TV Wonder Elite - Hardware
The TV Wonder Elite follows the same layout of the typical PVR card from ATI. The only major difference we should note is the change back to a silicon chip TV tuner and the use of a Theater 550 Pro chip. This is the same type of tuner used on the All-in-Wonder 8500DV, but ATI went back to circuit based TV tuners from Philips for their All-in-Wonder (aka AIW) series citing power and heat issues in the past.
It is interesting to see that ATI is using the same Microtune MT2050 single chip TV tuner solution that NVIDIA chose for their initial batch of GeForce FX based Personal Cinemas. We are unable to show the chip without ripping off the shielding and effectively ruining the card, but we just happen to have a card (MSI's GeForce FX 5200 Personal Cinema) that we kept around with its tuner shielding already removed.
The majority of TV tuners are analog based, which means they use components like resistors, inductors, and capacitors to produce band-pass filters which in turn allow specific frequencies to pass through. Thus, this filter produces the "tuning" effect to get specific channels. A single chip TV tuner is basically a digital chip that does analog to digital conversion. In a sense, this can be called a digital TV tuner, though a more appropriate label might be an analog TV tuner based on a digital chip. Calling this a digital TV tuner can make it easily confused with true blue digital TV tuners that receive DTV or HDTV signals, which is something that this tuner cannot do. Those that favor the use of this tuner argue that on extremely high quality cable TV feeds, you may notice a quality improvement based on a silicon based tuner.
The inclusion of Theater 550 Pro makes the TV Wonder Elite one of a handful of PVR cards that has (adaptive) 3D and 2D (5-line) comb filters, and like its predecessor uses dual 12-bit ADCs. Theater 200 only used adaptive 2D comb filters, while most Hauppauge WinTV and NVIDIA Personal Cinema cards used 2D 2/4 line comb filters. Just about all the TVs that you see when you walk into Best Buy use 3D comb filters, regardless of whether they are DTV capable or not. This is what still makes a television generally better than most PVR cards on the market. ATI claims that the Theater 550 Pro uses the same adaptive 3D comb filter in Sony televisions that use chips by NextWave, which ATI acquired a couple of years ago.
The other side benefit of the T550 Pro is hardware encoding, which takes the burden off the software encoding that tends to be heavily CPU intensive. This means that the hardware requirements, specifically the CPU, can be considered to be lower than that of software encoding PVR cards from ATI, which include the AIW and TV wonder line (excludes HDTV Wonder and EWonder). Like its predecessor, it also includes FM audio processing, which the TV Wonder Elite takes advantage of via the T550 Pro.
Included with the TV Wonder Elite is the third incantation of the Remote Wonder family: Remote Wonder Plus. Finally, we have a remote from ATI that doesn't feel somewhat bulky and made of questionable materials (Remote Wonder I manufactured by X10) or the rather bulky and decent quality (Remote Wonder II - manufactured by Philips). Remote Wonder Plus takes the final and much needed step forward to make it a comfortable remote that takes on a natural feel in your hands, as the tactile feel/feedback of the buttons and style are very similar to a TV remote.
Aside from the obvious physical differences, the Remote Wonder Plus continues to use RF like its predecessors but increases its range up to 60 ft, which basically doubles what was previously spec'ed. While this is nice, we are definitely glad to see ATI retain a small profile receiver (same as Remote Wonder I), as the Remote Wonder II's receiver/base was way too large for our taste. From a practical standpoint, once you introduce walls into the equation, the range drops but it depends on how many walls and their thickness/material.