"Nice Hobbyist Card"3.5 starson by jmdobbs88
Pros: Good / fast graphics, lots of features, multi-monitor capable, Plenty of I/O options
Cons: Software needs better integration, and is buggy in spots
Summary: I've had this card now for about 4 months. I purchased it to be the center of a self-built media PC. It has a rich feature set and was bundled with some nice software including Pinnacles' Studio 9 video editing software, and Guide Plus (a subscription free TiVO alternative). Combine this card with a good DVD burner and Nero software and you’ll have an inexpensive home video studio.
I had originally installed this card on an older system, and while the TV features worked, they were not really happy about the slow CPU and so a mother board / processor upgrade was needed. Be sure you have at least two GHz of processor speed and 3 is better.
I use the card with a large TV (s video) as the monitor. This works great for viewing live TV and recorded video, and is adequate for occasional computer use. For set-up, though use a regular monitor.
Set up is fairly straight forward. The card fits in a AGP 8x slot. The TV software has two personalities; one works from the computer desktop, and the other called Easylook, is a kind of poor mans substitute for Win XP Media edition. In order to use Easylook, you will need to send away for the free RF remote, which should have just been included in the box. Without the remote, Easylook is useless. Easylook is optimize for TV viewing, and has a simple and relatively elegant user interface. The remote works nicely, and can be programmed (with web available software) to work with other software, including PowerPoint and Windows Media Player. The RF feature is nice, because you can control music without the need for line-of=sight. I use the remote to control Media Player from other rooms in the house, and pipe the music through an FM transmitter. It works nicely for room to room audio.
However for watching TV I find myself skipping the remote / Easylook for my wireless mouse and keyboard. All of the TV functions can work from a wireless keyboard, and its more flexible. The one feature that you must use the remote for, is skipping through 30 seconds of recorded video at a time (i.e. skipping commercials).
All of the TV / DVD / Digitizing software works pretty much as expected. It comes with MPEG 2 and 4 Codec's and a proprietary codec used for the TV on demand feature (TiVO feature). The skins on the controllers leave something to be desired; most look like their designed for skateboarders.
Complaints: The software components aren't very well integrated. The "library" feature, used for accessing / playing recorded video is almost useless, but is needed when exporting video to alternate formats. It has a very poor user interface. The user interface for configuration is hard to read on a TV and is nonintuitive, and the Guide Plus software is buggy (and doesn't look like it's been updated for several years). It DOES work though, and is very useful for scheduling shows to record. It has a problem though with making the mouse pointer disappear at times, without warning or explanation. I upgraded to the latest version hoping the problem would be fixed, but it actually made things worse. The latest version is not ready for prime time. Guide Plus will not update program listings automatically, and it’s hard to read on a TV. It was the most frustrating part of the software package, and since it wasn’t written by ATI, it hasn’t been improved. It ALMOST works as advertised.
The recent upgrade to version 9.13 (from 9.08) had terrible integration, and had the annoyance of insisting on recording EVERYTHING being watched on TV, chewing up hard drive space. The previous version allowed this to be turned off and on, when wanted. The TV picture quality of the more recent software was not as good either, and it's standard recording format used more space and CPU power, than the previous version. I went back to 9.08, even with it’s flaws it’s a smoother package.
I'd recommend this card to a hobbyist, because it's software is just peculiar enough to intimidate a less persistent user. If you just want a PVR, get a TiVO. If you want to add TV capability to a desktop PC and have a decent (not top of the line) gaming card, this board will do fine. Throw in the ability to digitize analog video and run two monitors, and the RF remote, and it’s worth the $150.00 street price.