At $149, the ATI TV Wonder Elite may cost a bit more than your average single TV tuner card, but it makes up for the steeper price with the best image quality we've seen. The TV Wonder Elite uses ATI's Theater 550 Pro technology, a single-chip video-decoder and MPEG-encoder solution that delivers high-quality TV and DVD image quality. The card carries ISF certification from the Imaging Science Research Labs group, an organization that promotes high-quality standards in graphics and multimedia technology. If you want to add a TV tuner card to your current PC, we recommend the TV Wonder Elite.
The TV Wonder Elite is a low-profile card with embedded coaxial connections for TV and FM radio and a port for connecting the included A/V breakout box, which adds S-Video, component-video and stereo-audio ports. With a five-foot cable, it's fairly easy to connect external devices to the breakout box without having to reach behind the PC.
Bundled in the box are S-Video and component cables, an FM antenna, and an ATI Remote Wonder Plus remote control and USB IR receiver. The card also comes with a CD containing ATI's Catalyst drivers, an online manual, and Cyberlink's PowerCinema 3, a program that can control your media collection, from recording TV programs to music, photo, and video files. The card also works with front ends such as Windows XP Media Center Edition, but if you built your Media Center OS system rather than buying it new, you might need DVD decoder software. Having a basic DVD playing program like PowerDVD on your system will solve this problem. If you're one of the few people who don't have the right decoder, Microsoft explains the process on its Web site.
On one test system, we had to update our system BIOS to install the card, on another it installed easily without a BIOS update. Once installed, we loaded the drivers and software and ran the TV setup wizard, which went smoothly. Image quality was impressive when watching live TV, compared to other TV tuner cards.
Scrolling text was clear and easy to read. The picture was bright and colors were vivid, although with traces of softness. We wish the tuner handled channel changes more quickly, but we'll take image quality over quick channel surfing every time. The Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150 had less lag, but its image quality was not as good.
In our direct-signal tests using a set-top DVD player and the S-Video port, the TV Wonder Elite displayed high detail video without a trace of artifacts or flicker, with video and audio perfectly in sync. Recorded TV programs were clean, but video recorded from a DVD was not as sharp as the direct signal.