the updated version of the DirectX 9.0b.

The Fast and Exhaustive channel search modes have all the same disadvantages.

Channel switching results in a 2-3 sec delay in the Exhaustive Scan mode and brings artefacts in the Fast mode.




You can change the scan mode in the MMC settings in the Display (!) section under the Initialization Wizard icon.




Unfortunately, the only channel with imperfect reception that I have couldn't be found at all though many other tuners successfully found it. Manual input of the frequency didn't help either.

Quality

On one hand, the white balance is perfect, and the color rendering in SECAM is the most natural among all tuners I've seen 














On the other hand, there's some color noise




and the tuner has problems with red color




There are no pickups and noise noticed in the All-In-Wonder RADEON 9700 PRO. Is that because of the better screening or different PCB design? 

ATI MultiMediaCenter

We spoke about the MMC features in the following reviews:

All-In-Wonder RADEON 8500 DV video card,

Introduction into DVD video playback on PC based on RADEON cards,

All-In-Wonder RADEON 9700 PRO video card.

The All-In-Wonder series has one more interesting feature named MULTVIEW which is rarely examined as the test PC needs the ATI TV-WONDER tuner.

It supports PiP (Picture-in-Picture) and PoP (Picture-outside-Picture) modes within one PC screen and on different displays in the multimonitor modes.

Surprisingly, the TV part of the MMC has decoded a second tuner installed in the system.




The MULTVIEW didn't become available but it pleasantly delivers normal operation of the second tuner.

With the Details button in the TV-Setup




you can create settings separately for every channel








Here you can also find EAZYLOOK (menu displaying technology) and THRUVIEW (semitransparent overlay) reviewed last time.

The record scheduler looks strange




9 (nine!) scheduler stages - it's tiresome.



Earlier we saw that it wasn't a problem to arrange all  it on a single screen. 

To make up for it, the scheduler allows both recording and playing from any source.

Recording from any source can be paused and then resumed. You can find the joint only if you know for sure where it should be. It's the first time I come across such a useful feature.

Video capture and processing

The capture quality was examined in the Sapphire RADEON 9600 PRO VIVO card review.

Also I should say that the MMC perfectly works with any codecs installed.

ATI Remote Control

 

 

The new driver also touches the remote control




Probably, this All-In-Wonder is the last generation that uses the RC from X10 Wireless Technology, Inc. It will be soon replaced with a newer solution.

At http://remotew.free.fr/ you can find new plugins. The old ones are also quite functional, - the plugin downloaded half a year ago for the WinDVD 4.5 gets on with the WinDVD 5.1.

I wish NVIDIA used such approach in its Personal Cinema.

Conclusion

This time it wasn't such a problem for me to sum it up like in case of the All-In-Wonder RADEON 9700 PRO because there are fewer disadvantages and because this time I have other models to compare with.

Highs

  • Good sensitivity of the TV tuner
  • Decent screening
  • Pretty good image quality
  • Very good color rendering.
  • 12-bit ADC
  • Audio processor supplied
  • Component Y:Pr:Pb connection to TV supported
  • TV-on-Demand
  • Crop Video
  • Pause function in recording
  • EAZYLOOK screen menu technology
  • THRUVIEW semitransparent overlay
  • Good quality of capture from external sources both in case of S-Video and composite inputs
  • Rich sampling features including VideoSoap
  • Codecs from third companies supported (including all MPEG4 versions)
  • User-friendly functional software
  • Remote Control supporting various applications
  • The radio-frequency channel delivers long-distance operation of RC (up to 9 m) irrespective of the line-of-sight coverage
  • Very good performance in games
  • Rich accessory pack

Lows

  • Outdated TV tuner
  • Problems with colors in received images
  • Delays or artefacts resulting from channel switching
  • Channel Surf mode doesn't work correctly with channels with Cyrillic names
  • No FM tuner (especially compared to the competitors)
  • No cable for sound card's AUX-in

Well, this is ATI's new flagship in the sector of multimedia cards. This card is not deprived of shortcomings but absolute perfection does not exist either:-) . The competition in this sector is stiffening tough ATI still keeps the lead. 
 
 
 

Alexey Samsonov AKA AlS (als@ixbt.com)

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